To say that the club’s origins are convoluted is a gross understatement. The current Rotherham United FC came into being in 1925 but the brown ball had been kicked around in town long before by a glut of clubs carrying Rotherham in their name.
There’s an early mention of a Rotherham Football Club in 1870 playing at a field opposite Eastwood House, Doncaster Road. Rotherham Wanderers were around in 1872, playing on Jarvis’ s Field in Clifton Lane. The name of Thornhill Football Club, eventually becoming forerunners of Rotherham United, pops up in 1877 and one year later Lunar Rovers were founded. The name was derived from the many matches that were played by moonlight but one year later they changed their name to plain Rotherham, with Town added a few seasons later. In the meantime Rotherham Wanderers had disappeared from the town’s football scene to make place for Rotherham Swifts who folded in 1891.
Thornhill (later adding United to their name) played at the Red House Ground, devoid of either natural or artistic beauty. It was located off Henley Grove Road and Park Street. Thornhill United played second fiddle to Rotherham Town who entertained their crowds at Clifton Lane Cricket Ground before moving to Clifton Grove. The perennial problem of poor attendances led to the downfall of Rotherham Town in 1896, now giving Thornhill United the status of the top team in town. However, the saga continues. In 1899, two minor clubs in town, Rotherham Casuals and Rotherham Grammar School combined to become Rotherham Club. They changed their name to Rotherham Town in 1905.
At Thornhill they were not amused. Not to be outdone and seeing themselves to be the senior club of the two, and certainly the elder, the Thornhill Club, still playing at The Red House, became Rotherham County….. In 1907 Rotherham County moved to a patch of land described as a grass plot of not much practical utility. It was to become Millmoor Ground as we know it today. Meanwhile, Rotherham Town struggled on at their own Clifton Road Ground. By 1922 the club seriously faced extinction. At last, the two clubs amalgamated in 1925 to become Rotherham United and a single club of senior standing was formed in the town. To prevent yet another town club being created the lease of the Clifton Road Ground was taken up and caused the demise of Rotherham Amateurs, which is another long and fairy-tale story….
So at last, Rotherham Town and Rotherham County had overcome their continuing and fierce rivalry, their bitter battles and their poor financial status. Luckily enough their sartorial saga is not as complicated. The first colours of Town were chocolate and sky halves, then blue shirts with white sleeves. County were clad in black and white stripes and later changed to white shirts and black shorts, adding a red belt.
Their first strip after the amalgamation in 1925 was amber shirts with a black V and black shorts. The red shirts did not come into being until the 1928/29 season and inspired the early, albeit unimaginative nickname, of the Reds. Rotherham United have since been faithful to red and white and their fans seem to favour the Arsenal-style red shirt with white sleeves, a combination worn whenever Rotherham United have been doing well.
The club’s first official badge from the ‘Merry Millers’ from Millmoor was the former Rotherham County Borough coat of arms, granted in 1947. The shield has a green background. The bridge across the centre is emblematic of the first Southwark Bridge in London, cast in Rotherham at the Walkers’ foundry, and of the war winning Bailey Bridge, designed by Rotherham born Donald Bailey. Above the bridge are two white Yorkshire roses and a bishop’s mitre, symbolic of Thomas Rotherham, Archbishop of York (1423-1500) and Lord Chancellor of England, who founded the College of Jesus in Rotherham and built parts of the Church of All Saints.
The two bucks supporting the shield are also taken from the arms of Archbishop Rotherham. They wear golden collars from which hand shields charged with a bee, a symbol of industry. The black shields on which to lie are allusive to coal mining, and the black chains to iron and brass founding. Above the helmet is a hand holding a caduceus of Mercury, the god of commerce and emblematic of Rotherham’s trade. The motto, ‘sic virescit industria’ translates as ‘thus trade flourishes’.