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Saturday 7th January 2016 ko 15.00

FA Cup 3rd Round

ROTHERHAM UNITED 2 (Ward 51 Adeyemi 90)

OXFORD UNITED 3 (Taylor 41 Edwards 80 Hemmings 88) Maguire missed penalty 36

Att 5,618 (1,292 away)

Entry £13

Programme £2

It’s a tradition that families gather round the radio or television to listen to the FA Cup draw. Everyone has their list of clubs they’d love to see they’re team play, but top of my list was, perhaps, a slightly unusual one. I wanted my side to play Rotherham away.
My reasoning was entirely selfish, the New York Stadium (it lies on an island called New York, would you believe), was the only stadium I needed to re-complete the 92 Football League and Premier League grounds. It would have been reasonably straightforward to blast up the M1 to get it done one midweek, but the story of Rotherham United’s homes is a tale that requires telling with attention to detail.

It starts simply enough, from 1907 to 2008 The Millers played at Millmoor, owned by the Booth family. In 2008 a rent dispute between the club and the Booth family saw the club vacate the ground and up sticks to the Don Valley Stadium, 5 miles away in Sheffield. That move was fraught in many ways, plans to move back to Rotherham were sketchy at best, the Don Valley is very much an athletics stadium and the FA were still smarting over the Wimbledon/MK Dons relocation fiasco. They took a little convincing that a move back to Rotherham was both an aim, and achievable.

Rotherham played at the Don Valley Stadium from 2008-2012, these photos are from Rotherham’s game versus Scunthorpe United in the Football League Trophy Northern Area Final on 17th February 2009. Rotherham lost 1-0 on the night, and 3-0 on aggregate.

Generally speaking you expect one of two outcomes from a rent dispute. Either the club comes back to the negotiating table with its tail between it’s legs, or it stays away and the old ground gets demolished, and the site redeveloped. With Rotherham, everything happened, but in an unexpected order.

The club gained both the planning consent and funding for a 12,000 all-seater stadium just a stone’s throw from Millmoor and moved into their new home in July 2012. And at this point I’d be telling you all about the stadium but for two massive details.

Firstly, the Don Valley Stadium lasted only just over a year following Rotherham’s departure. It closed in September 2013, and was demolished soon after, a classic case of council largesse that never either found a raison d’être or paid back its costs.

But the amazing part is that 8 years after it last hosted Football League action, Millmoor is still standing, and for £3 you can park there for Rotherham home games. Apparently the site is under a covenant, making it impossible for the Booth family to demolish it. The site is kept ticking over by Booth’s own Sunday League team playing games there, but the ground cannot have any future, covenant or not, and you can see the whole edifice being swallowed up by the Booths’ scrap yard behind the old away end.

But until the inevitable happens it is a quite eerie experience exploring around the back of the half-built main stand, and looking across to the pristine new stadium behind.

The New York stadium is one of the more imaginatively thought-out of the mid-budget new builds. You’ll see plenty you’ll see elsewhere, but the two circular floodlights are very distinctive, and the way the roof “steps down” from the main stand to the stands behind the goals is a clever bit of design too. The only real problem for Rotherham United fans at the moment is that their team is in freefall.

They’re rock-bottom of the Championship, manager Neil Warnock left last May after his contract wasn’t renewed but current boss Paul Warne is only an interim manager, and such was the unease that as walked around the stadium local fans came up to me and commented that they fully expected mid-table League One Oxford United to win this, to create what became the lowest grade of giant-killing of this season’s FA Cup.

To add insult to injury Peter Odemwingie was named on the team sheet but former Oxford United youth forward Dexter Blackstock took his place. I’m sure I wasn’t the only spectator to quip, “I wonder if he asked for a transfer during the warm-up?”

Even if ignoring club allegiances, it was an enjoyable game to recomplete the 92. Both sides attacked with gusto, perchance due to defensive frailties. All the talk before the game in Oxford was the impact former Rotherham forward Chris Maguire would have on his return to Rotherham. He was nowhere near his best, missing a penalty earned by another ex-Miller Ryan Taylor. He was the player most inspired by the occasion, opening the scoring and for me, giving a man-of-the-match performance.

Rotherham were booed off at half-time, and looked fired up at the start of the second half. Danny Ward mugged Curtis Nelson for the equaliser but Oxford grew in confidence, and when Phil Edwards headed home unmarked from Marvin Johnson corner it was deserved on the balance of play. Substitute Kane Hemmings stabbed home a sumptuous Johnson cross, and despite an injury time Tom Adeyemi consolation, Rotherham neither looked like, or deserved another equaliser.

It was a quiet walk back to the car, back at Millmoor. Both sets of fans had plenty to ponder; Oxford’s wishing upon a plum 4th round tie, and  Rotherham’s the looming spectre of relegation. I took a last glance at poor, abandoned, unloved Milllmoor and headed for home.

Many thanks to Chloe Staniforth for her help.

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