Craig Salmon talks to former Preston North End utility man David Miller about the difficulty of coming out of his father’s shadow at Burnley and how he blossomed at Deepdale
It is not easy being the son of an iconic figure. Former Preston North End ace David Miller knows all about living in the shadow of a famous father.
Born and bred in Burnley, his father –the late Brian Miller – was a legendary player for the Clarets in the fifties and sixties.
An England international, Miller Snr is often referred to as ‘Mr Burnley’.
He was an integral member of the club’s First Division title-winning side of 1960 before going on to serve in a variety of capacities, including manager, coach and chief scout.
Miller Jnr certainly inherited his father’s passion for the game and it soon became apparent that a career in football lay in wait.
Snapped up on schoolboy forms at the age of 14 by his boyhood club, Miller went on to emulate his famous father by wearing the claret and blue shirt at first-team level in the mid 1980s.
Although the Clarets had plummeted from the heady heights of the top flight to the lower reaches of English football by then, it was still a dream come true for Miller to follow in his father’s footsteps.
He made his first-team debut at the age of 17 in the old Third Division but unfortunately, the tag of being the son of a legend was a heavy burden on the youngster.
Despite making more than 30 appearances in three years, Miller was allowed to leave his hometown club in 1985.
After short spells at Tranmere Rovers and the now-defunct non-league outfit Colne Dynamoes, he was handed an opportunity by Preston North End boss John McGrath in 1986.
Miller – now aged 55 – readily admits that his time at Deepdale was where he found himself as a player.
He looks back on his stint with the Lilywhites as one of the most enjoyable periods of his career.
Standing side by side in the dressing room with players such as Sam Allardyce, Ronnie Hildersley Gary Brazil, John Thomas and in later years Tony Ellis, Brian Mooney and Mick
Rathbone, Miller played some of his best football and helped the club earn promotion to the old Third Division.
“With my father’s connections with Burnley – he spent 50 years with the club –for me to sign for the club on schoolboy terms – the team I had supported as a boy – was like a dream come true,” said Miller, who also enjoyed spells with Stockport County, Wigan Athletic and Morecambe..
“But I was always known as Brian Miller’s son. Everywhere I went, it was ‘Brian Miller’s son’ and when you’re young, inexperienced and naive it became a bit of a millstone around my neck.
“There was also a bit of jealousy from people as well right through my school years growing up.
“Looking back, if I knew then what I know now, I would probably have been able to handle it a bit better.
“I found it harder playing for Burnley – I found I was more at home playing for other clubs rather than my hometown club. It wasn’t until I left Burnley that I began to mature as a person and play my best football.”
Miller signed for PNE after impressing McGrath over a 10-day trial period around Christmas 1986.
He was immediately thrust into the first-team squad and went on to make 15 appearances over the second half of the league campaign as North End finished second in the Fourth Division behind Northampton Town.
“At Preston the dressing room was brilliant,” said Miller, who now works as a postman. “You had Sam
Allardyce, Frank Worthington was brought in around February or March for his experience during the promotion season.
“You had people like Ronnie Hildersley and John Thomas. Mick Rathbone signed the year after – he was probably funniest bloke I have met in my life.
“There was Brian Mooney and Tony Ellis, they came later. It was just full of characters.”
That team was held together by McGrath, who was probably the biggest character of them all.
“John McGrath was absolutely fearsome, although don’t get me wrong, he would also have us in stitches as well,” Miller recalled.
“But you knew when he was being serious.
“Sam Allardyce at the time must have been 34 or 35 years of age, but he wouldn’t cross the manager.
“I think if some of the players of today’s era played under him, they wouldn’t be able to cope.
“It was the norm back then – tough management, but fair.
“I think sometimes when you look back at that style of management, you think it might have been a bit over the top.
“But they did it for a reason – can you play under that kind of pressure?
“Have you got the courage and guts to come through that?
“If a player respects a manager and you get a rollocking, the player will accept it and try to prove him wrong.”
McGrath’s unique style of management certainly worked wonders for North End that year as they secured promotion with a 2-1 win at Orient.
There was a certain sense of irony with that result for Miller as his hometown club – then managed by his dad Brian – avoided becoming the first team to be automatically relegated from the Football League when they defeated Orient 2-1 on the final day of the same season.
The twist of fate for Miller would continue the following campaign as North End – having consolidated their position in the Third Division – reached the last-four stage of the Sherpa Van Trophy.
A final appearance at Wembley beckoned – the only thing standing in their way was Brian Miller’s resurgent Clarets from the division below.
In the first leg at Turf Moor, PNE produced the perfect away performance as they secured a 0-0 draw.
But in front of an expectant Deepdale in the second leg, Miller and his team-mates fluffed their lines as Burnley ran out 3-1 winners.
George Oghani had given the visitors an early lead, but Gary Brazil equalised in the second half.
However, goals from Ashley Hoskin and Paul Comstive secured Burnley’s trip to the Twin Towers.
“I was playing right wing-back at the time,” recalled Miller, who went onto appear at Wembley twice.
“In the first leg, I remember having a shot cleared off the line at Tur Moor.
“Obviously being a Burnley lad, a Burnley fan – what would I have done if I had scored?
“But anyway that game finished 0-0 and we were confident going into the second leg at Deepdale.
“We absolutely murdered Burnley that day – it was just us constantly attacking all game. I remember I got elbowed in the shoulder in the first minute by Steve Taylor, who was playing up front for Burnley.
“So I basically played the entire 90 minutes, plus extra time, injured.
“When Burnley scored their second goal in extra-time, I was stood on the goal line and I just couldn’t move to block Hoskin’s shot, my arm was just stiff.
“Really on the night we should have won.
“I think Brian Mooney had four or five good chances , Tony Ellis had a couple, Warren Joyce did.
“We just could not get the ball past their keeper Chris Pearce. I was really disappointed, although part of me was pleased for my dad.”