Reg Freeman

Pioneering Managers: Reg Freeman

Focusing on pioneering and innovative football managers who did much to change the game, Roy Thompson recalls Reg Freeman, who transformed the fortunes of Rotherham United.
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Freeman managed over 500 games for Rotherham between 1934 and 1952, winning 252, an incredible record for the Millers’ longest-serving manager that guarantees his prominent place in the club’s history.

Born in New Brighton in 1893, Freeman began his football career with Wallasey Rovers in 1912. An accomplished left-back, Freeman appeared for Liverpool during the First World War. He made his Football League debut for Oldham Athletic in 1921. A move to Middlesbrough in 1923 brought two Second Division titles before he signed for Rotherham United in 1930 for £150.

After 98 appearances in four seasons, Freeman was appointed team manager and immediately brought stability to cash-strapped United, halting the never-ending worry of re-election with several mid-table finishes in the Third Division North. He changed the club’s fortunes with an insistence on attacking football and astute transfer dealings.

Freeman recruited primarily local players, such as future club legends Jack Shaw and Gladstone Guest. Freeman also brought Wally Ardron to Rotherham, a striker bought for £750 from Denaby United in 1938. Ardron was the star of Rotherham's post-war success, scoring 103 goals as Freeman guided the Millers to three consecutive second-place finishes (when only one team was promoted) in the first three post-war seasons.

The success of Freeman’s exciting team galvanised football in the town. In April 1948, 20,000 fans packed Millmoor to witness Freeman’s men lose to Lincoln City in what was effectively a promotion decider. Ardron joined Nottingham Forest for a large fee in the summer of 1949, and the goals dried up for a while, leading to a mid-table finish in the 1949/50.

However, the following campaign eventually brought Rotherham’s first Football League promotion. The signing of the skilful Jimmy Rudd proved pivotal, as did the form of Shaw, who scored 46 league and cup goals.

They won the Third Division North title in style, winning 31 games and scoring 103 goals, including 15 victories on the road. Freeman also steered his men to the fourth round of the FA Cup and a match at Second Division side Hull City, which the Millers lost in front of 50,000 fans, including 11,000 from Rotherham.

Freeman guided the Millers to a ninth-place finish in their first-ever Second Division campaign, before Sheffield United successfully lured him away from Millmoor. Freeman led the Blades to the Second Division title and First Division safety in three successful campaigns at Bramall Lane before serious illness struck suddenly in the summer of 1955, and he passed away aged 61.

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