Part Two: Craig Salmon talks to former Burnley midfielder David Miller, who is the son of Clarets legend, the late Brian
It was – and probably still is – every aspiring young footballer’s dream to play on the hallowed turf of Wembley.
Burnley boy David Miller was certainly no different, but his ambition of appearing at the iconic venue, arguably the most famous stadium in the world, looked to have been dashed by – of all people – his own father!
Miller was an integral member of the Preston North End team which had reached the Northern Area final of the Sherpa Van Trophy in 1988.
The Lilywhites, who were in the old Third Division at the time, were on the cusp of appearing in front of the Twin Towers for the first time in 24 years.
The only club standing in their way was Miller’s boyhood club Burnley – managed at the time by his dad Brian, the legendary former player.
From the division below, the Clarets went into the two-legged semi-final tie as the firm underdogs against their Lancashire neighbours and fellow founder members of the Football League.
That feeling was further emphasised when PNE earned a goalless draw in the first leg at Turf Moor.
Expecting to put their lower-league opponents to the sword at home, a fervent crowd turned up at Deepdale anticipating a hatful of goals.
But in one of the most famous nights in the Clarets’ relative recent history, Brian Miller inspired his team to a 3-1 win – and left his son inconsolable at the final whistle.
George Oghani had given the visitors an early lead, but Gary Brazil equalised in the second half, as a rampant North End came storming forward.
However, they were thwarted time and again by an inspirational performance from goalkeeper Chris Pearce.
It was Ashley Hoskin and Paul Comstive who snatched goals in extra time to take the Clarets to Wembley.
“I was playing right wing-back for Preston at the time,” recalled Miller, who had joined the Clarets from school and followed in his father’s footsteps of wearing the famous Claret and Blue, making 32 appearances before leaving in 1985.
“In the first leg, I remember having a shot cleared off the line at Turf Moor.
“Obviously being a Burnley lad, a Burnley fan and former player – 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 night – 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.”
Even though his own personal ambitions had taken a huge knock, Miller admitted it was a proud moment for himself and his family to see his dad later lead the Clarets out at Wembley against Wolves in front of an 80,000-plus crowd.
He had seen first-hand the turmoil his old man had suffered the season prior when the Clarets almost dropped out of the Football League – and faced oblivion.
Having been a player during the halcyon days of the 1960s when the Clarets were league champions and FA Cup finalists, Brian Miller was asked to take over as manager in 1986 with the club in the bottom rung of English football – and at its lowest ebb.
The ‘Orient game’ is now etched forever in Clarets’ folklore and it is a defining moment in the club’s history considering they have now risen to the Premier League.
But it could have all been so different if Miller Snr and his men had not beaten the O’s 2-1 on the final day of the 1986-87 season to rescue themselves from relegation – and keep the club alive as a going concern.
“I was really disappointed when we lost the Sherpa Van Trophy semi-final, although part of me was very pleased for my dad,” said Miller.
“The previous season when he had come in as manager at Burnley, they were in dire straits money wise.
“John Bond had been sacked as manager and I think a lot of money may have been spent which they didn’t really have.
“My dad still had his newsagents shop in Worthorne, but the Board asked him to take over. He only took the job on because of his love for the club.
“I think his first training session, he had 10 players on the books and two of them were goalkeepers.
“If I am not mistaken, the club had to plead with the bank to re-sign Billy Rodaway and Leighton James on free transfers. That season I was at Preston and we got promoted from the Fourth Division, but it was well known that Burnley were a poor team because they had no money.
“Things were looking really bad, but miraculously they managed to get some points in April and it all depended on the Orient game.
“But within 12 months he had got them to Wembley – even though they ended up getting beaten 2-0 by Wolves.
“My dad got Burnley on a level footing again.
“He didn’t do anything brilliant after Wembley, but he stabilised the club.”
Miller Jnr would eventually make it to Wembley later in his career, although by another quirk of fate his appearance during the Second Division play-off final in 1994 would end in more bitter disappointment at the hands of Burnley.
Having played the majority of the season for Stockport County, Miller found himself dropped to the bench by boss Danny Bergara for the clash against the Clarets.
He came on for the final 20 minutes but by that time, the cause was forlorn as the Hatters found themselves 2-1 behind and down to nine men.
“That was the most disappointing day of my career,” said Miller, who now works locally as a postman.
“We had finished something like 12 points ahead of Burnley in the league table.
“I had played 40-odd games that season and was the players’ player of the year, the Stockport Express newspaper’s player of the year, but for the play-off final, the manager for some reason dropped me.
“Whether he thought because it was my hometown club that my heart wouldn’t be in it, I don’t know?
“I remember seeing my dad on the bench at Wembley because he was part of Burnley manager Jimmy Mullen’s backroom team.
“Obviously I had not told him that I was not playing because I didn’t want to divulge our tactics.
“But he was just a few feet away from me and I remember him looking at me, raising his eyebrows as if to say. ‘What’s that about’?”.
“It was the biggest disappointment of my career to find out I was on the bench because it was my best season ever personally in terms of consistency.”
l Part three: Read the final part of the David Miller story next week...only in the Burnley Express.