Together, they were the rock on which Rotherham United’s 2001 promotion to the Championship was built.
Together, they were the rock on which Rotherham United’s 2001 promotion to the Championship was built.
Guy Branston. And David Artell. Two tough, imposing centre-halves.
David Artell would throw himself into challanges, attack any ball, because he was a lifelong supporter of the club.
David Artell refused to take a backward step and had no regard for his own safety as he went head to head with League One’s most physical attackers because the Millers were in his heart.
Guy Branston did all that just because he liked doing it.
And how the Rotherham fans loved him for it. They fondly nicknamed him ‘Psycho’, then just stood back and watched, perhaps with one hand over their eyes, thanking the footballing Gods he was one of them.
He wasn’t really a madman. just a bit hot-headed at times. In fact, at League One level, he could be a formidable player, capable of heroic defensive defiance when the battle was at its most intense, and the kind of character who galvanised teammates just by his presence.
But no longer. Branston has played his final match, deciding that, after 19 years, just as many clubs and 500-plus professional games, now is the time to hang up the boots which left their imprint, mostly fairly, on so many battered and bruised opposing centre-forwards.
“I’ve packed in so I can concentrate more on my businesses. I also want to get involved in more media work and one day I want to be a manager,” said the 35-year-old, now happily living a quieter life with partner Kerry in Torquay, having ended his career with Plymouth Argyle.
“To be honest, I supposed I’ve fallen a bit out love with playing. I’m 35 now. I’ve played 500 professional games, God knows how many reserve matches, God knows how many practice games.
“Playing football is the greatest job in the world, it’s a fantastic job, but it can’t go on forever and at some point you have to look to the future.
“My interest in playing was starting to dwindle. I didn’t fancy dropping down into non-league and have people saying ‘remember when he was a proper player’. I wanted to get out on my own terms.”
Branston joined the Millers as a 20-year-old, raw in bone as well as in attitude, and wasted no time in making his mark.
He initially signed for a loan spell, the final match of watch was at Hull City in November 1999, the season in which Ronnie Moore’s men would eventually win promotion from League Two.
After an altercation with Hull striker David Brown, he was sent off.
“Back then you could get away with a lot more,” he recalled. “I was stamped on and admit I decided to have a kick back. I got sucked in by a cowardly act, and the ref gave me a red card.
“The Rotherham management ignored me as I walked off - managers always do when you’ve been given a red - and I was told to go straight in, with them not speaking to me.”
Cue more fireworks.
“On the way inside I saw a door and just hit it in frustration,” he went on. “I later found out it was the door to the referee’s room but I didn’t know that at the time. I hit it once and smashed the glass that was in it. Then I pulled my arm out and hit it again.
“When I got back to the dressing room, I sat down and starting getting undressed. I was feeling a bit dizzy and then I saw a bit of blood on the floor and thought I must have cut my knee.
“I took my T-shirt off and there was just this big flap of skin hanging from my arm. There was blood everywhere. The Hull striker, Colin Alcide, happened to be around, and he was having to wipe blood off his face. I think I had gone into a bit of shock. Colin got a doctor and the next thing I knew I was in an ambulance and being rushed to hospital.
“My mum had come to watch me play and she was with me at my bedside. There was a scare when she noticed my arm had gone really cold. She alerted staff and they’d not actually checked whether I’d hit an artery. That caused a few moments of panic. But all I’d done was lose a lot of blood. It wasn’t a big issue.
“People have always made a big thing about it since, but I’ve never thought it was as serious as they’ve made out. I could still move my hands and fingers the same afterwards. There were no lasting effects.
The management team, Ronnie Moore and John Breckin, might have shunned him that day, but they’d seen enough. Within days he’d joined the club permanently in a £50,000 deal from his home-town club, Leicester City, and, amazingly, that remains the only time anyone has ever paid a fee for his services.
He was back in action within a month, playing in the home clash against Lincoln City on December 4, and would go on to appear more than 100 times for the Millers, cementing a deep mutual respect between him and their followers.
“I love Rotherham, the town and the club. I had a fantastic time there. Sadly, it dwindled away in the end after a fall-out with the manager,” he said. “Ronnie and ‘Breck’ were the management duo at the time and I still have a lot of respect and liking for them. But they weren’t playing me when I was training hard and thought I deserved to be in the side.
“Looking back, I’m still glad I stuck up for myself. It’s a mark of what you are as a man. It someones treats you like a muppet you stand up for yourself. You’ve got to be able to look in the mirror.
“I had a fantastic relationship with the Rotherham fans. I lived in the town and I went out in the town. It was a brilliant time. I had my own house and a few quid in my pocket.
