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Millers heroes staring danger in face

Winning promotion is one of the ultimate achievements in a player’s career, but it does not come without potential pitfalls.

The nature of football means that a lot of guys who played a role in getting their club into a higher division are not around to reap the rewards.

And those that are still at the club aren’t necessarily going to be key players as their side tries to establish themselves at a better level.

A fair chunk of Rotherham’s squad will be staring those dangers right in the face this season and, as with their predecessors of the 1999-2001 clan, the risk is even greater owing to them skipping straight though League One last year.

For Kari Arnason, Mark Bradley, Ben Pringle, Joe Skarz, Kieran Agard, Lee Frecklington, Craig Morgan and Alex Revell it is a massive jump. 

Two years ago they were playing in League Two and no matter what their pedigree or credentials, this season they are stepping into the unknown.

Only 10 of the players who featured in the play-off final at Wembley
against Leyton Orient last season remain at the club

And with boss Steve Evans bringing in 12 players this summer, the majority of which with vast Championship experience, the likelihood of all of them being as integral as they have been for the past 24 months seems unlikely.

It is inevitable that some of them could end up leaving the club over the next few months, but that is part and parcel of football - players come and go at regular intervals.

But sometimes, in the wake of a quick rise up the leagues, it can take a more sinister turn for players.

That is something that former Rotherham skipper Kevin Watson knows all about.

Watson was the kingpin of the Millers side which, under Ronnie Moore, won successive promotions from Division Three to the uncharted waters of Division One.

He captained the side and from his role in central midfield pulled the strings over a glorious two-year period.

But a difficult first few months in the second tier – a division in which he had substantial prior experience – saw the Millmoor booboys target him, leaving the former Spurs man a nervous wreck. It eventually led to a particularly unsavoury exit.

Watson, who was struggling with life off the field after the birth of his daughter, endured a rapid fall from grace and got a bitter taste of just how quickly things can change in football.

One minute he was whacking in a crucial goal against a promotion rival from 25 yards, the next his family is getting abused in the main stand as he struggled on the pitch.

One the most well-received chapters in Impossible Dream: The Ronnie Moore Years is the one detailing Watson’s demise at the club.

It was a touching piece, focusing on how a once confident and eye-catching footballer had been reduced to a bundle of nerves because of the crowd reaction.

Someone who had given so much for the club and played such an integral part in a great period was forced out as if he was a pariah.

The full extent of how Watson was affected by the abuse he received can be felt in this extract of quotes from the chapter, Hounded Out, in Impossible Dream.

“It didn't seem fair, to jump on me for misplaced passes I found absolutely mind-boggling I wasn’t that old at the time, but it did affect me. I remember one game, Hursty took a throw to me and I went to set it back to him on the half-volley but I trod on the ball, fell over and I thought, ‘What is going on?’. I went to pieces because of it. I wanted to get on the ball but every time it came near me I was nervous and uptight and it does affect players. I am not too proud to admit it but I was an absolute bundle of nerves and I didn’t want to play under those circumstances. It was a tough environment for me. The people that know the game would not do what they did to me, but every club has fans that will boo and I suppose they pay their money to go and watch so they can do what they like. But I don't hold any grudges.”

Watson has been able to put that treatment behind him and is now quite rightly remembered with the fondness that his overall contribution at the club deserved.

And the 40-year-old can see the differences in the current crop of Millers from his era and does not expect the same struggles that he had to endure as Evans’ men aim to establish themselves in the second tier.

“They are going to hold their own, they will be comfortably mid-table,” the former midfielder said. “The club is on a very sound footing financially, we did it with a lot less help under Ronnie, that’s not to take anything away from Steve Evans.

“He pinpointed the players he wants and he’s got them and they are flying up the divisions. It’s a great stadium, I would love to play in that every week.

Watson captained the Millers with distinguish over two years

“It won't be a walk in the park but I think they will be fine, I don’t think they will be near the relegation zone at all which bodes well for the club and the town.

“They are used to winning, they have been very successful and one thing I do think is very much the same as the team I played in is they never give up.

“They have got to realise that it is going to be a lot tougher, there is a big jump from League One to the Championship, just because of the sheer fact that players are dropping out of the Premier League, good quality players to play in the Championship because of the amount of foreigners in the Premier League.

“But they need a good start, that can make all the difference.”

Even if the Millers do struggle, it is extremely unlikely that any of the players will have to put up with the abuse that Watson received. They were the dark days.

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