Chairman has Championship ambitions
29 April ~ Six seasons after being relegated to League Two in a crumbling ground and with a ten-point deduction, Rotherham United return to League One with a tangible sense of renewal. Saturday's 2-0 victory over Aldershot provided the grand finale to an end-of-season run of form that saw the club win their final five games to claim an automatic promotion berth. Their relegation in 2007 came off the back of a points deduction, the first of three in consecutive seasons they were penalised because of financial difficulties.
Following two periods in administration, local businessman Tony Stewart eventually stepped in and set in motion a regeneration process that started with an unwanted four-year stint at Sheffield's Don Valley Stadium. The move was brought about by the club failing to agree a new lease with their former owner Ken Booth, who remains owner of Millmoor – Rotherham's former home – and the scrap metal yard that surrounds it.
Despite the move, Stewart delivered on his promise to return the club to Rotherham. The New York Stadium, opened last summer, is popular with fans and triggered a doubling in the average attendance. Located just the other side of the A630 from Millmoor, it provides a welcome break from the generic out-of-town "Lego stadiums" that have begun littering the bottom two divisions, even if the club do insist on playing that Frank Sinatra song at every opportunity.
Stewart has worked his way through three managers and two caretakers since arriving, a strategy that has drawn some criticism from supporters. Many were unsure of his decision to appoint Crawley Town manager Steve Evans last April, a man seemingly stalked by controversy wherever he goes. Those doubts lingered through the autumn with the Millers dropping as low as 15th but Stewart stuck by his man and was rewarded with a late sprint to the finish line.
Saturday's game sold out nearly a week in advance, with the club claiming they could have sold 15,000 tickets for the fixture had the ground been big enough. Stewart addressed the crowd before kick-off and spoke with passion about the town having rediscovered its football club. Aldershot, almost certain of relegation even before kick-off, resisted for an hour but never looked like preventing a promotion party. They now return to the Conference after finishing bottom. Even before Saturday's promotion, Stewart has talked about taking Rotherham all the way to the Championship. Given his record so far, you wouldn't bet against him making it. Marcus Haydon