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Millers spell of two halves for Stockdale

Robbie Stockdale was once a beacon of optimism for Rotherham.

The right-back came to the Millers on loan from Premier League Middlesbrough, where he had been an established first-team player, in 2004 and was part of a side under Ronnie Moore that finished the 04/05 campaign strongly and guaranteed them a fourth year in the second tier.

At that time there was plenty to be hopeful about.

Stockdale was joined by Premier League loanees Jody Morris and Phil Gilchrist and complemented an existing squad that included experienced pro Mike Pollitt, promising youngsters Chris Sedgwick and Shaun Barker and an exciting front pairing of Martin Butler and Michael Proctor.

They produced some impressive results towards the back end of the season, including a win at Stoke and success over Burnley   where Stockdale scored – but the real optimism came off the pitch with talk of a potential takeover from local business Neil Freeman who promised Moore a transfer war chest.

But, despite parading on the Millmoor pitch with a Millers scarf, that proved to be pie in the sky and Moore missed out on a number of a-list signings, including Morris.

Robbie Stockdale had a fine loan spell with the Millers in the 2003/04 season
Stockdale did sign on, however, but things headed south quickly as the club endured a horror season, which saw Moore lose his job and relegation confirmed by early April.

"I came to Rotherham and really started enjoying my football and we had a good team as well,” Stockdale, who left in the January of that season, said.

"We got some great results and stayed up and promises were made about players signing.

“I was the first of the loan players to sign and the others just didn’t really materialise and we weren’t as strong the following season.

“I know Ronnie was disappointed that he couldn’t get more of the loan players over the line but these things happen don’t they?

“The takeover didn’t happen and it filtered through to the players and it wasn’t a great atmosphere at the club at that time to be honest.”

That woeful season of 2004/05 set the club on a journey which saw them enter administration twice, leave their home of over 100 years and spent six seasons in the bottom tier.

Thankfully, the Millers have returned to the same level as when Stockdale pulled on the red and white shirt and he admits they are a different club now.

“The club is unrecognisable now,” he added. “It is fantastic, I didn’t have the best of times there once I signed permanently but certainly my loan spell I really enjoyed it.

“To see them now, the club is on the way up, the new stadium is great. I managed to play there for Warney’s testimonial and that was great.

“They are a club on the up and they can make that next step up, that might take a few years but they need to stabilise in the Championship.”

One club who Stockdale thinks could make the move out of the division in the right direction this season is his former club and Saturday's opponents Boro.

When Stockdale – now manager of Sunderland’s under-21 side – joined the Millers in 2004 he did so having lived the dream at his hometown club.

Cutting his teeth at the club as a trainee, when the famous names of Fabrizio Ravanelli, Juninho and Emerson were there, he made his debut as a 17-year-old and under the guidance of Steve McClaren became a Premier League regular at the turn of the century.

Being born and bred in Redcar, Stockdale loved every moment of his time at the club.

Stockdale made his debut for Middlesbrough as a 17-year-old in 1998
"I joined when I was seven or eight years old at Ayresome Park and came through the system,” he added.

"I played for every age group right through to the seniors.

“I was brought up in the Middlesbrough area and I was a fan so it was something I wanted to do, to play for Middlesbrough was great.

"The money really kicked off and Bryan Robson was able to bring in these superstars from around the world and around the club there was such a great buzz.

“I was a YT and cleaned Juninho’s boots and things like that. I don’t think anything like that will ever happen again for Middlesbrough, the interest in the club at that time was fantastic.

"I played a few games under Bryan and then I came out of the team when other players came in but when Steve McClaren was the manager I got a second chance and really took it.

"That was probably my best time for Middlesbrough under Steve. We had a really good team at that time.

“Bryan had his own ways which were great for the older pros, but when Steve came in I felt it was the first time I had really been coached as a player and improved.

"Just the calibre of players Bryan had, he didn’t really have to do that much coaching, but when Steve came in his coaching staff were really good and I took to it and broke into the team and made myself a regular.

"We got to the semi-finals of the FA Cup and I was playing in a team of great players, we had Mark Schwarzer, Gareth Southgate, Christian Ziege, Paul Ince, so for a young player playing for his hometown club you couldn't ask for anything more really.

"I was living the dream, I was doing well and called up for Scotland and things were going great. Then unfortunately I got injured with a really bad one which was hard to diagnose in my heel and struggled with it and the club decided to bring in Danny Mills to replace me.

“I came back and for the last home game of the 2002/03 season when we beat Tottenham 5-1 and I thought I did well but for the next week at Bolton I travelled there expecting to play but I wasn’t even on the bench, so I think the writing was on the wall. 

"I had been there since I was seven I was 24 it is a hell of a long time, and it was right to move on."

And on Middlesbrough’s chances of success this season, Stockdale thinks they are well placed to return to the elite of English football.

"Boro look as strong as they have done since they got relegated,” he said. “The squad has been strengthened, they are playing good football and the manager has done a good job.

"Middlesbrough need to be in the Premier League, they are a Premier League club, they have got a fantastic stadium, the training ground is great and the fans deserve to be back in the Premier League. 

"This season is as good as any for them to push on and achieve that and I really genuinely hope they do.”

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