Stewart is worthy of all the praise

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A CHAMPIONSHIP club they may have been for four seasons in the first half of the Noughties, but that did not tell the full story for Rotherham United.

If they do end their nine-year exile from the second tier on Sunday, the club will be far better equipped to trade telling blows with their rivals, according to lifelong fan and author Jonathan Veal.

It was the ITV Digital collapse near the end of the Millers’ first season back at the second level in March 2002 which killed the club’s hopes of establishing themselves as a force, despite on-pitch marvels engineered by Ronnie Moore for three years.

Behind the scenes, a tight ship was run at a ground in major need of refurbishment, with the Millers and Moore’s luck running out in a desperate 2004-05 relegation season.

That set the wheels in motion for several more seasons of acute pain with the club finding themselves back in the basement in 2007-08.

The main battles were away from the pitch as opposed to on it, and Veal remembers all too well a time when the club flirted with oblivion.

He said: “It was worrying and quite serious. I thought it would be okay, but in reality we were close to going under.

“There was the Save The Millers campaign and fans walked to Mansfield away to raise money. Sheffield United did the beam-back of a Sheffield derby to Bramall Lane to raise cash and paid the wages of Jonathan Forte and Stephen Quinn.

“We also had bucket collections outside Hillsborough. When that happens, you get the impression it’s pretty serious.

“Then Tony Stewart came in. It’s a bit of a running joke with Steve Evans always praising him. But he’s right as what he’s done is unbelieveable.

“To take the club from the position they were in to where they are now six years later should have been unthinkable.

“It will never be the same as last time if we go up as the club is in so much a better state and better run.

“They are a Championship club in waiting. Last time they weren’t, which is why the story was so good.”