Rotherham United: The day 30,000 fans saluted new Millers boss Neil Redfearn

Neil Redfearn acknowledges the Leeds fans after the match against the Millers
Neil Redfearn acknowledges the Leeds fans after the match against the Millers

He stood on the sideline at Elland Road watching his Leeds team play Rotherham United while close to 30,000 people chanted his name.

Neil Redfearn was head coach at Elland Road as the Championship giants closed out their season at home to the Millers.

Neil Redfearn at the same game

Neil Redfearn at the same game

It was an open secret that the 50-year-old, despite doing a sterling job in impossible circumstances under the Massimo Cellino regime, was taking charge of the senior side for the final time.

A parting of the ways would come just a couple of weeks later, but at that moment on May 2 2015 - and at several other times during the match - the Leeds faithful were letting their man know what they thought of him.

‘Neil Redfearn’ rang out in West Yorkshire. Say what you like about Leeds fans, but they are passionate and vociferous. That imposing East Stand rises, seemingly, almost to the clouds, a magnificent footballing sight when it’s full, and the volume was turned up to full.

I remember, as I sat there in the press box, being impressed by two things - one, that a single figure could generate such heartfelt support and, two, how he handled it.

Neil Redfearn in his Barnsley days

Neil Redfearn in his Barnsley days

He had to feel moved by what what was happening and carry a sense of injustice at what he knew would follow, but he acknowledged the acclaim with a calm, appreciative wave, a picture of blue-tracksuited dignity.

This was the character chairman Cellino had outrageously described as “weak” and “like a baby”. There were 31,850 paying customers in the ground that afternoon and virtually all of them - taking out of the equation the 2,000-plus following from Rotherham there to share then-manager Steve Evans’ ‘sombrero’ day out - vocally disagreed. Cellino chose to miss the match, going scouting to Morecambe instead,

Now those 2,000-plus followers, along with all other Millers fans, will have the chance to judge Redfearn for themselves. After that end-of-season 0-0 draw between Leeds and the Millers, his next match will be as Rotherham’s new manager when Championship action resumes after the international break at Brentford on Saturday.

The club announced his appointment last Friday, 12 days after the departure of Evans, and he is taking charge at their Roundwood training complex for the first time tomorrow morning before being officially unveiled at press conference tomorrow afternoon at AESSEAL New York Stadium.

Tony Stewart

Tony Stewart

They are getting a man steeped in football, a player who graced the Premier League and didn’t hang up his boots until he was nearly 40, a coach renowned for his development of young players and a manager who proved last season in the most trying of environments that he can cut it at second-tier level.

Redfearn was the front-runner from the moment Evans’ exit was announced on September 28.

Former Sheffield Wednesday head coach Stuart Gray was also an early favourite but, like ex-Sheffield United boss Nigel Clough and another one-time Owls man, Dave Jones, was never a leading contender.

Tony Stewart believes interviews are when he can really assess a candidate’s true worth and Redfearn impressed the Millers chairman when they met last week. After approaches to talk to - only to talk to, remember, not to offer them the job - Burton Albion’s Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Walsall’s Dean Smith were rejected, it came down to a choice between two men, with Hibernian’s Alan Stubbs thought to be the man to miss out.

Alan Stubbs

Alan Stubbs

A lot of people will remember Redfearn as a prolific midfielder in the 1990s for Barnsley, where he scored 84 goals in 335 starts.

What many might not know is that in a career spanning 22 years and 13 clubs he played 790 league games, putting him fifth on the all-time list of most Football League appearances by English players.

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There were caretaker spells as a manager at Halifax Town and York City, where he had been youth-team coach, with short spells in full charge at non-league Scarborough Town and Northwich Victoria sandwiched in between, but it was as a coach of young talent at Leeds from 2009 onwards where he really made his mark before stepping into the main job at Elland Road last season.

During his time with the club’s academy, he developed Sam Byram, Alex Mowatt and Lewis Cook, who are all now established first-team players, while, under his tutelage, Dominic Poleon, Chris Dawson and Kalvin Phillps also made their senior breakthroughs.

