Armed with two promotion gongs, glorious Wembley memories and everyone’s best wishes at Rotherham United, former Millers defender Joe Skarz begins a new chapter in his career tomorrow.
The 25-year-old left-back plays his first match for Oxford United after leaving AESSEAL New York Stadium by mutual consent last week.
Manager Steve Evans had decided Skarz no longer had a part to play in the Millers’ Championship campaign, but that didn’t stop him paying a touching tribute to a player supporters had taken to their hearts.
“Joe Skarz is a wonderful young man and a terrific professional,” he said. “Last Saturday night, after he had signed for Oxford, I received a text from him which was probably the most humble message I have ever received from a player.
“He thanked me for the part I and the club had played in his career. That tells you what kind of individual he is.”
Everyone had time for Skarz. People warmed to his effort, loved his honesty and knew here was a player who would always give his all for the red-and-white cause.
“I’ve loved every minute of my time at Rotherham,” he told me as he drove back from Oxford on Tuesday afternoon in the hope of making the Millers v Bolton match.
“I’m massively sorry to leave. I’m disappointed, but that’s football, and Oxford is a new challenge for me. I can see, with their ambition, similarities with Rotherham when I first joined.
“We all dream of a team of Joe Skarz”, to the tune of Yellow Submarine, was a familiar refrain, particularly at away grounds, as he was part of the team that won back-to-back promotions from League Two to the second tier and was a starter at Wembley in League One Play-off Final which the Millers won in a penalty shootout.
Off the pitch, he was thoroughly decent, likeable, unassuming bloke. If ever the Millers lost away from home, you could almost guarantee he would be the player who’d come out of the dressing room and talk about it. Pressmen, miles from home, with space to fill and deadlines to meet,appreciated that.
My own favourite memory of him came in that never-to-be forgotten 10-goal thriller at Molineux against Wolves towards the end of the League One promotion season.
The Millers eventually lost 6-4 in front of a 30,000-plus crowd but fought back from 3-1 to level matters at 4-4.
Skarz popped up with a lovely little volley to help the comeback, and then the player who scored only twice throughout his Millers career nonchalantly wandered off with his arm raised as if he did it every week.
He started well in the Championship but feels his momentum stalled when he was banned for five yellow cards.
“I came back against Reading and had my worst game of the season,” he recalled. “I got it back a bit against Sheffield Wednesday in the next game but then we lost to Birmingham and the Gaffer, as he’s entitled to do, decided to change things.”
There was nothing spectacular about him. He just did his job. Consistently, solidly, hardly ever putting a foot wrong.
His two-year Millers stint is over and he leaves with something even more important than medals.
Friends. And respect.