Rotherham United: Chairman Tony’s greatest day in football

Rotherham United goalkeeper Adam Collin saves the deciding penalty from Leyton Orient's Chris Dagnall in the shoot-out during the Sky Bet League One Play Off Final at Wembley Stadium
Rotherham United goalkeeper Adam Collin saves the deciding penalty from Leyton Orient's Chris Dagnall in the shoot-out during the Sky Bet League One Play Off Final at Wembley Stadium

Tony Stewart is the driven achiever who built a multi-million-pound business by having his finger on every button of his lighting empire.

Tony Stewart is the ambitious chairman who rescued ailing Rotherham United from administration and turned them into a Championship side by taking a forensic interest in all departments of the club.

League One Play-Off at Wembley - Rotherham Utd v Leyton Orient 'Millers fans in the stadium ''Celebrations as the Millers win on penalties - Adam Collin celebrates

League One Play-Off at Wembley - Rotherham Utd v Leyton Orient 'Millers fans in the stadium ''Celebrations as the Millers win on penalties - Adam Collin celebrates

Yet when it came to Wembley and the club’s greatest day Tony Stewart freely admits he didn’t know what was going on!

The Millers led 4-3 in a nerve-wracking League One Play-off Final penalty shoot-out against Leyton Orient. Goalkeeper Adam Collin had made one save already and up stepped Orient striker Chris Dagnall to try to prolong the contest. Collin v Dagnall. Collin won.

“Collin came up with those fantastic saves,” Stewart recalled. “I didn’t know if we were on the fourth shot, the fifth shot. All I saw was Collin’s arms up in the air and the Rotherham players running towards him.  

“He ran to them. There was like a rugby scrum and I just remember a blond-haired lad at a tangent to the scrum trying to get out of it because he was being squashed. That was Ben Pringle.

Tony Stewart

Tony Stewart

“The place erupted. 

“I didn’t realise that it hinged on that penalty. I was in my own silence. I just watched it, absorbed it and it was only Collin jumping up and raising his arms that made me realise ‘it’s all over, Rotherham United are promoted’.”

Five weeks on, the Millers begin their return to pre-season training today and Stewart is set to be made a Freeman of the Town for building New York Stadium and taking the club to two successive promotions.

But that glorious May 25 day in the sun remains fresh in everyone’s memory.

Twenty-thousand Rotherham followers sat stunned as their side matched Orient only to fall behind to two quickfire goals, one a stunner from Moses Odubajo.

“It was a shock to be 2-0 down at half-time,” said Stewart. “I went over to the Leyton Orient chairman, Barry Hearn, and said: ‘You’ve had a good first half, Barry. A great first goal and you’re 2-0 up.’

“He turned round and said he was sure there were more goals to come.

“I turned my back on him and walked back to hospitality, muttering: ‘Yes, I hope there is!’.”

And, yes, there certainly was.

Alex Revell, deciding the time was nigh for him to write himself into Millers folklore, bundled home the first and then scored the goal of his career with a career-defining 35-yard volley which flew high into the air before dipping behind despairing Orient keeper Jamie Jones to force the shoot-out.

“Wow, that second goal,” said Stewart.

“Revs’ position, his body, his poise. We’ll have to get a painting done. I’m told by the experts that he positioned himself, shaped himself, perfectly to do what what he was about to do.

“I was never anxious. I had this positive feeling that we had a chance.”

The champagne was already flowing as the players celebrated in front of their ecstatic followers and, after 46 league matches, 86 points, three play-off ties and nine months of unremitting effort, the party was just beginning.

Stewart revealed: “It was the perfect day from start to finish. In the morning, we knew we were going to Wembley  and there was the occasion of all the fans gathering round, all wanting a piece of the action. The adulation was tremendous. 

“There was a champagne reception, hospitality like a five-star hotel and it was good to see a lot of your friends there waiting for the action to happen. 

“In football terms, it was the best day of my life. It went on from celebrating at the ground to carrying on at the hotel. We’d booked a room at the Hilton Hotel. I said to Steve (manager Evans): ‘We’ve had to book this room. Even if we lose, it will still have been a fantastic season. We will all be down, I know, but we have to celebrate. It’s the play-off final in our first season back in L1 and that on it’s own is incredible. 

“Happily, because of the win, that room had a difference presence.

“I remember one of the players saying they were going to go down town and see the city at 9pm. They never moved. They just got taken away with the occasion. Drinks flowed and there was laughing and joking. It was just hysterical, and it went on while the early hours.”

With 10 new players in and their transfer record broken to recruit striker Jordan Bowery from the Premier League, the Millers are well on the way to preparing for life in the Championship.

It’s a matter of pride for Stewart that he can look forward to next season in the second tier of English football after successive promotions under his helm.

Hello Leeds United, Nottingham Forest and Blackburn Rovers. Goodbye York City and Morecambe.

“For four years we’d visited the same people - the Accrington Stanleys and what have you - so, having got promotion from League Two, there were all these new teams,” said Stewart as he reflected on last season’ League One campaign.

“There were many highlights last year. It took until Christmas to get certain individuals in and the bar was lifted. At Christmas we felt League One was easier than League Two. It wasn’t a case of not respecting people but we didn’t fear anybody.

“Here was a club competing at a high level and not only pinching the games but working hard to get the goals beyond the 90 minutes.

“It wasn’t any particular instance. The satisfaction and thrill came from how we played, how we maintained the performance, how we seemed to be near the top of League One consistently.

“After Christmas, the last touches to bring the side together were in place.

“The last four or five games, after we’d guaranteed our play-off spot, were almost a hindrance.

“I just found myself wanting to get them out of the way and get to the meat and bones, which was the play-offs. I didn’t want any injuries or red cards.”

When it came to the meat and bones, the Millers found themselves up against the team no-one wanted to face, Preston.

“I do know that Preston were the favourites,” said Stewart. “They didn’t want us and we didn’t want them. I know that because I talked to their chairman.

“I remember being very anxious on the Saturday at Preston as whatever happened that day would wash into the following Thursday and the second leg.”

Rotherham duly drew 1-1 to set up the biggest home match of Stewart’s tenure.

“What an occasion, another sell-out. What a game,” he enthused. “Credit is due to the lads. We went behind but then we led 3-1 in the second half when Kieran Agard scored the third goal we were all gagging for. 

“Preston came back and bombarded us but the boys held on and kept our position. It’s the best atmosphere I’ve known at New York Stadium.

“I think everyone around the town wanted that re-visit to Wembley after losing four years ago in the League Two Final to Dagenham.”

Ooh, there’s another one. 

Goodbye Dagenham & Redbridge. Hello Norwich City, Cardiff City and Fulham.