Stewart will like that. It’s a long time since a homegrown youngster made an impact at Rotherham, and the club’s owner, over time, wants that to change. Championship progress is the main aim, but Redfearn’s vision for the future, embracing his expertise with kids and in setting up systems to scout them and nurture them, will have played a part in him beating more than 60 other candidates to the job.

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink

The production of local talent is a long-term project, but it will interesting to see what kind of effect Redfearn can have on younger elements of the squad he inherits from Evans like Jonson Clarke-Harris, Joe Newell, Farrend Rawson and Tom Thorpe.

Under Brian McDermott, he was made first-team coach at Elland Road, stepping back down to his reserve-team, development-squad and academy roles when Cellino replaced McDermott with David Hockaday. 70 days later, Hockaday was gone and Redfearn, standing in as caretaker manager, won three and drew one of his four matches, prompting calls from fans and players for him to to be given the post full-time.

Darko Milanic came and went even faster and Redfearn was finally made top man. He had an immediate impact, moving Leeds away from the relegation zone and for a spell it looked like they might even gatecrash the play-off places before the instability caused by Cellino’s disqualification from office by the Football League saw them finish in 15th place.

Redfearn’s assistant, former Millers midfielder Steve Thompson, had been removed with no explanation, and then there was that bizarre episode when the club’s six players from Italy, brought in by fellow Italian Cellino, pulled out on the eve of a match against Charlton Athletic, all claiming injury.

There’s no proof Cellino was behind it, but Redfearn was left isolated, and who knows what the man who finished with a 33 per cent win ratio might have achieved with proper backing?

He doesn’t have a deal of managerial experience and his time in charge at Leeds may have lasted less than a full season, but much was packed into that 33-game reign and he will have learned plenty.

The impression he made became movingly evident on that May 2 occasion when Leeds supporters couldn’t have given him a more resounding or more public reference to take to his next prospective employers.

Born in Dewsbury, he started out as a youth at Nottingham Forest, before making his professional bow for Bolton Wanderers in the 1982/83 season. He arrived at Barnsley in 1991, via spells at Lincoln City, Doncaster Rovers, Crystal Palace, Watford and Oldham Athletic, staying for seven years, captaining the team and playing for them in the Premier League.

He was 33 by the time he left, but top-flight Charlton thought enough about him to pay £1 million for his services, and he then saw out his career at Bradford City, also in the top division, Wigan Athletic, Halifax, Boston United and Rochdale.

His final goal in league football came in the old Division Three in a 1-1 draw for Boston at Lincoln in February 2004 and his last appearance was three months later, on May 1, as he helped Rochdale draw 1-1 at home to Southend United.

By the way, as I know you’ve been wondering for the last 13 paragraphs, Peter Shilton (1,005), Tony Ford (931), Terry Paine (824) and David James (791) are the players head of him.

Thompson is now first-team coach at Preston North End, and it remains to be seen whether Redfearn will bring in any of his own men. The club already have Eric Black and Paul Warne as first-team coach and fitness coach respectively and both are popular and hugely-respected figures within Millers circles with reputations for being excellent at their jobs.

He takes over with Rotherham in 21st place in the Championship, but with spirits lifted by two wins in their last three matches and a good performance against high-flying Burnley after a poor start to the campaign had left them in bottom spot.

He and Stewart should work well together, and the new man will benefit from the presence of an encouraging chairman who will offer solid, consistent backing, financially and emotionally, while allowing him to get on with his work.

The word on the Millers manager from Leeds contacts and other people who have worked with him couldn’t be more positive.

Well-liked. Down-to-earth. Strong-minded, Honest, Straight-taking. Decent. A lot like Stewart. Nothing like Cellino’s ill-founded attack.

If anyone acted weakly and like a baby in that Elland Road relationship, it wasn’t Redfearn.

Dean Smith

Dean Smith