Sunday, 26 August 2012

My Favourite Blade (Number 10) - Mick Rooker

I have had this submission in my email inbox for a few weeks. It was always my intention to finish this run of the My Favourite Blade series with it, however holidays and other happenings at Bramall Lane meant that it was delayed.
 
Sadly that delay means that this post has taken on additional resonance. To those of you who are not Blades fans, the name Mick Rooker might not mean too much to you. However, to Unitedites, he is just one of many people behind the scenes who are the glue which keep the fabric of our club together. Sadly that is no longer the case. Following a series of redundancies, Mick is no longer working for United.
 
Whether that was voluntary or imposed we don't know; it is none of our business. What is has led to is an outpouring of anger and frustration (towards the club) and thanks (for Mick) on internet forums. Forums that Mick was one of the few Blades employees to visit, often with advice on away travel, helping someone out with a ticket issue, a raffle prize or just general everyday advice.
 
Former players such as Brian Deane and Alan Kelly have taken to twitter to comment on how sad it is that Mick has left United. To them he was not just a colleague, but a friend. For many it was a friendship formed as Mick took on a role best described as an unofficial concierge as they adjusted to life in Sheffield.
 
These are dark times at Bramall Lane and having been affected by redundancy myself, my thoughts go out to all those who have lost their jobs at Bramall Lane, through no fault of their own.   
 
Below is Giacomo Squintani's thoughts on Mick, unedited for recent events. Reading back the last paragraph, you can only wish that the executives at Bramall Lane had heeded his advice. Bramall Lane will be a lesser place in Mick's absence. I will add my favourite memory of Mick in the comments below. Feel free to add yours, it will only highlight what the club has lost - a little bit of heart and soul and a great deal of goodwill and personality. 

POSTSCRIPT: Shortly after this was posted, Mick took to the S24SU forum to announce that following a lengthy telephone conversation with Kevin McCabe he was to continue at the club "being Mick Rooker". A little bit of me would like to think that the fan reaction on twitter and forums played a little part in the club's about turn.
 
When Ian put out the call for Favourite Blade memories, my mind immediately went into overdrive. Edwards, surely? Or Colin Morris? Or Alan Kelly? Hmmm… somebody will beat me to them. Maybe Glen Cockerill, who showed me what it meant to make the ball do the running and the talking months before I saw Brazilian legend Zico take that art to the highest level? Not many Unitedites mention him, but Cockerill left his mark on me. Or maybe John Burridge, whose antics amused me as a kid in the Bramall Lane stand just about as much as his saves impressed me?
 
Within minutes, I’d decided not to bother. All bar Kelly were amongst the first footballers whom I’d ever seen and who deserve credit for me falling in love with football. But I only ever saw those guys in August, as between September and June I lived in Italy. I could not sit down and type away of special seasons or even of special matches, as those rarely take place early on in the season. As for Kelly, it was a given that someone would sing his praises, the top performer and gentleman that he was/is. So I’d just sit back and let the likes of @unitedite, @8LAD35 and @ThomasCarter83 sing the praises of Edwards, Morris and Kelly respectively – and I’m glad I did, given the top job they all did.
 
I asked my Mum to put pen to paper, if only for selfish reasons: I wanted to glean her view of who first got her heart pumping at The Lane back in the 1950s. Apologies for the assumption, by the way, that one’s “favourite Blade” is a childhood hero, but I think the evidence of this series supports it… Anyway, she said she found it hard enough to muster the willpower to write the shopping list, let alone a blog entry, so that plan went out of the window. In the meantime, Ian joked whether I’d asked my own Mum to write about me, given my stint in shirt and suit at Bramall Lane. And that got me thinking…
 
…you know what; my Favourite Blade is not Glenn Cockerill. Or Keith Edwards. Or John Burridge, enjoyable though his “Budgie” autobiography is (not much mention of his time at The Lane, mind!). My all-time Favourite Blade is not a player: it’s a shirt and suit chap. My Favourite Blade is…
 
Mick Rooker
 
 
 
Now, that is likely to prompt one of two reactions:
1. Who? Was he before the War?
2. Top lad is Mick!
 
Michael D. Rooker has never played for Sheffield United. He has the passion, but not quite the physique or technique. No doubt you’ve walked past the Pools Office at Bramall Lane, or Promotions Office as it’s now known (for a while Mick resisted the change, purely because he couldn’t see the point in spending money on a new sign!). Well, Mick is the Promotions Office Manager. “Blades Revival”, “Blades Superdraw”, “50/50”… all that stuff is Mick’s. He’s been drawing money out of your bank accounts for years! Most importantly, though, Mick is a true, lifelong Blade, fortunate enough to work for the Club he loves.
 
