There are a few people whose names are etched into the DNA of a place, so that when you think about either, both come to mind. Like Sir Bobby Charlton and Manchester, Sir Kenny Dalglish and Liverpool and, of course, local football legend, John Breckin with our very own Rotherham, known and loved by many as ‘Breck’.
John is wedded to Rotherham, he has chosen to live his life here, deflected the temptation of bright city lights or more prestigious and prosperous places. What is it in our town that gives him this loyalty and pride? If I could capture its essence, bottle it and sprinkle it throughout the Borough, well, my role as Custodian of The Rotherham Story – promoting the positive – would be a walk in the park. So I asked him and this is what he said.
“Rotherham is my life’s blood. It has given me a career in football that I dreamed of as I shared Saturday afternoons with my dad watching Rotherham United, the club that my Uncle Eddie once played for. Growing up in Masbrough there wasn’t much space to learn the beautiful game, so I spent a lot of time in Clifton Park. It’s now a multi-award winning park and it helped me in my career, rather like Ulley Reservoir did for our town’s gold medal winning Olympian Paul Goodison. In a town better known for its industry, we have so much great countryside that everyone can access and, sometimes, I think people don’t see that.
“It’s a cliché but true that it’s the people who make a place and I have so many great memories of wonderful folk who have enriched my life in this town and still continue to do so. The ‘say it as it is’ straightforwardness is just so typical of Rotherham people and I love this, it’s certainly the way I am, and although people who visit might be surprised by our honesty, many come to love it and choose to live here. People like Paul Warne, who was a young 20-year-old player I signed for Rotherham who eventually moved away and then returned, relocating here as manager of Rotherham United. My mate Ronnie Moore, who I played and managed with, originally a Liverpool boy who came here 40 years ago and is still living in Rotherham today.
“Rotherham United is one of the few remaining football clubs still owned locally. Tony Stewart OBE, bought the football club 12 years ago, using his business expertise to transform it and build the AESSEAL New York Stadium which, for me, shines like a bright red Rotherham ruby. It is a real community stadium, with a fantastic outreach programme which puts so much back into the town. In fact Tony, originally from Sheffield, chose to make Rotherham his home too, building his business and bringing his family here, providing work for so many local people.
“Our traditional working-class values of never being afraid of hard work, being resilient as well as showing kindness and compassion, are prevalent in every corner of the Borough and we are seeing that so much as we all cope with the devastation of coronavirus. That caring nature I experienced first-hand when my wife died of cancer many years ago, the support of the wonderful Rotherham Hospice both during her illness and with the after care we received, I have never forgotten. I have tried to repay that care through fund-raising events, organising the first midnight walk a few years ago with proceeds donated to the Hospice. I am always amazed by people’s generosity.
“Some people will think that what I love about Rotherham, the things that keep me here, are no different to what others think about their place, and that is how it should be. The place we choose to make our home, whether it’s a place you were born in, or move to, should always evoke pride. You should love the people you work with, who are your friends, who become your family, enjoy and value the town’s assets and have a kind word to say about it. We all need to see the positives more than the things that aren’t so great; this is how I have lived my life and it has been a good life that this town has given me.
“When the Chairman made me Honorary Life President of my beloved Rotherham United, it couldn’t have been a more fitting day, February 14th, Valentine’s Day, a celebration of love… and I love this club and this town with all my heart. I was humbled and overwhelmed and in return for it, I will always champion and be an advocate for my Rotherham.
“I really welcome this new website MyRotherham. The town has needed a place that captures all that is good and great about Rotherham for such a long time, and I will certainly be signing up for regular updates and positivity top ups.”
What more can I say…I am distilling the ingredients and will let you know when the essence of John Breckin is ready for sale. In the meantime be proud, be positive and stay safe.
Jackie Freeborn, Custodian of The Rotherham Story