Rotherham United legend John Breckin recalls those special promotion memories

CELEBRATED Cockney folk music duo ‘Chas & Dave’ famously sang about it being ‘lucky for Spurs when the year ends in one’ – in homage to FA Cup successes for their beloved Tottenham Hotspur in 1901, 1921, 1961, 1981 and 1991.

Rotherham United manager Ronnie Moore joins in the celebrations, after his team had beaten Brentford to win promotion. Pictures: Mike Cowling

It remains to be seen if a year ending in one is benevolent this time around for Rotherham United, currently embroiled in a fight for Championship survival. It won’t feel like it this morning.

Historically, it most definitely has been with the anniversaries of two of the finest hours in the club’s history occurring this week.

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Wednesday marks the twentieth anniversary of the Millers famously clinching promotion to the second tier during the club’s golden era under Ronnie Moore, achieved thanks to a never-to-be-forgotten 89th-minute winner from Alan Lee in a 2-1 victory over Brentford at Millmoor on April 28, 2001.

Rotherham United fans celebrate their side's promotion to the first division.

Meanwhile, next Sunday represents the fortieth anniversary of another celebrated occasion at the club’s former Millmoor home when Rotherham secured the old Division Three title with a final-day victory over Plymouth Argyle on May 2, 1981.

That momentous day, with the highlights captured on Yorkshire Television, saw the Millers claim their first league championship since their maiden title success in winning the old Third Division North in 1950-51. Another year ending in one..

Those special moments in the springs of 2001 and 1981 have long since entered Millers folklore and are afforded prominence in a book chronicling the story of the club legend who was a central figure to both those 2000-01 and 1980-81 seasons in honorary life president John Breckin.

They are captured evocatively in Breck – My Life in Football, a book written by widely-respected journalist and another Millers icon in former Sheffield Star sports writer Les Payne.

The joyous Rotherham team celebrate promotion after beating Brentford.

The autobiography charts Breckin’s remarkable career and raises money for Rotherham Hospice, a cause close to Breckin’s heart after they cared for his second wife Denise as she fought cancer.

Breckin was right-hand man to Moore when the club achieved an outstanding feat of back to back promotions in 2000-01 and both were celebrating with the best of them after promotion was sealed against the Bees.

The kudos went to young Irish striker Lee, whose late goal to make it 2-1 was the cue to a memorable piece of commentary from BBC Radio Sheffield’s former Millers reporters Brian Chapple and Gerry Somerton and a rare old pitch invasion.

That result, allied to promotion rivals Reading’s defeat against Colchester sent the Millers up and clinched back-to-back promotions, with the club subsequently rubbing shoulders with the likes of Manchester City, Sheffield Wednesday, Leeds United and West Ham during a four-year stint in the second level.

Rotherham United's Alan Lee is mobbed by team mates after he scored the last minute winner.

They had last played at second-tier level in 1982-83, with Lee’s goal ending an 18-year wait for United, whose aim at the start of that 2000-01 season was survival after going up the previous season from the fourth tier.

Speaking in his book, Breckin commented: “Of the great moments in Rotherham United’s history, that ranks as the favourite one for so many thousands of Millers fans.

“If you say you could barely believe it and hardly grasp what an achievement it was from an unheralded group of players given no chance by anybody nine months earlier, then that is understandable and would be feelings shared by everyone, including me.”

The night celebrations were fairly reserved for Breckin after that success – restricted to a few drinks with Moore at the Cavalier pub in the village of Ravenfield.

Back in May 1981, the party scenes were more full-on.

Another unforgettable 2-1 victory, this time over Plymouth, saw another iconic moment arrive at the Railway End of Millmoor, where Lee’s feted goal would later be scored at.

This time the hero was the late Rod Fern, who latched onto a pass from club stalwart Breckin and fired the winner to enable the Millers to claim the Division Three title at the expense of Yorkshire rivals Barnsley.

The previous month, Fern netted the winner at Carlisle United which earned promotion back to the second tier for the club after an absence of 13 years. It was the cue for an unexpected party in Cumbria.

Carlisle had not been beaten in 18 matches on home soil and the Millers knew that even if they won there, they would have to rely on another promotion-chasing White Rose side in Huddersfield Town losing at rock-bottom Hull City – which was viewed as unlikely.

In the event, the Millers won and so did Hull. The Tigers were Rotherham’s next opponents on Easter Monday in what was widely-expected to be the promotion-clinching party date.

Instead, Rotherham were indebted to some supplies of champagne sportingly provided by members of Carlisle’s boardroom after the earlier win.

Mick Buxton’s Huddersfield just missed on going up in that campaign, but Barnsley fared better and accompanied Ian Porterfield’s Millers to the second tier.

The Reds, managed by Norman Hunter, ironically secured promotion by beating the Millers 1-0 at Oakwell, thanks to a goal from Ronnie Glavin.

Heading into the final game, Barnsley had a chance of pipping Rotherham to silverware on goal difference, with the form of the Millers tailing off in the first few games after promotion was secured at Brunton Park.

At one point, Barnsley, were leading Newport 4-0, while the Millers were drawing 1-1 with Argyle – when an away goal at Millmoor would have potentially seen the Oakwell outfit nick the title on goal difference.

But a goal from ex-Millers forward Dave Gwyther pulled one back for Newport and there was to be another fateful goal over at Rotherham.

It arrived for the hosts and not Plymouth, of course, courtesy of Fern, with the Millers’ other scorer that day being Moore, who netted his 25th goal of that 80-81 campaign before Argyle equalised ahead of half-time.

On that glorious title-winning afternoon, Breckin recalled in his book: “There was definitely some champagne in the dressing room that day. Plenty of it.

“TV cameras were there, too, and a few of us were interviewed by Martin Tyler, who later became a key figure in Sky Sports’ Premier League 
coverage.

“It was an unbelievable night with the Millmoor gym turned into a disco. Fans had paid to be at a function although many players spent much of the night in the boardroom and drank it dry!

“It went on well after midnight and I recall one fan standing outside Millmoor waiting for a taxi accompanied by a small tree he had nicked from the disco!” he added.

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