“We used to go round Wickersley drinking with the fans. The Mason’s Arms was a favourite. But it wasn’t only Wickersley. We’d go to the Hind near Whiston and the Belvedere on Moorgate. We also had some great times round Maltby. I lived in Maltby for a year and a half and was always well looked after there.”
He added: “My friends weren’t really footballers. I had the same mates I’d had at school and they used to come up and stay with me. Every weekend we’d be out in Rotherham or Sheffield. It was the culture back then.
“I was never a big drinker, though. I cared too much about my football for that. I just loved the social side of it. It never affected my performance in games. If anything, it improved me by making me more relaxed.
“When I become a manager, my players will have to live within the area. I’m a big believer in players mixing with fans. They pay your bills and support you. We’re not different to anyone else just because we’re players.”
Behind Branston’s gruff, engaging exterior, there’s a lively mind at work. He tells it as it is, using the most industrial of language to make his point, but there’s thought, perspective and sound ideas running through everything he says.
“I’ve spent an awful lot of time in hotel rooms,” he reflected. “It gives you a lot of time to think.”
And he’s clever enough to know his limitations: “I wasn’t a Championship player, League One was my level.”
As we talked, I could hear his young daughter, Maisie, in the background, distracting him from time to time.
Two things became quickly apparent. One, a hulking 6ft 1in specimen of genuine hardman menace can be reduced to lovely doting softness by the attention of a little girl. Two, Maisie will have heard some choice swearwords by the time her second birthday comes round on July 27.
Branston was a hugely influential player for Rotherham during their back-to-back promotions of 2000 and 2001.
I remember, during the second season, a midweek match at Luton in the week leading up to the final home game of the season, against Brentford.
At Kenilworth Road, Rotherham led 1-0 thanks to a Chris Sedgwick goal but were starting to buckle under the pressure from the home side. Unglamourous surroundings, not the biggest away following you’ll ever see, but up stepped Branston when the Millers most needed him. In the last 20 minutes he won everything in the air. And I mean everything. Time and again, Luton launched the ball forward only for it to go hurtling 40 yards back thanks to the Branston forehead.
The Millers held out, setting up Alan Lee’s Millmoor last-minute, promotion-winning moment of history four days later.
He returned for a second loan spell much later in his career, in 2011 when Rotherham were playing out of town at Don Valley Stadium, and was sent off in his first game.
I think it’s fair to say if Carlsberg did loan moves they wouldn’t do Branston’s.
Now, he’s looking forward to a fresh chapter in his life. No more ‘Psycho’, but the Branston legend, like his relationship with Millers fans, will doubtless endure.
Back to that Hull match, and on the Monday afterwards journalist Les Payne was charged with phoning him to enquire how he was.
“Fine, Man,” Branston told The Star’s Millers man of the day, making no mention of the fact there had been genuine fears for his survival and that his wound had required more than 70 stitches.
“Just a scratch.”
Journalist Jonathan Veal has written two books on Rotherham United, the first of which featured a long interview with Branston, and is one of the people with connections to the club who knows the defender best.
He said: “Brano was the sort of footballer that fans love. He gave his all and never shirked a tackle.
“He was also a bit daft and that endeared him to the fans even more. He became a real terrace hero at Rotherham. He summed up why the Millers were so good under Ronnie Moore with his attitude and commitment. His best times as a player were probably at the Millers and that’s why the affinity is there.
“I’ve got to know him quite well over the last couple of years and, as well as being a great footballer, he’s a great guy who will do anything to help.”
Veal’s first book was The Impossible Dream: The Ronnie Moore Years, which is still available on Amazon. His second, Reliving The Dream, covers the Millers’ promotion to the Championship in the 2013 /2014 season and is available for pre-order now - www.thedreambooks.co.uk/index.php/order-reliving-the-dream
Branston has three major business ventures:
A website where would-be players pay a one-off £5.99 fee to upload their video clips shown in bid to attract clubs.
Branston’s uses his contacts in the game and social-media exposure to spread the word, with agents, coaches, managers etc all having access to the footage.
Get Noticed app
A mobile app which lets you showcase and edit material, sporting or otherwise. Videos can be instantly shared on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and by e-mail.
The Footballer’s Journey
A book which examines the reality of becoming a footballer including the odds of ‘making it’, how academies really work, the importance of attitude and mindset, and even the value of having a back-up plan if things don’t work out. It has real-life stories from current and former professionals across different leagues, including Manchester United and England defender Chris Smalling. “It shows the dark side and the glamour,” said c0-author Branston.