THE psychological scars of being part of one of the most depressing and dysfunctional seasons that a football club has ever endured are thankfully starting to heal for Billy Jones.
Just like 12 months ago, the Rotherham United defender may be involved with a Championship club who are looking over their shoulders during the latest autumnal international hiatus. Yetthat is where the similarity emphatically ends.
Obviously from where I have come from last season, there was not much positivity at all around the club with what happened. It was obviously horrible being part of that, personally.Billy Jones
The former Sunderland player is unlikely to ever forget those events of 2017-18, arguably the most calamitous ever in the proud 139-year history of the north-east giants, which ended pitifully – if predictably – in relegation to League One.
The Wearsiders’ painful demotion to the third tier – for just the second time ever – will be chronicled in an eight-part documentary entitled: Sunderland ‘Till I Die which will air on Netflix in December.
It is footage that Jones will probably view from the back of the sofa.
Rudderless off the pitch and armed with blunt instruments as on it, League One football beckoned from an early juncture for the dispirited Black Cats.
The smart money may be on Jones being involved in another collective fight to stay in the Championship this season, but in that regard, his current employers appear far richer in terms of spirit and togetherness than Sunderland – famously referred to as the ‘Bank of England club’ in the late 40s and early 50’s.
On his time with the Millers so far, Jones said: “It has been really good. Obviously from where I have come from last season, there was not much positivity at all around the club with what happened.
“It was obviously horrible being part of that, personally.
“When I spoke to the gaffer in the summer, he obviously spoke about the close-knit group he has here and the way the lads work hard for each other and thoroughly enjoy each other’s company in training in terms of working hard and off the pitch as well.
“It is a close-knit group and he spoke about how him and his staff do their utmost to improve you as an individual and as a team and it has been exactly that.
“It has been really great to be part of and hopefully we are going to have a special season here and that is what we are working hard to achieve.”
A special achievement for the Millers, in the greater scheme of things, would constitute survival in a Championship in which their financial resources lag behind every one of their rivals.
Fortunately, Rotherham are blessed with other key qualities that money cannot buy and a footballing identity which Jones’s former Sunderland side were so absent in last season.
Trust, organisation and an unquenchable work ethic has helped the Millers record three wins on their own soil already this term, alongside two draws, with the AESSEAL New York Stadium having witnessed just one home defeat so far in 2018-19.
It has seen Paul Warne’s side cope with adversity too, most definitely in their two recent home matches against Bristol City and Stoke City where the hosts, down to the bare bones, cast aside vicissitudes to produce two commendable performances.
Away from home, plenty of work remains for the Millers, yet to take anything on their travels this season. But there has been encouragement along the way.
Jones added: “They are all great lads who are willing to work hard for each other and it is great to have that trust in your team-mates and know exactly where they are going to be on the pitch if you are covering.
“That comes from the training pitch as well and we work really hard on the game plan. We are always doing debriefs after the game as well and looking at where we can improve better and what was good.
“The gaffer talks about the group he has got here and the trust he has got in the players. He spoke after the Bristol City game and said with what happened and people playing out of position that it does not matter.
“With the 11 players he puts on the pitch, he knows what he is going to get whatever position players play in or formation.”
Evidence of the Millers’ esprit de corps has been seen not just on the pitch, but also off it too this season, with their all-for-one ethic extending to the dressing room before and after games.
It represents a source of pride to a manager in Warne who has always made great play about the fact that he endeavours to sign not just proficient footballers, but also ‘decent human beings’ in his words.
In the final analysis, that togetherness and strong mentality may yet tip the scales in the Millers’ favour come next Spring.
“They are such a close group and I have never been at a club before when you talk to the players before and after the game and all of the injured lads are in there and all the squad,” Warne observed.
“They are not told they have to be in there, but they are there and shaking hands with each other and egging each other on.
“Whichever 11 I put out, they will put a performance in. I am not saying they are the best footballers in the league, but their attitude is really up there.
“We are a really good team out of possession of the ball and the lads work their socks off for this club.”