THE famous chorus to Chumbawamba’s smash hit Tubthumping should hold particular signifiance to Will Vaulks.
Whether the Rotherham United midfielder is a music lover or not, he will, no doubt, appreciate the symbolism of the stirring lines of: ‘I get knocked down, but I get up again, you are never gonna keep me down’.
Those words sum up his footballing career perhaps better than anything else.
Showing his mettle and handling adversity has gone with the territory during his journey – right from his early days as a teenager at Tranmere when he was sent out on loan to non-league neighbours Cammell Laird to ‘toughen up’, according to then Rovers chief Les Parry.
Vaulks passed that particular character test with flying colours and the manning-up process continued at Workington.
Sadly, it was not enough to secure a future at Tranmere, with the Wirral lad released in 2013 without playing a game before picking up the pieces 235 miles away at cash-strapped Falkirk, with his resolve to earn a deal such that he went without pay in order to earn a long-term contract and kick-start his footballing dream.
In an era when the stories of cossetted, mollycoddled young footballers are plentiful, it provided the perfect antidote.
Vaulks admirably reconstructed his career with the Bairns and earned a six-figure move back to England when the Millers came calling in the summer of 2016. A happy ending? Not quite.
A brutal Championship campaign in 2016-17 scarred everyone at the club. Losing became contagious and although Vaulks appeared 40 times in the league last term, he was on the winning side just five times.
For Vaulks and his team-mates, any bouquets from fans were likely to be laden with barbed-wire.
A new season brings inevitable new hope but for Vaulks, it is another rebuilding job. It is a work in process, but he plainly will not be caught hiding.
Vaulks, restored to the starting line-up for last Sunday’s much-needed road success at Portsmouth – the Millers’ first away league win in 17 months – said: “In any walk of life, you don’t give up after one bad year.
“It was tough and probably the lowest I have been in my football career. But if you are going to give up after that, what hope have you got?
“You have got to be mentally stronger than that and want it enough to do well and prove people wrong.
“I have had stick which I have never really had in my career, so it is a lot of learning. Sometimes you have to man up and prove people wrong and I am not afraid to do that and have had to do that numerous times. Hopefully, I can show the Rotherham fans what I am about.
“Who can come out with credit last season? Very few of us because we didn’t do well enough. Danny Ward got his reward because he did very well. Personally, I felt I didn’t show the fans enough and how can you be positive about last time? This season is the one where we hopefully bring the positives back; where fans want to be at Rotherham games and players are wanting to play.
“It is tough for the fans as they watched us get beat for the majority of last season. So, as players, we need to take responsibility and win games from behind and show we are strong and have leaders out there. Then we will get the fans back to getting behind and supporting us when we are losing and winning games. When they get going, they are brilliant.”
Given a torrid 2016-17, few would have begrudged Millers fans of their ‘moment’ at Fratton Park last Sunday. Certainly not manager Paul Warne.
Vaulks may have professed to feeling a little bit miffed at being one of the early-season casualties after being demoted to the bench following the opening-day loss at Fleetwood, but his respect for his manager endures.
Both speak with candour and have a straightforward and honest attitude to their work.
Vaulks added: “He is a breath of fresh air in a managerial sense. Not many managers do the things he does. It is the same with Richie (Barker) and Hammy (Matt Hamshaw).
“Obviously, I have been a bit unhappy with him as he has not been playing me. But we get on well and he’s easy to talk to and he does what he thinks is right for the club and the team. So we all want to do well for him and we are all singing from the same sheet. It is positive at the moment, we just need to win some more games.”
The victory on the south coast was also likely to have been greeted with a cheer or two from the Lancashire home of Millers striker Jamie Proctor, about to start on the long road back to fitness following a serious knee injury.
The blow was a cruel one for the Millers, given a pretty luckless last 12 months and while the success at Portsmouth did lift spirits, Proctor remains in the thoughts of team-mates who are intent on elevating the club to a strong position when he returns.
Vaulks said: “It is a real blow. Procs is a lovely lad and one of the nicest blokes I have met in football and I have only known him for a few months. For it to be so innocuous as well is a real shame.
“I have been taking him around since he has been injured and dropping him off because he has not been in his car.
“He is positive and will deal with it and come back stronger. But, obviously, he is gutted as we all are as he was showing some real good form. But he knows there is nothing he can do but get his head down and crack on and we will all try and make sure that he is playing at the highest level possible next season.”