- Following the tragic news of Liam Miller’s passing February 9th 2018, we at TalkCeltic felt it was appropriate to commemorate the life of a footballer who showed so much promise at Celtic Park.
The Start of the Journey
Liam Miller was born in Cork on February 13th 1981 to Bridie and Billy; a Scot who grew up in Motherwell supporting Celtic. Therefore, it was only natural that Liam would take after his father in supporting the Bhoys throughout his childhood. However, his admiration for the enigmatic Eric Cantona drew him to the red half of Manchester as well:
“Eric Cantona was my idol. Two of my older brothers were Alan Shearer fans, the other was a Robbie Fowler fan. But it was Cantona who caught my eye. I just loved everything about him.”
Growing up in Ovens, Ballincollig AFC were his local football club and at the age of 13 he would join them. Miller would go on to win the league in his first season with the under 14’s, picking up the Cork Schoolboys League player of the year. Three years later, Ballincollig reached the AUL Youths Second Division Cup final, where a 16-year old Liam Miller would play one of his final matches for his local team. Despite losing in the cup final, 1997 would prove to be a pivotal year for Miller, for all the right reasons.
The Ballincollig team who lost out to Macroom in the AUL Youths Second Division Cup final in 1997. Miller can be seen in the back row, fourth from the left.
Realising the Dream
After taking part in a FAS/FAI course run by former Celtic and Cork City player Mike Conroy, Miller was signed by his boyhood heroes, Celtic Football Club, in October 1997. Still only 16 years old, he went straight into the academy set-up where he was coached by Willie McStay and played alongside the likes of Stephen McManus, Mark Burchill and Stephen Crainey.
His debut for the first team would not come until May 21st 2000, in a 2-0 victory in the league against Dundee United at Celtic Park, coming on as a late substitute. Miller’s next game for Celtic would be his UEFA Cup debut, again coming off the bench in a 7-0 win for the Hoops against Jeunesse Esch of Luxembourg.
This somewhat staggered start at Celtic would continue, not helped by his numerous injury problems, as his next appearance for the club was not until the 2002-03 season, where yet again he found playing time hard to come by, getting time on the pitch on only two occasions over the course of the season. However, during that barren spell he was gaining first team experience in Denmark, making 18 appearances in a 6-month loan spell at AGF Aarhus.
Despite having only made four appearances in his first three seasons in the Celtic senior squad, Miller was ready to make himself known. The 2003-04 season proved to be his breakthrough season at the Hoops, playing 40 matches and scoring 5 goals. Highlights included scoring the opening goal in a 2-0 home win against Lyon in the Champions League group stage and scoring the second in a 3-1 win against Anderlecht at the same stage, again at Celtic Park. Chris Sutton, a teammate of Miller, had this to say about the midfielder:
“When you think that we had the likes of Lennon, Lambert and Petrov in our midfield ahead of him – it’s a testament to Liam that he didn’t just break into the side, he made it his own.”
During that season he displayed his ability on the ball, his energy and of course an eye for goal – particularly in Europe. Of course, these performances on the biggest stage in club football raised eyebrows in the footballing world, including those of Sir Alex Ferguson, and despite the best efforts of Martin O’Neill who wanted to build his Celtic side around the young Irishman, Miller would go on to sign a pre-contract agreement with Manchester United in the January of 2004.
Liam Miller netting the opening goal against Lyon in 2003.
It’s fair to say this move caused some controversy, with many a Celtic fan feeling that not only he was jumping ship too soon, but that he owed the club after they had stood by him through his injury problems. It was a classic case of ‘hero to zero’ in the eyes of the Parkhead faithful. Yet, from his point of view, he was being given a chance to play for his other boyhood heroes, who also happened to be a European giant and had plenty of money to throw at contracts. In that sense, whilst the remainder of his career perhaps shows that indeed he did make the move too soon, it is entirely understandable why he did leave.
