Rotherham 1 Chesterfield 0

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Rotherham United 1 Chesterfield 0 (16 Feb 2013)

After visiting my first non-Reading League match for over six years last weekend, I rapidly followed it up with a visit to Rotherham a week later. Fortunately it wasn’t me doing the drive, or risking my car’s suspension on the A43’s pot-holed and moon-like surface. Equally, upon arrival in Rotherham, I was a little thankful that my father’s family had decided to move away from the area when he was still quite young.

I don’t wish to be hard on the town of Rotherham, as clearly it’s suffered enough, but if proud Englishman Cecil John Rhodes had lived here in 2013, he’d have been quoted as saying “To be born in Rotherham is to have won a free go on the scratchcard of life”.

I’ve been to worse places. The areas around Anfield/Goodison and Manchester City’s old Maine Road are particularly nasty, and Rotherham in contrast did a friendly place, but the recession has smacked it to the canvas harder than one of Mike Tyson’s old sparring partners. Perhaps most poignant, more so than the long since disused factories, are the occasional modern night clubs and bars. These are businesses that grew as the town fleetingly recovered from the last recession, now also boarded up and forlorn.

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Maybe the saddest though, along a canyon of failed pubs, bars and eateries from the new stadium, is Rotherham’s old home of Millmoor. Rotherham’s home of 101 years was vacated after a rent dispute in 2008, and quite unusually it appears to have been maintained as if the owners still expect Rotherham to return. The pitch still not only looks fine, it’s complete with goalposts and nets. The stands are all still there – or half there in the case of the main stand which was still being built as the talks failed, and if anyone didn’t know they could easily think this was still Rotherham’s home. Flaky peeling red paint of a sign over a turnstile advertising admission for £2.40 might be a clue that all is not as it seems, but even in 2008 that sign would no doubt have been hopeless out of date. Standing on the corner is The Millmoor pub, complete with pub sign featuring Rotherham hero Ronnie Moore. This, alas, is also boarded up.

Visible from the bridge that overlooks Millmoor, just a few hundred yards in the distance over the stand roofs, is the ground that is now the home of Rotherham, the New York Stadium. Named after the neighbouring Guest & Chrimes factory, which produced fire hydrants for New York, it’s at least distinctive. The factory also produced a variety of other water-orientated hardware, but one suspects The Improved Sluice Cock Stadium wouldn’t have had the same appeal. In many other cities this long since disused factory, with its riverside location, would have been converted into expensive flats. Instead, despite English Heritage status, it’s fenced off and crumbling, but serves as a rich contrast to the shiny newness of the stadium next door.

And for once it is a new small build that actually looks pretty good from the outside. The glass wall facade down the main stand side is impressive, with the club name and badge picked out large. Even here though, in the corners, the spectre of empty units can’t be avoided, although these will no doubt be filled given time. Brickwork round the outside of the stadium gives a touch of quality to the finish, and despite the other three sides not being spectacular, it never looks like it might house a Matalan warehouse as other new builds often do.

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Inside, if you gloss over the narrow concourse and the Gents’ toilets only being marginally less crowded than a Mumbai commuter train, it’s a real quality new small stadium, that makes you wonder why all new builds couldn’t be like this. Of course with English chairmen’s habit of copying, give it a few years and a few will be, but until then it’s nice to see a ground that does appear to have got it right.

For a start, it’s steep. Steep enough to make you think “blimey, that’s steep” as you see the Alpine route to your seat for the first time. It really makes you feel like you are on top of the action, even from the back.

Secondly, the stands aren’t all the same size. This means that while not being uniquely shaped, it is at least not just a uniform bowl that’s equally dull from all angles. Adding to this it the different height roof sections, stepping down gradually from the main stand down to the opposite smaller side. The roof is also made from transparent roof panels, allowing the sunlight to shine through making it a much brighter place. The floodlights on one side are also distinctive. Not only are they angled over the stand roof, like children sneakily peering in over a wall, the lights are attached on circular mountings, making a feature of something that usually just an afterthought.

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In truth the stadium is no grand masterpiece, but it just shows that little bits of attention to design can be the difference between being very ordinary and something that’s a little bit special. The population of Rotherham seem to agree, as if there is one place in Rotherham that appears to be booming, it’s here. There may be an element of first season novelty, but crowds are at their highest level since their 2nd tier spells, and the vociferous fans at the home and have made sure those that watch are still fans rather than just spectators. True, not every game will be a near sell-out for a local derby, but there’d be no library comparisons today.

The ground was nigh on sold out, despite being around 1000 under capacity due to two whole corners being used for segregation. I’ve no idea if Chesterfield fans have a bad reputation, but such measures weren’t needed as they showed no hint of fighting at any stage.

Sadly for them, nor did their team. The were completely taken to the cleaners by a rampant home side in the most one-sided 1-0 you could see. Chesterfield didn’t so much park the bus as leave it in neutral with the engine running, as Rotherham got at them at will, but never quite played the killer ball their play deserved.

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In fact such was Rotherham’s dominance without scoring, that you couldn’t help but get a sneaky feeling that Chesterfield might somehow nick it. Probably their best chance came late in the first half, but a less than perfect angle saw a shot poorly hit into the side netting.

The story was the same in the 2nd half, with Chesterfield being barely able to get anywhere near the home goal, and the home side somehow failing to make the best of some good openings. Twelve minutes into the second half though, the breakthrough was made. A corner was floated in, and a simple header from six yards was enough to break the deadlock. It clearly meant a lot to the fans, other than two near us who were suspiciously unmoved by it all, and a red flare in the home end gave a whiff of gunpowder smoke to this explosive moment.

Chesterfield did creak forward a bit more, in a rather meek apology of a response, but they only gave the home side moment of mild concern rather than scares. The exception was deep into stoppage time. With the Chesterfield keeper up for a corner, a header was scuffed and 2300 pair of hands went to the heads of the travelling fans, as their last chance had gone.

Post-match, fans and even the Chesterfield manager went on the radio to moan about how poorly they’d played, with mediocrity beckoning, but for Rotherham, the football club at least if not town, things are definitely looking up.

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