He is one of the unsung heroes of the “Family Club” – ‘unsung’ by those who haven’t met him, anyway! If you’ve ever needed something and have asked Mick, odds are he did the best he could for you. He understands what it means to be a Blade and treats fellow Blades as fans first, customers second. I’m sure @thecase1907 won’t mind me sharing that Mick helped him out with getting hold of a signed United shirt to promote sponsorship when he ran the Edinburgh Half Marathon earlier this year. Plus Mick does sing his own praises. Not a modest lad, our Mick. Nor should he be: for all his love for the club and his empathy towards fellow Blades, he’s good at what he does and delivers off the pitch. I know he does, because he’s told me. That’s why I sometimes use the hashtag #mickrookerismyguru on Twitter – one that Brian Deane, Alan Kelly and Tony Agana have all endorsed!
 
“But… didn’t he go to Hull and back?” I hear someone at the back object. Indeed. It was a time of turbulence at The Lane (not that that narrows it down!) and both Mick and Andy Daykin headed East to Hull City. Was that because his love for the Blades had declined? Not at all, it’s because he loved United so much that the only way to save that relationship was to step away for a while. I don’t know whether he expected to return as quickly as he did, but I’m sure he was delighted at the opportunity to do so and to find his relationship with his lifelong footballing love all the better and stronger for it. Ignore that little fling in Humberside and Mick’s been at Bramall Lane for twenty-five years. Think about what our club has gone through since 1987 (“Fit and Proper?” being a good place to start if you need reminding) and you soon realise that that takes something special… and Mick’s special alright!
 
By nominating Mick, I’m also nominating a torchbearer for all professionals behind the scenes. When clubs go up or down (and United is one example of a club that doesn’t generally hang around in any one division for too long!), we instinctively think of the players whose CVs have glory or disappointment added to them. As the EPPP takes hold, holding on to players on high wages becomes increasingly tough for relegated clubs, and our hearts often go out to those released. But if they’re good enough, someone will come in for them. What about what goes on behind the scenes, in the clubs’ offices? Budgets are often driven by what takes place on the pitch, yet they are not confined to those who take to the field.
 
In April 2011 at the Madjeski I bumped into a former Promotions Department employee, at one of the season’s strangest games: on the back of one point in thirteen away from home under Adams, we came back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 against one of the Championship’s high flyers. I have since felt guilty that I didn’t make a game or two earlier on, as clearly I was the key to our success that day… Anyway, that former employee of Mick’s had left following our failure to climb back into the Premiership. Those were the days!
 
It hit me then, albeit not for the first time, that similar tales affect hundreds of office staff at football clubs up and down the country whose clubs go down and up. Professionals for whom there is no public transfer window, who will only stay in the game if there is an opening within driving distance. It reminded me, once again, how critical the guys and gals behind the stage are in enabling on-pitch success, yet how dependent they are upon whose goal that football ends up in.
 
And that’s why my Favourite Blade is Michael D. Rooker, Esq. Because we’ve shared great times and because, once the adrenaline-rush of match day has calmed down, he’s a sensitive lad with whom you can have a reight good chat. But, beyond all my own personal reasons, rooted in the specific context of my personal relationship with him, because Mick exemplifies all that is good about working for your club; because he goes into the office every morning (well, most mornings) with the same fire in his belly as the likes of Vinnie Jones, Brian Gayle and Paul Stancliffe took to the field – only he’s been doing it for twenty-five years. Could you have put up with the shenanigans at S2 for twenty-five years? Trust me: if you could bottle Mick’s passion, his commitment and sell it to players who’ve just arrived at your club, you’d make a fortune.
 
There you go McCabe, there’s a plan… you could roll it out across the entire United family, from Hungary to China to… wherever. Any club, anywhere, needs a Mick Rooker. We’re just lucky enough to have The Original.

1 comment:

  1. 10th January 2009 and I was fortunate enough to be at Bramall Lane, not in my usual seat on the Kop, but as a VIP thanks to a SuperDraw win.

    I'd had hospitality days before, usually corporate, and this time I decided I wanted to treat someone who took me to some of my early United games, my Nan.

    Just shy of 90 she couldn't get to games as she used to, but still sat by the radio for each match - kicking every ball for the Red & White Wizards. This was a perfect match, little walking - as we could park at the ground, she wouldn't be sat outside in the freezing cold and there was an opportunity to be treated like a VIP.

    And that is what Mick and Pete Stone did, treated her like a VIP. Always addressing her with a respectful "Mrs Hale", nothing could be too much trouble. Whilst Pete took me up to the press box and the top of the South Stand to take some photos, Mick took my Nan's arm and carefully helped her up the John Street steps to the hospitality suite. Engaging her in chat and sharing memories of watching the Blades.

    That was probably the last time my Nan will get to Bramall Lane, it was a wonderful day and Mick made sure it was. Thank you Rooks.

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