How aware were the players of the scale of the jeopardy facing Rotherham United during their years of near crisis? Former Millers full-back, Dale Tonge explains what it was like wearing the red shirt through this unstable period for the club, and indeed through the better times, too.
Rotherham United were threatened with extinction as they entered administration twice prior to 2008. Multiple points deductions would follow as a consequence, eventually resulting in relegation to League Two. The situation was extremely dire. Dale Tonge contended that even the players weren’t fully aware of how bad the situation was at the Yorkshire club, and stated: “On a personal note, I struggled being a single lad with a mortgage, but lads with families struggled more which was hard to see. The people who had worked for years at the club got made redundant too, which was an awful situation to be in as these selfless people are the heart and soul of a club!”Embed from Getty Images
Local businessman Tony Stewart took over the club as chairman, but they still had to sadly leave their native home of Millmoor in the 2008-09 season, after failure to come to an agreement with the ground’s Landlords. Millmoor had been the home of Rotherham United for over a century and Tonge who had the pleasure of playing there, enthused that: “Millmoor was my favourite place to play!”
The 32 year-old also described the nature of the 8,300 seat stadium: “It reminded me of when I was young watching games on the terraces. The stands were close in, which created a great atmosphere!”Embed from Getty Images
The Millers moved to a temporary home at the Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield. The 25,000 seater stadium had an athletics track surrounding the pitch, which made it incredibly hard for supporters to create an atmosphere. “No player or staff member liked the move to Don Valley”, remarked Tonge. “However, we knew the move was necessary. We played for Rotherham, but never actually visited there often, trained in Doncaster and played in Sheffield!”
“Overall we tried to make this ground a tough place to come and I think we achieved this, but it certainly never felt like home!”
The club finally returned home in 2012, as they moved to the state of the art AESSEAL New York Stadium. The aesthetically pleasing 12,000 capacity stadium was to be the secure home of the club, finally back in their own town. Tonge described how the stadium created a wave of much-needed “optimism and excitement” around the football club, which: “rewarded the fans and in particular the chairman who deserves it for all the hard work and patience in seeing the process through.”
The Millers enjoyed back-to-back promotion from League Two to the Championship at the stadium under lively manager Steve Evans, whom Tonge played under. The club are currently battling for promotion again from League One this season under manager and former player, Paul Warne.Embed from Getty Images
Finally, Tonge summed up his Rotherham United career which lasted between 2007-13: “I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the club and making memories there. It’s fair to say, I’ve had my downs too with me being injured far too many times, but this has made me a stronger person.”
“I was treated very well being a local lad and I was very proud to wear the shirt that a lot of my family supported.”Embed from Getty Images
He ended the interview with the remark:
“Once a Miller, always a Miller!”
Tonge came out the Barnsley youth set-up and made his debut in 2004 against Brentford. He currently plays for FC United of Manchester. A massive thanks to Dale for taking the time to speak to me!
A full feature on Rotherham United including more of Dale’s comments and supporter’s views will be on The Yorkshire Voice in the near future.
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