The Willie Miller Story
by Willie Miller with Rob Robertson
Reviewed by Neil Forsyth
From WSC 256 June 2008
For the uninitiated, Willie Miller is not a mafia overlord but a long-standing servant of Aberdeen, also known as the Dons. Miller played for the club for 19 years, before a spell as manager and his current post as director of football.
Miller’s strength as a defender was his tenacity, a 90-minute dedication to stopping the opposition forwards. He played as if Aberdeen didn’t have a goalkeeper and such stubbornness negated his shortcomings. As Sir Alex Ferguson says in his foreword, Miller had no pace, no height and his passing could be dodgy. And yet “nobody, but nobody, could get past him” and Ferguson rates Miller as the best penalty-area defender he has ever seen. This obduracy runs through the book and, together with a dry wit, makes it an entertaining study of football in an age that already seems very distant.
When Aberdeen signed Miller he was a 16-year-old Glaswegian striker and it was only a chance injury to a reserve defender that would see him make the switch to sweeper, from where he would make a club record 556 appearances and gain 65 Scotland caps.
His career began in the 1970s, before the city enjoyed serious oil money and Ferguson arrived at the club to bring glory. In 1977, after a season in which he lifted the Scottish League Cup as captain, Miller spent the summer mending roofs and converting lofts to supplement his £50-a-week basic wage.
A year later Ferguson arrived. He was aged only 35, but led Aberdeen to incredible success and Miller as his captain lifted ten trophies in eight years. It was a time when players would embark on foreign trips with suitcases full of cornflakes and the manager could guarantee silence on the team bus by threatening £10 fines. On a pre-season trip another craggy defender, Doug Rougvie, nearly drowned after being encouraged by the other players to attempt an Eskimo roll in a kayak.
The insight into Ferguson’s development as a manager is fascinating. Miller retired after injury in 1990 and his career was capped by a testimonial against a World XI managed by Ferguson, who led his team to victory. After the game, Miller thanked the fans then handed the microphone to Fergie. “We slaughtered you,” he beamed, “and you were rubbish.”
Following retirement, Miller coached the reserves before a mixed spell as manager ended with his dismissal in 1995. He moved into commentary work and business interests, including a Harry Ramsden’s outlet, before returning to Pittodrie as director of football in 2004.
For Aberdeen fans, this trawl through the club’s glory years will be a bittersweet experience given the team’s fairly barren existence since. This, however, is an enjoyable trip through the career of a player who stubbornly dragged his way to the top. The photo section also demonstrates this defiance – as Miller’s moustache is maintained for over 20 years, with no consideration to abandonment in the face of the shifting sands of fashion.