FOR Alex Revell and the majority of his Rotherham United team-mates, the stakes simply could not get any higher ahead of the Millers’ date with destiny at Wembley on Sunday.
The Championship play-off final the previous day, this year between Derby County and QPR, may be considered as the most lucrative one-off game in English football, but for Revell and co, the Millers’ League One showpiece with Leyton Orient surpasses riches. It is career-defining.
The line-ups of both finalists won’t exactly be littered with personnel who have played anything like the bulk of their careers in the Championship, far from it.
As far as the Millers are concerned, only a handful have showcased their talents in the second tier, with one of them, Richie Smallwood, not even the club’s own player.
Of the others, their experiences are decidedly mixed at best.
Skipper Craig Morgan was relegated twice from the Championship with Peterborough and Preston in successive seasons in 2009/10 and 2010/11, while another key man in Ben Pringle failed to establish himself at Derby.
Wes Thomas sampled brief loan spells at Blackpool and Birmingham last term, with Lee Frecklington relegated from the second tier at Posh along with Morgan before making the reverse journey and playing there again in 2011-12.
Revell’s story is one of honest graft in the lower divisions with the likes of the Millers, Southend, Brighton and Sunday’s opponents Leyton Orient and he is not alone among the Millers’ ranks.
At 30, Revell knows full well the clock is ticking regarding his own chances of playing in the Championship and while it would mean the world to the Millers if they ended their nine-year Championship exile on Sunday, it will guild the careers of many.
Revell said: “We have got a massive job to do now at Wembley. But it’s one we’ll look forward to.
“After the semi-final, we could relax a bit as it was a long four days and you just want to get it over with. But now we are preparing for what will probably be the biggest game in all our careers.
“We have a job to do and we know Orient will be a very, very tough team and they proved that against Peterborough.
“We have obviously lost to them, but beaten them at home and it’s been very even, similar to us against Preston.
“But we must go to Wembley and enjoy it. If we play like we did against Preston, I think teams will find it very hard to beat us.”
And on facing one of his former clubs, the striker added: “I still know a few there, such as the goalkeeper and there will be a few texts flying about and it will be a great day. But only if we win.”
A marquee occasion at the packed-out New York Stadium versus Preston was a coming-of-age evening for the Millers and one to rank with the club’s very best during the golden years under Ronnie Moore at their former Millmoor home across the way.
It had the effect of seriously whetting the appetite of expectant Millers fans if they do make it back to the Championship promised land. And also the players.
The outpouring of joy and ecstatic scenes which followed the final whistle will be recollected in years to come by many and Revell, who tasted the highs of promotion last season against Aldershot at the NYS, is hankering for more magic moments.
He said: “The Preston second leg was just one of those nights which will long live in the memory of the players. I will never forget it and it just makes you so proud to be at this football club.
“The fact we have done what we have is an amazing achievement.
“You look at everything and especially the crowd that were here; we are wanting and craving that every week. That’s exactly what you want to play in; the big games and they are the ones you dream about playing in when you are a kid growing up.
“For this football club to play Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday next season and all those other teams who have come down from the Premier League would be an amazing transition for a club who nearly went out of football, to be where we are now.
“Obviously, the chairman has to take a lot of praise for what he has done. But so does every fan who turns up and pays to watch.
“The lads have been outstanding this year and what the manager has built has been very special.
“If you look over the season, then us, Preston and Orient have been just not maybe good enough to get up to the top bit. But we have been outstanding all season.
“It’s been an unbelievable season and with the points we have got, we would have been promoted last season. It goes to prove what a good league it has been this year.”
Attacking instincts have served the Millers and Revell’s old club well this term, with their hauls of 86 and 85 goals respectively a tally only surpassed in the Football League by Wolves (89).
And Revell, who netted a dramatic late winner against the O’s at the NYS is February, insists the Millers will stay true to their offensive approach.
He said: “We can’t change. If we change, then we have got big problems. We can’t change and the minute we try and do that, we drop our levels and it’s probably when we have changed that we have hit some hiccups this year.
“We know the way we play and to be honest, when we play at the intensity we know we can play at, I don’t think anyone can hurt us or deal with us.”