John Breckin's Millers Tale is brought to book - Wednesday and United's loss was Rotherham United's gain
Fan. Player. Captain. Manager. Assistant. Life president. Miller.
John Breckin has seen almost everything during his half-century association with Rotherham United who he fell in love with when his dad first took him to Millmoor as a five year old.
Since then there has been heartbreak on the pitch, and heartbreak off it to put things really into context. Promotions and title-winning seasons, memorable half-time melees with household names. The Ken Booth era; leaving Millmoor; a fresh start for the club just over the road at the superb New York Stadium. And, as his recent reaction to Freddie Ladapo’s late winner at Hillsborough showed when it was caught on camera by the Millers’ media team, he has lost none of the passion for the club he loves.
Breckin’s Millers Tale has been captured in his recent autobiography, My Life in Football. Written so diligently, honestly and excellently by another Millers legend in Les Payne, the former Star and Green ‘Un writer, the book charts Breckin’s remarkable career and raises money for Rotherham Hospice, a cause close to Breckin’s heart after they cared for his second wife Denise as she passed away from cancer.
“It’s amazed me really,” Breckin said of the reception the book has received.
“I got the right bloke to help me with it in Les and it’s for a great cause, for the Hospice. People who have read the book realise what it means to me.
“But I am overwhelmed - I’ve had some great messages and it’s not just me, me, me. I am really pleased how it was written. I wanted it writing a certain way and Les did that. I wanted it about Derek Dalton, Ian Porterfield, Jim McGuigan and the fans … people who have touched my life in my game.
“I didn’t want it to be all about John Breckin and we won this game and did this and that… I wanted it about the characters. I’ve had great feedback and I urge people to buy it because it’s such a good cause.
“All charities need support, there’s a lot of buckets out there, but the hospice is on the doorstep. They helped me and my daughter and they help so many people, and it’s a big part of the town.”
Things could easily have been so different for Breckin. As a youngster he was invited to train with both Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday – the Owls were in the top-flight at the time – and Breckin always remembers his dad’s response when he asked about going to have a look around Hillsborough. “I don’t know, really,” he said. “It’s three buses.”
The Millers were closer, to his heart and his house, and his 467 appearances in their colours puts him third on the club’s all-time list of appearance makers. But it wasn’t all plain sailing and early in his Millers career, he felt the ire of his fellow fans when his side lost six games in a row.
“I was struggling and, before I knew it, I had the crowd on my back,” he remembered.
“It didn’t matter that I was a young, local lad, trying to make his way; they gave me some stick and I got abuse. I wasn’t the only one. But let me tell you, when you’re getting it, you notice all right. It was no surprise when, six games from the end of the season and after playing a run of 23 games, manager Jim McAnearney finally left me out.
Did it affect me mentally? Yes, it did! Was I sleeping soundly at night? No, I wasn’t. Was I worrying? For sure I was. Was I looking forward to going out in front of my own critical supporters? Have a guess!
"Back then, if a player was down or feeling a bit depressed because things weren’t going right or he was getting criticised, the remedy was instant, simple and stark. “Shake yourself; grow up; pull yourself together.” That would be the advice.
“No one really looked upon it then as it would be regarded today, as a mental health issue, and there are now clubs who employ the services of a psychologist for affected players. In those days? A senior pro acted as an impromptu psychologist – if you were lucky. I was.
“Johnny Quinn was there and he was a genuinely nice man, a top bloke and I could talk to him. In fact, I could have gone to him with my life. Had he not been there, what would have happened?
"I’d have stayed silent. Bottled it up. Not said anything to anybody. Back then in the early 1970s no one realised that’s the worst thing you can do. Nowadays, thankfully, there is far more awareness of mental health issues in football and players are rightly assured of the right sort of support.”
Breckin could have worked for Wednesday later in his career, when his great mate and partner Ronnie Moore was lined up by Owls chairman Dave Allen, and was close to a similar role at Bramall Lane when Mark Robins – who Breckin had worked with at Millmoor – interviewed for the vacant manager role after the Blades were relegated to League One.
“It was obviously a great opportunity,” said Breckin.
“So when the announcement was made that Danny Wilson was the new manager, a subdued Mark called me. He sounded down. He’d hit the crossbar.
“I was disappointed for him. I genuinely thought he could take Sheffield United forward despite his relative inexperience in management.”
Instead Breckin later became a valued sounding board for Paul Warne when he took the Millers job. Not for the first time, another club’s loss was Rotherham United’s gain.
Breck: My Life in Football, published by Vertical Editions, is out now, with the authors’ proceeds supporting Rotherham Hospice. Order at www.verticaleditions.com, via the Rotherham United club store or in all good bookshops.