LITTLE has changed at Millmoor since the day in 2008 that Rotherham United handed back the keys and decamped to Sheffield.
The skeleton of the main stand is still there, as is the Tivoli End complete with raised offices behind and the narrow alleyway that away supporters used to file along to exit a ground hemmed in on three sides by the cranes and debris of the surrounding scrapyards.
A ghostly presence abounds, the image of desolation jarring with the New York Stadium that became home to the Millers after four years as tenants at the Don Valley Stadium.
For Neil Warnock, back at the club where he played for two years from 1969, this juxtaposition of new and old meant an inevitable trip down memory lane for the 67-year-old yesterday on his unveiling as United’s new manager. “I am told they even still cut the grass,” he said to The Yorkshire Post, while sitting in the boardroom of the gleaming new stadium that sits – dare we say it – just an overhit right wing cross from Warnock’s old stomping ground across the A630.
“When I was driving in earlier, I saw Millmoor, with the floodlights, as I came round the corner. It doesn’t look to have changed a bit, which shows just how different this club is to before. Tony (Stewart, chairman) deserves a medal. It is a miracle the club has come this far.”
As tempting as it will have been for Warnock to yesterday hark back to the two years he spent patrolling the right flank at Millmoor, the current predicament facing Rotherham brings to mind another time in his career. Namely, a three-month stint at Torquay United in 1993.
Fresh from being sacked by Notts County, the club he had led into the top flight via back-to-back promotions, Warnock headed for Devon and a club seemingly destined to be relegated from the Football League.
Even for a manager who once turned down Chelsea to stay at Meadow Lane, it was an unusual career diversion and one that, Warnock admits today, could have rebounded badly on him.
“People were telling me not to go to Torquay,” he recalls. “They were saying things like, ‘Torquay could get kicked out of the League, which will then be on your CV’.
“But that didn’t bother me, probably because I was a lot younger then. Kevin Blackwell was their goalkeeper at the time and he’d rung to ask if I could help. I’d just left Division One but I fancied it, and fancied a bit of time by the seaside.
“The lads were on peanuts down there but they would go through walls for me. It was one of the happiest times of my life. And we stayed up comfortably. Let’s hope we can do the same here. Proof will be in the pudding, of course, but I think we can do it.”
For the record, Torquay finished 19th that season and seven points clear of relegated Halifax Town. Considering the club had been rock bottom of the Football League on Valentine’s Day, it represented quite a turnaround.
Mission accomplished, Warnock said his goodbyes in Torquay and headed for Huddersfield Town. Promotion followed, the second of a tally that now stands at seven, and more than 20 years later he is still determined to put himself through the emotional wringer that is football management.
“I just love the challenge,” he explains. “And I feel I can help. Maybe I can’t do it 12 months per year, do I need the hassle of all summer or things like that? But I can think of a few teams that might have asked for my help to get them promotion. There are easier jobs than here, I am sure. But I just fancied this one.”
Warnock has helped Rotherham out before. When the Millers were in dire straits before the arrival of Tony Stewart and Warnock was at Sheffield United, he lent Stephen Quinn and Jonathan Forte to his old club and paid their wages.
He also arranged for spare training kit to be donated to the struggling Millmoor outfit.
Now, the biggest help he can be to United is to keep the club in the Championship. “The next seven games are against teams in the top eight,” he added. “ But I have always enjoyed a challenge like this. The squad is decent and I am happy to take it forward.
“We might need a bit of luck, we might need one or two things to go our way.
“People say we have difficult games but I wouldn’t want to be in the dressing room against one of our teams. Rotherham are not a big scalp for these clubs so let’s see how it goes.
“We can use the underdogs status in most games. We can cause upsets.”