Moving to ManchesterAfter signing a pre-contract agreement months in advance, Liam Miller finally joined Manchester United on July 1st 2004. He made his debut for the club a month later, coming on as a substitute in a Champions League qualifier against Dinamo Bucharest, before starting four days later at Stamford Bridge on the opening day of the league campaign. He also started in their next league match against Norwich, however this was not a sign of things to come. His third and final league start of the season would not come until November, in a home derby against Manchester City, in which he was subbed off at half time. From then until the end of the season he played a total of 28 minutes of league football for the Red Devils, failing to make the matchday squad on most occasions. He found slightly more success in the Champions League, starting 3 of their 6 group stage matches, but again he found himself being dropped from the matchday squad in the last 16 matches against AC Milan. It was at this stage where United’s European run would come to an end. Miller ended the season having made 19 appearances and scoring 1 goal.
Liam Miller signs for Manchester United.
The following season was more generous to Miller, regarding minutes on the pitch. However, it was in the English Championship. After 3 run-outs for United in the early stages of the season, he was then loaned out to Leeds United in November for 3 months, which was eventually extended until the end of the season. Making 33 appearances for the Elland Road outfit, and chipping in with a single goal, he helped the club reach the Play-Offs, only to lose out to Watford in the final at Wembley.
His return to Manchester was short lived that summer. After two seasons at Old Trafford, and only 9 league appearances, Miller left for Sunderland on August 31st 2006.
Post-United CareerLiam Miller would go on to spend the next four seasons of his career in England, playing for Sunderland for three of those seasons. It was another story of highs and lows during these years which included two seasons in the Premier League after promotion in his first season with the Black Cats. His final year in English football was with QPR back in the Championship. Again, though, he would not stay for long. In May of that year, he was released by the club.
Miller during his Hibs days.
In a career of ups and downs, his next move proved to be his most successful. After training with clubs in Ireland to maintain his fitness, a phone call to Hibs manager John Hughes results in a move to the Edinburgh club in September of 2009 and it didn’t take long for the Irishman to establish himself in the Hibs team. After a string of impressive performances, including playing a key role in a 1-1 draw at Ibrox, he was rewarded with the October SPL Player of the Month award. He was eventually voted into the PFA Scotland Team of the Year as he helped guide Hibs to a fourth-place finish and qualification for the UEFA Cup. Whilst the following season wasn’t quite as successful as the first, he made the exact same number of appearances (38) and scored 3 more goals (5). Unfortunately, despite his desire to stay at the club, the parties involved were unable to agree on a new contract and so he found himself looking for a new club yet again.
At this point, he was 30 years old and had still never really found a home in football and that trend would only continue into his final few years in the game. He spent another 5 years in the game, playing in Australia and Ireland before hanging up his boots after a brief spell at the Wilmington Hammerheads of North in the 3rd tier of US football.
International CareerOn the international scene, Miller was part of the Republic of Ireland under-16 team that triumphed at the 1998 UEFA European Under-16 Football Championship, which ironically took place in Scotland. At senior level, he made his on March 31st 2004 against Czech Republic. He came on as a substitute in a 2-1 victory at Landsdowne Road. He would go on to make another 20 appearances for his country, scoring one goal; a 25-yard thunderbolt v Sweden in a 2006 friendly. His last appearance for the Republic was in a home game against Montenegro in October 2009.
Opening his account for his country.
A Career in QuotesLiam Miller’s career trajectory is not entirely unique. Over the years, young, talented footballers have shown huge promise only to ultimately fail in fulfilling that potential. Unfortunately, his move to Manchester United in 2004 may well have prevented Miller from hitting the heights that many predicted. However, any footballer who has represented Celtic and Manchester United in the Champions League, as well as playing and scoring for their national team…well, I think most of us would call that a success. To round off this piece on the career of Liam Miller, I’ll leave you with a couple of quotes.
- Liam Miller
- Dan Sheedy (Brother-in-law)
February 13th 1981- February 9th 2018