Brian Miller remembered

Last updated : 09 April 2007 By Dave Thomas
Reliable, dependable, strong, mobile, robust, either at centre half or wing half, he was a towering player and a giant of a man. Tall, strong, square shouldered, broad but slim hipped and with one of those rugged good looking faces that would have fitted into any good Clint Eastwood western.

There were never any histrionics with Brian, he just got on with the job, played his heart out and more often than not snuffed out opponents so that they must have groaned when they saw his name on the team sheet. And pain… what was that to Brian? He broke a toe in one game but was so determined not to be left out of the team he played on and in the next game simply cut a hole in the side of his boot to lessen the pressure and the agony.

I met him personally something a year or so ago when he was so helpful with the Harry Potts book. We had three meetings which totalled something like seven hours. Then there were phone calls as well. He was unfailingly helpful, always ready to answer questions and point me in the direction of answers to several questions about the life of a footballer in the sixties.

Not for him a gated mansion or £125,000 a week but if he were to play today then he'd certainly have given the likes of John Terry a run for his money. In an era when there were so many great players Brian only received one England call-up. Today I suspect he would be a fixture. That's the measure of how good he was.

In the fifties he was one of many players who worked for the NCB instead of doing national service. Bank Hall Pit in the daytime until 4.30 and train in the evenings. If there was an evening game a sympathetic manager let him have the afternoon off. At Thorny Bank Pit a manager who was a Burnley fan gave him more time off in return for tickets. It seems ridiculous, pit work all day, although above ground, and then First Division football on Saturdays. Rio Ferdinand take note.

How lucky we were in the sixties to be able to see players like Brian. How lucky so many modern players are to reap rewards that players like Brian would not have dreamed possible. How lucky so many modern players are, to be able to 'retire' in their mid thirties. Players like Brian had to continue to work for a living.

He was a Burnley fan as a boy and joined the club as a teenager in 1952. If Father Greystone, the headmaster at St Mary's College, Blackburn, had got his way then Brian would never have been a footballer. He tried to dissuade Brian from joining Burnley FC full time. Brian took no notice. He ended his professional association with the club in 1996 when he finally retired as Chief Scout. In between he had been player, trainer, coach, and then manager twice.

As a player he became an England international; as a manager he enjoyed a Third Division title win in 1982 and then the agony of the Orient game in 1987 only five years later. His reward for willing the club to survival was another Wembley visit a year later in the Sherpa Van Trophy. It is not unreasonable to say that if Burnley enjoyed a rebirth in the season after the Orient game, then Brian was inspirational in that process. A town realised that it had nearly lost its football club. The iconic picture of Brian in the dugout surrounded by photographers in May '87 is one of football's great pictures.

It must have been a couple of months ago that I last talked to Jimmy Mac and I managed to get him to name his team of great players.

"And on the left side it would be Brian Miller, the gentle giant," Jimmy McIlroy laughed. "Do you know so many opponents used to call him 'that big dirty bugger Miller' but it was so unfounded. He was never a dirty player. I never ever saw him make a vicious tackle. If he'd tried to hurt someone he would more likely than not have hurt himself. And how he loved to go forward and shoot at goal."

If opponents used to call him 'that dirty bugger Miller', I suspect it was because they were fed up because they rarely got the better of him.

There are several overused words in football. One of them is servant. But that is exactly what Brian was to Burnley Football Club. He served it. He never let it down. And then he returned to serve it again after the debacle of the Buchan and Cavanagh season. That he returned for that second managerial spell is a testament to his love for the club. He had been discarded during that bizarre season when Burnley could do no wrong in Cup games, but struggled in the League. By the time he was asked to return, Burnley were in a penniless mess and total disarray. He took up the challenge without question.

I was just so stunned when I heard of his passing and he is the first of that great Championship team to leave us. We think that big, strong men like Brian will go on forever. It is a shock when they don't. To us they are heroes. When I first picked up the phone to speak to him, I was nervous. He laughed when I told him, unable to understand why anyone should be nervous of him. In their own minds they are just the bloke next door and they belong to an era when they lived in the same streets as the supporters who adored them.

If there is such a thing as 'the heart of football', then people like Brian make up that heart. At the heart of football people are still more important than money. Brian Miller earned no great riches, but he left richness behind him. Four decades of Burnley history have been blessed by his presence.