Several months ago at the beginning of lockdown, one of the measures we introduced to help cope with the enforced absence of football was a weekly series in which we reproduced programme interviews with some of our former players.
The series has produced very popular with many supporters enjoying the trips down memory lane with the tales told by our former players.
With Linfield on the verge of returning to competitive action with a Champions League fixture on Saturday, now is the time to end this weekly series and focus attention more on the present and future although historical features will of course continue on an ad hoc basis, or linked to specific anniversaries.
To conclude the weekly programme articles, we feature a very special player - a player whose 2 goals at Windsor Park on Wednesday September 30, 1970 earned him a place among the immortals of this football club. It was the night Linfield defeated Manchester City as they started out on the defence of their European Cup Winners cup crown.
The article below was featured in ‘Look at Linfield’ in September 2018.
CULT HEROES – BILLY MILLEN
by James Kennedy
Once, twice, three times a Linfield player. That’s just a line in the Billy Millen story! The East Belfast man explains.
“I left school one Friday in 1964, met Tommy Dickson on Saturday, and trained with Linfield on Monday. I signed for The Blues there and then, or at least that’s how I think it happened. You see, during training I got hit on the head with the old heavy football and was probably concussed!”
An opportunity to join Burnley didn’t bear fruit, so for one year Millen played Old Boys League football for the 86th OB. “We won our league and The Bunting Cup, and I learned a few lessons against battle hardened men during that period.”
Next stop was a short spell at Distillery where he played alongside future Linfield Legend, Peter Rafferty, but before long another cross channel offer came from Arsenal. “It was the ‘Swinging Sixties’ and I spent an enjoyable but injury hit 15 months in London before I became homesick.”
Both Big Two clubs were interested at this point but, having given his word to manager Ewan Fenton, Millen signed on at Windsor Park again, while also working as a clerk in The Sirocco Works.
This second spell at Linfield ended in 1971, but the previous year the flamboyant striker wrote his name into club folklore as part of the side which took Manchester City all the way over two games in the European Cup Winners Cup.
“Billy Bingham was the manager then, and he had us training like full timers. Four times a week we trained, and we regularly lost the contents of our stomachs! But by the time we played City we were fit as fiddles and they only scored at Maine Road in the final ten minutes.”
The home leg ended with Millen scoring twice against the side that had been champions of England in 1968, but The Blues exited the competition on the away goals rule 2-2 on aggregate. “I’d love to say I remember it well but the day was a bit of a blur. After a busy afternoon I know I played my part with the two goals, but that’s about it. And I have never seen any television footage of the game”.
Life in Belfast in the early 1970s was difficult and Millen escaped to London for a trial with Crystal Palace. “That didn’t work out, but Eddie Firmani got me fixed up with Arcadia Shepherds in South Africa. It was off to Pretoria with the family to experience life in Africa”.
A change of regime at the club, managed by Kai Johansen, resulted in a short-lived return to Belfast and another contract signing at Linfield! “Belfast was still a dangerous place in 1974 so it wasn’t long before I was off again, this time to Australia where I played for Marconi. A club which was supposed to be near Bondi Beach – if you call 30 miles away ‘near’!”
Four ankle breaks ended that Australian adventure and it was back to Belfast in 1979 before another short spell in America, at Los Angeles Skyhawks, followed by another spell back in Belfast.
“I ran a pool hall with George Dunlop on the Ravenhill Road. One Saturday I was playing football for Coleraine and when I got back to the hall the gaming machines had been rifled. I got £20 for playing and lost about £400 in the machines!”
But Millen wasn’t yet finished with Australia and later moved to Geelong to coach the local side, with a bit of help from some other former Linfield players.
“I persuaded the club to bring Davy Nixon and Colin McCurdy over from Belfast. I had led the Chairman to believe that they were both good living characters, but when wee Nicky got off the flight he was a bit the worse for wear and a bit vocal. Nevertheless, they both did well Down Under”.
Now approaching 70, Millen says he regards every day as a bonus. “I have had some health issues, but I have had a good life and still coach at First Touch Coaching. And I am lucky to have met some of football’s greatest characters, including George Best, although it is one of my biggest regrets that I got injured just before an international against Spain where the forward line should have read Best, Dougan, Millen”.
Definitely a trio that would have been a delight to witness.