The Trust were delighted to welcome lifelong Millers fan Sander to one of our last games of the season when RUFC played Cardiff City at the New York Stadium.
All the way from Estonia, Sander made the huge trip to Rotherham’s home ground for his first ever game.
We spoke to Sander about why he chose Rotherham United as his football team and about his mammoth journey to watch the Millers.
How did you become a Rotherham fan?
There are no football fans in my family. I first learned about Rotherham United FC in 2009 when I was only 10 years old. On my birthday, my parents gave me a FIFA 10 and I decided to play as a club from League 2. I chose Rotherham because I fell in love with the badge! In those days the internet was very different from the modern internet, and even at the age of 10 I did not know how to use it. As a result, I did not learn anything about the club then.
However, in the spring of 2014, I was preparing for school exams, trying to find some football to watch on the internet to save me from boredom and I came across the League One play-off final, Leyton Orient v Rotherham United. I was surprised – “WOW! That is the team from FIFA!” The score was 0-2 when I switched on and then, Alex Revell! Destiny! With incredible excitement, I watched the match to the end, completely forgetting that I would have an exam tomorrow. That comeback, Revell’s goal, the penalty shootout. That was the moment when I fell in love with this club.
A year after our promotion, I was already in the 10th grade of school and had to think about who I would become in the future. There was a desire to become a journalist, and I needed to have some kind of portfolio before entering. And in June 2015, I launched a blog on Russian-speaking social media. I began to actively use Twitter, subscribed to everyone who was somehow connected with Rotherham, began to write long articles, translate a huge number of interviews, add my own analytics, conduct discussions between subscribers (I must say a huge thank you to Paul Davis and Jonathan Veal, without them I would not have done it).
For eight years, by some miracle we managed to gather an audience of 1100 people. Just imagine! More than 1100 people in the Russian-speaking public of Rotherham! I do not understand how we managed it – at the very beginning it was difficult, because there were no views on the blog, the audience was small. However, now we have become a kind of mouthpiece for Russian-speaking football fans. I will say more, if Rotherham United match was on Russian television, the commentators constantly take information from my blog, sometimes even saying what I have written down word for word.
Because of Russian aggression against Ukraine, I closed that blog and left this social media. Now I do posts in Telegram for my loyal audience of 120 people. By the way I’m not a journalist, but over the years I have fallen in love with this club that I cannot give up this blogging. I am proud to be a Rotherham United fan.
Tell us the story of your journey to Rotherham to watch the game v Cardiff City…
As a schoolteacher the only way to go to Rotherham is during the holidays. Initially, I was going to visit for our last game with Middlesborough, but the matches were moved for TV, so I had to switch my plane tickets to come to the Cardiff game instead.
I live in Tartu, the second largest city in Estonia (80,000 people). So, on 26th April I set off, I spent two and a half hours getting to the capital of Estonia, Tallinn. I spent the evening in town, and then at 22:30 I go on a ferry and went to Helsinki. I arrived in the capital of Finland at 00:30 on 27 April. I had to wait in the airport from 2:00am – 7:00am!
I had a plane to Copenhagen at 7:00 in the morning. For some reason, the plane was delayed for 45 minutes and when we landed in Copenhagen, I found out that the gateway to the flight to Manchester was already closed. I now had to go via Oslo, I was now on a tour of Scandinavia!
10:00am, I set off for Oslo. The flight to Oslo is 40 minutes long and we’re standing again for half an hour and not taking off! I landed at Gate A1 but boarding to Manchester was at Gate F16 – I had to run like a bullet through the entire airport to get there before the gates were shut down!
Thankfully I made it and the two-hour flight from Oslo to Manchester went well. Then in Manchester, I met England’s rail system, and especially the prices! From Manchester, I went to Sheffield, where my hotel was. I settled in, I had tea (Yorkshire tea, btw!). and finally went to Rotherham arriving at the stadium around 5.30pm around 18 hours after starting my journey!
Describe your experience at the New York Stadium, what did you get to do and see? How were the people? The players?
I understand that Rotherham is not known as a tourist destination, but when I arrived in Rotherham and saw the inscription “Rotherham Central” my hands were already shaking.
When I went to the stadium and saw the roof on the horizon, I was already full of incredible emotions – I wanted to cry and laugh at the joy of my dream! I took some pictures outside the stadium, and I went to where the players walked into the stadium where Jonathan, from the community trust team, met me, he promised to give a tour of the stadium, but first I was allowed to wait in the players entrance where I met the whole squad as they came into the ground. I was able to have pictures and have a conversation with them which was brilliant. Ben Wiles even commented that he had followed my journey on twitter!
I wanted to meet Richard Wood, the player I admire all these years – when I told that to Richard, he didn’t believe that he could have personal fans!
Richard showed me the changing room and to the room where medical personnel and analysts were sitting. It was nice to meet people who work in my club! I was particularly impressed by how open they were. I felt like family here. And thanks to all the players, the club staff and the fans for that!
We went to the club shop where I bought a scarf and met John Bird, who helped me buy tickets for the game a couple of weeks ago! I tried a pie at the stadium that everyone told me to try – I understand – to come to England (it’s my first visit here) and not try a pie is a crime. Got a lot of advice on what kind of pie to taste. I went for meat & potato, it was delicious!
The game was great! I’ve seen how passionate people are about their own team, how emotion swings across the stadium. The way the fans defended their players, rejoiced in the goal, all made it clear to me in my personal experience that football in England, Rotherham, is more than just a game I think it’s beautiful, and I’m happy that I’ve had this opportunity, too!
The result wasn’t to be, but I said to Jonathan Allan (RUCST Community Programme Manager) as I left the stadium that we would beat Boro and secure our championship status for another year, and we did!
Up The Millers!