Rotherham United: It wasn’t war. It wasn’t life or death. But how the Millers’ Remembrance Day derby comeback mattered

Paul Warne, his new coat and Mike Pollitt celebrate the equaliser. Pictures: Chris Etchells
Paul Warne, his new coat and Mike Pollitt celebrate the equaliser. Pictures: Chris Etchells
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The silence just before kick-off was immaculate, the explosion just before the end deafening.

This was the Remembrance Day derby.

Words from the famous First World War poem, For the Fallen, echoed around the ground, the notes of The Last Post hung hauntingly in the cold Keepmoat air.

Live on Sky Sports, Rotherham United were doing battle, in a sporting sense, with South Yorkshire rivals Doncaster Rovers. Effort and poppies were everywhere.

Millers chairman Tony Stewart laid a wreath on the pitch, then came a minute of perfect quiet.

Then came Kieffer. Then came the roar.

Millers fans enjoy the moment

Millers fans enjoy the moment

Paul Warne’s visitors were 1-0 down as the match entered a sixth and final minute of time added on. 6ft 5in Moore scored, the country’s leading marksman claiming his 13th goal in 17 League One matches.

The away end, packed with 3,829 travelling fans, went off like a grenade hurled behind enemy lines.

Manager Warne, a smudge of red decorating the breast of his new “lucky” coat, celebrated like he’s never celebrated before, wild-eyed, crazy, manically pumping the air, jumping into the arms of goalkeeper coach Mike Pollitt.

It wasn’t war. It wasn’t life or death. But it mattered.

Scorer Kieffer Moore

Scorer Kieffer Moore

Rotherham, now up to sixth place after the 1-1 draw, had trailed from the 64th minute when Richard Wood put through his own goal. They had come under pressure as Rovers pushed for a second. They had hung in.

As Moore wheeled away in delight, chased by equally-ecstatic teammates, Laurence Binyon’s renowned 1914 ode played out in a different context.

“They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted.”

Warne had invoked the 1918 Armistice Day ceasefire in his own call to arms.

Darren Potter holds off Millers old boy Harry Toffolo

Darren Potter holds off Millers old boy Harry Toffolo

“I told the lads about Armistice and what it meant because I believe half the team don’t know,” he said. “I told them what it meant to me and my family and I tried to give them a bit about the importance of the day.

“I thought the way the ceremony started before the game made it bigger than normal. It was a really good day, a magical day. I even drew a poppy on the board for the lads to see.

“I really thought someone would be the hero today and it would be a game they would truly remember for the rest of their careers. A game on TV, a local derby on Armistice Day.”

The boss had taken the time to do his research.

“I told them how many people died in the First World War - 16 million, and 25 million were injured,” he continued. “I told them about teamwork and courage.

“When you compare what people have done for us to what I was asking them to do, putting their faces in front of the ball is nothing.”

The occasion crackled with atmosphere and significance, but a frantic game keenly contested by two committed teams lacked the quality to do it justice. A point for each side was a fair outcome.

Rotherham should have led at the break. Semi Ajayi’s 32nd-minute header bounced off the bar and Richard Wood had the goal at his mercy as he followed up but somehow headed against the same woodwork. The defender claimed the ball came down over the line but TV evidence was inconclusive.

There was no such argument just after the hour mark when he sliced a volley into his own net while trying to clear a cross. He was substituted near the end as Warne was going all out for a leveller and throwing on forward replacements.

The centre-half had a good game, but this was a Remembrance experience he’ll be happy to forget.

Warne, freezing on the touchline in shirt and jumper in the first half, reappeared in his prized North Face garment after the interval.

It was bought recently in Oxford. In a sale, obviously. He doesn’t like to part with his pounds and coughed up less than half price. Its debut had come earlier in the week in a 3-0 triumph at Bradford City, hence its “lucky” tag.

“Not that lucky,” warm Warne lamented. “Did you see Woody’s own goal?”

As Doncaster’s second-half threat receded and they tried to run down the clock, Rotherham sub Jonson Clarke-Harris shot, after latching on to Darren Potter’s perfect floated pass, only for the frame of the goal to deny the visitors for the third time.

This really was the last post. The Millers wouldn’t hit the woodwork again.

Attacking options Richie Towell, Clarke-Harris and David Ball had all joined the fray by the time Rotherham launched their final push.

Warne was desperate for a result. He lives in Tickhill, a village closer to Doncaster than it is Rotherham. He felt he owed it to his kids, Mack and Riley.

“I won’t lie, I was absolutely buzzing when our goal went in,” he confessed.

“I know my son and daughter can go to their school in Donny reasonably proud of their father instead of feeling let down. They won’t get bullied for three months until we play them again.”

Afterwards, he was a mix of patience and good nature.

Rovers’ 36-year-old veteran of 550 appearances, James Coppinger, occupied the Press room for 15 minutes, keeping the Millers manager waiting outside to complete his own media duties.

“What have you been talking about in there?” Warne asked him as the midfielder finally emerged and the pair shook hands. “Every match you’ve ever played in?”

Moore, keen to get off, had done his interview in the corridor rather than hang around for the Rovers captain to finish.

“It wasn’t quite a great team performance, but we ground it out and I thought in the last five minutes we gave it a right good go,” he said. “Luckily, it fell to us and we got the chance and the goal.

“I always believe I am going to score in every game. It’s a mantra I have. I am a positive person. I am delighted to score my 13th of the season and long may it continue.”

Just seconds remained when his big moment came. After David Ball’s shot was saved, Moore’s header was stopped. The ball came back to him and he prepared to pull the trigger again.

For the second time of the afternoon, Binyon’s sentiments from 103 years ago took on an altered meaning, as the towering striker fired home - the hero Warne had talked of in his pre-match address.

“Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.”

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