The promotion party, the horrific afternoon at Millmoor and the Gazza saga – The drama in Rotherham’s meetings with Plymouth

When Rotherham play Plymouth there always seems potential for drama of some sort.

Here we look at three of the most memorable meetings between the two sides, with differing scales of incident – and there’s no mention of an aeroplane.

Final-day promotion glory

Plymouth came to Millmoor for the final match of the 1980-81 season and it went on to become one of the most memorable days in Rotherham’s history.

The Millers, playing under Ian Porterfield, were top of the league and needed a point to secure promotion and a win to be guaranteed the Division Three title, with Barnsley, Charlton, Chesterfield and Huddersfield all hot on their heels.

The day started off well for the Millers as Ronnie Moore opened the scoring in the 15th minute, with an iconic goal, firing home a left-footed volley in front of the Tivoli End.┬áBut Plymouth clearly hadn’t read the script and John Sims levelled eight minutes later.

 

Rotherham had enjoyed a brilliant season, though, and it deserved to end in glory, which it did thanks to Rodney Fearn’s 79th-minute goal, coolly clipping over the goalkeeper to spark mass scenes of celebration.

The Millers saw it out and earned a promotion back to the second tier for the first time since 1968.

More important matters

In one of the most horrifying events ever to happen at Millmoor, football was truly put into perspective when Rotherham played Plymouth in 1993.

Phil Henson’s Millers side were in the top half of Division Two and eyeing a late-season push for promotion, but that all became unimportant when winger John Buckley suffered a horrific head injury which left his life in the balance.

The Scot, who was playing just his fourth game of a second spell with the club, went up for an aerial challenge with Argyle defender Gary Poole and the pair accidentally clashed heads.

 

Immediately the seriousness of the incident was obvious as Buckley laid unconscious on the touchline. After receiving treatment on the pitch he was taken to Rotherham General Hospital with a fractured skull, though scans, worryingly, also showed a blood clot on his brain.

As a result he was transferred to the Hallamshire hospital, undergoing emergency surgery, before being kept alive by a life support machine for three weeks.

Buckley, just 30 at the time, was thankfully able to make a full recovery, though he never played professional football again.

The outcome of the match, not that it matters, was a 2-2 draw played out out in an eerily subdued atmosphere at Millmoor. The Millers went in front through Andy Morrison’s early own goal but they needed Chris Wilder’s penalty to earn a point after Paul Dalton and Kevin Nugent had put Plymouth in control.

Buckley, who stayed in the game and was a long-time manager of Doncaster Belles, played 126 times for the Millers over two spells, winning promotion in 1988-89.

An unlikely new manager?

The drama in this one was all before kick-off as one of the oddest pre-match stories dominated the build-up to the game.

Rotherham were struggling in the Championship, heading for a spectacularly bad end to the Ronnie Moore years, and were still winless when Plymouth arrived in October 2004.

The Millers were in the midst of a potential takeover, with local businessmen Darren Millington and Mike Worthington – owners of club sponsors Earth Finance – trying to buy from Ken Booth and because of this, and the club’s struggles on the pitch, there was focus on Moore’s job.

Then in the 24 hours before the game, the rumour mill stepped up a notch with rumours that former England international Paul Gascoigne – a friend of the two businessman – had been appointed in Moore’s place, with Bryan Robson coming in to assist him.

 

The duo, who were not in official charge of the club, had to deny the story, insisting that Gazza, bizarrely referring to himself as G8 at the time, was only due to be at the game with Argyle to perform the half-time draw.

The Millers faithful used the game as a chance to show exactly what they thought of the idea of Moore being dispensed as he was given a raucous reception throughout the game. That additional support for their manager had no effect on the pitch as┬áMathias Doumbe’s second-half header gave Plymouth – managed by a certain Bobby Williamson – the three points.

Moore’s future was secure – for another three months at least – as the takeover fell through after Millington and Worthington were unhappy at their due diligence.

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