From the Busby Babes to Chelsea’s lack of “history,” we all know quite a bit about the Premier League regulars Aston Villa are used to seeing on the fixture list. But this season brings a new challenge, and with it, a host of clubs the Villans haven’t seen in a while — if ever.
Last week, we got to know Sheffield Wednesday, but this week, it’s Rotherham United, who come to Villa Park as the first competitive visitors of the season. Let’s get after it.
The basics: When we talk about iconic English football clubs, Rotherham United aren’t one that immediately comes to mind. But that’s not to say the club don’t have an interesting history. Founded in 1925 as a merger between Rotherham Town and Rotherham County, the Millers have never played in the top flight; though they finished joint-top with both Birmingham City and Luton Town in the 1954-55 Second Division season. After starting in amber-and-white kits, Rotherham now wear red and white, often in a style similar to that of Arsenal, and like Wednesday, they take their nickname from a place name: their former ground, Millmoor.
How they got here: Rotherham started the 2012-13 season in League Two, but successive promotions brought them back into the Championship for the start of the 2014-15 season, where they’ve only managed to scrape by since arriving. They finished just a point above the drop in 2014-15 in 21st, repeating that finish last season, though doing so nine points clear that time. They marked a solid start to this season though, with a 2-2 home draw against Wolves last Saturday.
Brightest moments: Rotherham’s biggest piece of silverware is the 1996 Football League Trophy, but their most famous moment lives on in the lore of trivia, and Villa, history. In 1961, Rotherham United contested the first-ever Football League Cup final, where they jumped out to a 2-0 lead after the first leg. Of course, Villa was their opponent, and after 90 minutes at Villa Park, the Claret and Blues won the trophy, 3-2 on aggregate.
Major rivals: Like most Yorkshire clubs, Rotherham don’t seem to particularly care for their local brethren — thus, their tie with Sheffield Wednesday will once again be a derby this year. Additional rivals include Sheffield United and Doncaster Rovers, among others.
Home ground: Millmoor is the historic ground of the club — it was their home from 1925 through 2008 — but since 2012, they’ve played at the 12,021-seat New York Stadium. It’s a lovely modern ground, but they really shouldn’t be there. From 2008 through 2012, the Millers played at Sheffield’s Don Valley Stadium after they left Millmoor due to a dispute with the ground’s owner. Millmoor still stands, eight years after its club left, with a still-unfinished new main stand.
History with Villa: As I mentioned earlier, the 1961 League Cup final is, and probably forever will be, the biggest piece of history between the clubs. We last saw Rotherham supporters three years ago, when Villa opened their 2013-14 League Cup campaign with a 3-0 win at Villa Park. That meeting, though, was the first between the clubs since 1972, when Villa were 2-0 winners in the Third Division. On the whole though, Villa have nine wins and a draw from 14 matches in this sparingly-played match.
Players to watch: He bagged just four goals last year, but Danny Ward was the first goalscorer for the Millers last weekend; Will Vaulks added the second, scoring in his Rotherham debut, and it was quite the goal.
Season outlook: Above all else, I think the Millers would bite your hand off if you offered them a lower-mid-table finish and an opportunity to consolidate their Championship place.