Rotherham United: New York stadium is light years from 2008!

Saying it in pictures: Millers chairman Tony Stewart, right, is presented by Richard Tong with a painting of New York outside the stunning new stadium.          Picture: Dean Atkins.
Saying it in pictures: Millers chairman Tony Stewart, right, is presented by Richard Tong with a painting of New York outside the stunning new stadium. Picture: Dean Atkins.
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IT’S only 600 yards from their old home at Millmoor but it’s taken four years - and what a journey it has been for chairman Tony Stewart and Rotherham United’s loyal and patient supporters.

The boys are officially back in town on Saturday when the splendid New York Stadium stages its first game. It is a moment that everyone connected with the club has longed for and many reckoned they would never see.

Not so Stewart, successful businessman and the go-getting head of Rotherham-based ASD Lighting, a company which includes Buckingham Palace on its customer base!

From the moment he moved in as club owner and addressed the crowd from the pitch at Millmoor’s last game in May 2008, he was determined there would be a new stadium in Rotherham.

Sceptics and cynics by the hundreds (all long since silenced) bellowed that it would never, ever happen. But Stewart was determined it would.

“Yes, we heard the sceptics who said it was never going to happen but we (the board) laughed at that,” he said.

“There were never any second thoughts - the green light was on and it never flickered. We were going to deliver.”

It all began somewhat unpromisingly.

He had been talking with the family of former Millers chairman Ken Booth over continuing at Millmoor but wasn’t able to negotiate a deal he felt was fit for Rotherham.

So Don Valley Stadium became the temporary home and, in that summer of 2008, Stewart approached Rotherham Council over a site for a new ground.

“We spent many weeks and months looking at what the council had got as potential sites, even brownfield sites,” revealed Stewart.

“We looked at and investigated a dozen or so sites, some of them out of town and some even part of the green belt. Over the months, they were all discounted for whatever reason.

“Then we turned to look at private sites. We went to one company, to the chairman who followed the Millers, but he wouldn’t sell. There was a large piece of land near Catcliffe but no.

“Over 18 months, one site or another came to nothing for one particular reason or another. If it was private land they wouldn’t sell; if it was council land it was down to (not getting) planning permission.

Subsequently, the council decided to build new Civic Offices in front of the old Guest and Chrimes foundry site in the New York part of town with the area behind it planned for a new building for Rotherham College of Art and Technology (RCAT) with money from the Learning Skills Council.

Then came the break. The Learning Skills Council ran out of money. Rotherham Council told them they couldn’t help.

The land behind the proposed Civic Offices was available again and some bright spark at the council piped up ... “What about the football club?”

It was autumn 2009.

Stewart went down to look. In doing so, he saw a piece of adjoining land that the council would pass on to him to develop and a further four and a half acres, in private ownership, for which he stumped up a seven figure sum.

“That meant the area, as a whole, was 16 acres, which meant we had the template now for a stadium,” said Stewart.

“That would be Phase One with ideas for Phase Two which would bring in other associated businesses so as to maximise money streams required by the club to sustain its future.”

Stewart insisted it would not be an ‘identikit’ stadium of similar design to many of the smaller-capacity new grounds.

“I wanted something different, an iconic stadium; it was going to be the biggest thing built in the town since the Minster and it had to justify its position as a focal point for the town not just the football club,” he said.

Stewart and his representatives, specifically brother Terry, went all over Britain looking at football grounds.

They looked not just at like-for-like 12-15,000 capacity venues but also at top-end grounds, gathering ideas all the time.

“We specifically looked at the newer, more modern stadia, because things have changed with stadium design and build even inside the past 10 years,” said Stewart.

“And, of course, a stadium has to bring in seven-day-a-week revenue and this was to be in a part of Rotherham that is being regenerated - part of Renaissance Rotherham, they called it.”

They looked too at conference and banqueting facilities at other grounds as Stewart has plans for the New York Stadium to become an ‘event venue’ and not just for Rotherham but for South Yorkshire.

In June last year the diggers moved in. The people of Rotherham could actually see activity on the site of the new home.

Last October, the first steelwork and masonry rose up. It was a significant moment. The sceptics and cynics had disappeared.

By the end of the year, it had a name - the New York Stadium, after the area of the town in which it stood.

In the distant past, the old Guest and Chrimes foundry had produced the distinctive cast-iron fire hydrants that were exported to New York in America.

“Four years ago, Rotherham United didn’t exist as such; it was in ashes,” said Stewart. “Now look at the transformation and what we’ve got. It’s magnificent,”

n Tomorrow: Stewart’s stadium tour