Neil Redfearn was a callow youth making his professional debut at Millmoor and he was terrified.
The reason? Gerry Gow.
Redfearn, who would go on to play more than a 1,000 games in an illustrious and eventually manage the Millers, was just a teenager when he made his bow for Bolton Wanderers.
Facing him in Rotherham’s team that February 19 1983 day in the old English Division Two (the equivalent of today’s Championship) was Gow who earlier today sadly lost his battle against lung cancer at the age of 64.
Gow was a cult figure with the Millers. And a genuine hardman.
Redfearn recalled: “I was a 17-year-old at Millmoor. I think Emlyn Hughes was player-manager. Ronnie Moore played and Tony Towner.
“I played against Gerry Gow in midfield. A baptism of fire? Just a bit! He said he was going to break my legs. “I was only 17. I remember playing in midfield with Tony Henry and saying: ‘He says he’s going to break my legs.’
“Tony said: ‘Ah, take no notice of him. He doesn’t mean it.’”
Redfearn shudders as he remembers what happened next. Gow sidled over to him and whispered in his young ear: “I ****ing mean it.”
Gow, a Scottish under-23 international, came to Rotherham after an 11-year spell of nearly 400 matches at Bristol City, where he became a Robins legend, and a stint at Manchester City.
He was sent off minutes into his Millers home debut against Derby County but went on to play more than 60 games for the club between 1981 and 1983, scoring four goals, before ending his career with Burnley.
He could look after himself and at times had an air of ‘crazy’ about him, yet the fear he spread in opposing teams wasn’t solely down to the unflinching physicality of his game.
He could play, really play, and was a key man in the Rotherham side that won nine successive matches in the second tier, including eight in a memorable February, in 1982.
Millers fans took the grizzled Glaswegian to their hearts. He cut a distinctive figure with his long, straggled hair and warrior moustache. That ‘tache didn’t just bristle with menace and intent. It was bristles of menace and intent.
News of his passing was broken by son Chris in a touching Facebook message.
It read: “Today the world fell apart for our family. My beautiful dad passed away in the early hours of the morning. 64 years young, he lost his battle to the most disgusting disease. Me and my family are broken-hearted and nothing will ever fill the void in our hearts. RIP my hero, my best mate, my dad xxxxx.”
I watched and admired Gow when I was a teenage supporter, but never met him. Journalists who knew him speak of a lovely, warm, funny man.
The Millers said on their website: “Rotherham United would like to express our deepest condolences to Gerry’s family and friends at this difficult time.”
John Breckin, who played alongside Gow at Millmoor and eventually become the club’s long-serving assistant manager, summed up his former teammate’s contribution to the Millers.
“He was a player you wanted in your side,” ‘Breck’ said simply. “Not the opposition’s.”