Rotherham United: Golden memories of silverware seasons for former Millers skipper Craig Morgan

Craig Morgan salutes the Millers fans
Craig Morgan salutes the Millers fans
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His Rotherham United career began in ignominious circumstances - a wretched 6-2 mauling at Port Vale.

He went on to skipper the side, become a favourite of the fans, win successive promotions and help his club defy the odds, overcome a Football League points deduction and stay in the Championship.

Morgan in commanding form at Fulham

Morgan in commanding form at Fulham

It’s fair to say things improved for Craig Morgan in his three years with the Millers.

And as he’s quick to point out: “I came on as a substitute in that match at half-time when we already 4-0 down!”

The former captain has now departed for Wigan Athletic after turning down a new deal at AESSEAL New York Stadium, but the memories he built up during three years of heady Millers success will stay with him forever.

“It wasn’t the best game to make your debut,” he recalled about that Vale Park defeat early in the LeagueTwo season which would end in the Millers’ rise to League One. “But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise for me.

Morgan in action against Ipswich

Morgan in action against Ipswich

“It meant I kept my place for the next game. We beat Oxford and things just went from there.

After securing their second-tier survival, Rotherham offered their centre-half an improved deal but, with a heavy heart, Morgan decided that his 105-game stint was at an end.

“We finished the season and it was just in my mind that it was the right time to leave,” he said. “I’d given a lot, and going from League Two to staying in the Championship was a great achievement. I felt I could leave on a high.”

The 29-year-old had no complaints about the terms offered to him by the Millers as other clubs, including at least one in the Championship, made their interest in him known.

Success at Wembley with Kari Arnason

Success at Wembley with Kari Arnason

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“There would have been some players there still earning more than me, but the Rotherham United offer was fine,” he revealed. “Money wasn’t a major factor. I’d made my mind up.”

Social-media sites abound with rumours of a big-bucks deal, but Morgan is adamant in his statement: “I have signed for Wigan Athletic for no more than I was offered by Rotherham and another club in the Championship.

“All three offers were about the same. Leaving is purely a football decision. It’s not about greed.”

Morgan starts a new chapter away from New York on July 1 when his move to the Latics becomes official, but his Millers feelings will go with him to the DW Stadium and wherever his career takes him after that.

He searched for the right words to describe how his three-year spell, immersed in matches, training and the banter generated when teammates become close friends off the field and enjoy so many good days on it, felt and came up with a word I’ve never heard a professional footballer use before - “It was joyful really,” he said, sounding almost surprised himself at his choice of adjective.

“The players were a truly special bunch. There was a togetherness and spirit that was better than anything I’ve experienced before.

“We’d turn up for training and it was such a good place to be that nobody wanted to leave. All the players got on and we were always having a laugh together. There were hardly any arguments in the squad in my time there and the ones that did happen were always about football. It’s hard to get that.

“It was a privilege to be captain, 100 per cent. I’ve texted them all to say thanks. Leaving that dressing room behind is the hardest thing about moving on.”

He’ll also miss fitness coach Paul Warne and physiotherapist Denis Circuit. “Warney and Den are great blokes and brilliant at their jobs,” he said. “They were fantastic with me during my time there.”

His best Millers memories were the unbeaten run which swept them to promotion towards the end of the League Two season and the two-legged victory over Preston North End in the League One Play-off Semi-final.

“They showed the mark of the squad - character, bottle, the refusal to lie down, the guts to do it when it mattered,” he said, unwittingly namechecking some of the personal qualities which made him such a formidable operator in the heart of the Rotherham defence.

“The Preston matches were even better than the play-off final win at Wembley for me. At Wembley, it’s a one-off game, anything can happen and we had a wonder-goal. You can’t fake it over two games.”

One solid performance after another endeared him to the Millers faithful, and the respect was mutual.

“I’m grateful to the fans,” he said. “They were always good to me and the other lads. New York was a great place to play when it was rocking.”

Now it’s on to Latics pastures new, where the only thing Morgan - already with four promotions to his name - is greedy for is more success. Wigan were relegated from the Championship last season, but he had no qualms about dropping down a division.

“I like winning games and trophies,” he said. “It’s what I’m in the sport for. I’m excited about what can happen at Wigan. They’ll be looking to go straight back up. When you’ve hit rock bottom, like they did last year, the only was is up.

“I’ve played a lot of football in League One and being there again doesn’t really bother me. I chose the place where I believe I can be most successful, and I’m looking forward to it.”

There’s no doubt he’s a great capture for manager Gary Caldwell’s side.

One thing you can predict with some degree of certainty is that, with their new centre-half in place, they won’t be 4-0 down at half-time in any match next season.

And it doesn’t need Craig Morgan to point that out.