TONY STEWART has witnessed the equivalent of the good, the bad and the ugly during his tumultuous near ten-year reign as chairman of Rotherham United.
Two momentous promotions, joy and heartache at Wembley, a pitiful and embarrassing relegation and much more besides, including a move from an athletics venue at the other side of the Tinsley Viaduct to the AESSEAL New York Stadium.
Many of the happiest moments for the Stewart scrapbook arrived during the watch of the animated, irrepressible figure who will patrol the away technical area tomorrow afternoon with Peterborough United – Steve Evans.
The Stewart and Evans era from April, 2012, to September, 2015, is a treasured one that will stand the test of time and always be rightfully recognised as one of the most golden in the history of Rotherham United.
But for Stewart, ever the optimist, his fervent belief is that the best is yet to come, with the current Millers side, managed by club stalwart Paul Warne, exciting him more than any other in his epic decade in charge of the club.
Warne’s high-powered, unflagging and imposing Millers have wowed audiences over the winter months and clearly captured the imagination of the chairman.
I can honestly say that it is the best team we have had since I have been at Rotherham.Millers chairman Tony Stewart
The piece de resistance perhaps arrived in the recent victory at Northampton Town with a wonderful team goal to make it 3-0 being a moment which ‘took your breath away’ in the gushing words of Stewart.
Another significant step towards clinching a League One play-off spot, which had looked pretty dubious in early December, will be taken if the fourth-placed hosts see off sixth-placed Posh tomorrow in front of a healthy holiday home crowd, who have renewed their vows with the Millers for a reason.
Stewart told The Yorkshire Post: “I have witnessed the young lads gelling together and speak to the manager most days. There is a culture within the club and we have young players fighting for positions and first-team players on the bench. I can honestly say that it is the best team we have had since I have been at Rotherham.
“The prospects of going on – because they are young lads getting to know each other – and the future look good.
“We are now seeing the young lads push on, even though we lost two of the older lads earlier on in (Jamie) Proctor and (Darren) Potter.
“The athleticism what we have been showing with the young lads is great and also the skills.
“I know (Matty) Palmer knew the ropes at Burton and I think that was a good acquisition. But we have brought in average players who we thought would develop and what we have seen is that they are not average players, but good ones who are developing.
“They are surprising the fans and the longevity that we are going to get with these guys can be so fulfilling with regard to the future.
“We have had a good recruitment and bought wisely and we are developing. It is making it a season which is exciting for the fans of Rotherham as it is good to watch.”
Pleasurable memories will also flood to the surface for Stewart tomorrow when he renews acquaintances with Evans, with the embrace between both men likely to be a warm one.
A few tears were shed when the pair parted company two-and-a-half years ago, but their friendship is a strong and lasting one and whatever the outcome of tomorrow’s meeting, a glass of wine or two is likely to be shared fondly afterwards.
Stewart said: “Steve is a character and his character will arrive first and his team will arrive second!
“It will be a bit of a circus and I do not mean that nastily. I am still a friend of Steve’s and we keep in touch. But we have a rivalry there and the gloves will be off at the kick-off.
“But I am looking forward to it. They are several points behind us and we are trying to make sure we get as high as we can. We will be as prepared as they will be and it will be a humdinger, as they say.”
During Evans’s time at the club, Stewart famously stated that the Scot was ‘the only guy who wants to win more than me’, and while that will very much be evidenced tomorrow, respect will ensue.
Evans said: “For three-and-a-half years, I had the most wonderful days that any football manager could wish to have.
“As importantly for me, I still have that wonderful friendship and affinity with Tony.
“We still speak and message regularly. I do not think that will ever go away. The chairman will want to win on Friday and I will.
“I am looking forward to it. It is a wonderful place to go for football. I got an unbelievable reception when I went back with Leeds.
“It was touching and humbling, not just for me, but also my family who were there. I will applaud the Millers fans in the way I will to the Posh fans.
“They are deep in my heart and they know I want to win and I know they will want to win. The respect will never go away.”