WALES, 3 CAPS
V SCOTLAND, CARDIFF, 20 OCTOBER 1962
V HUNGARY, BUDAPEST, 7 NOVEMBER 1962
V ENGLAND, WEMBLEY, 21 NOVEMBER 1962
Goalkeepers, as we know, are a law unto themselves. Eccentric isn’t the word, because many goalkeepers have their own style, their own way of doing things, their own very individual take on the beautiful game and the way they approach it. After all, it’s the most exposed position on the pitch, it’s the one where, however good you are, you’re rarely the hero, always just one mistake away from being the villain.
Of course, there are characters, and then there are characters. And Tony Millington, Albion’s Welsh international goalkeeper of the early 1960s, was pretty remarkable even by goalkeeping standards. Best described as a showman, he clearly believed that his job description extended beyond shot stopping. Millington, it appears, saw himself as an entertainer, and more power to him for that.
Tony was born in Hawarden, and joined the Throstles, initially as an amateur, in the summer of 1959. With bags of natural ability, it sometimes seemed as if the game came all too easily to him and concentration was an issue he sometimes struggled with. But that could not disguise his talent and by 1961/62, he had forced his way into the Albion side at the age of 18, good enough to force his way past Ray Potter, no mean feat, and Jock Wallace, slightly easier, to make a first team debut in a 2-2 draw at home to Manchester City on the last day of September 1961.
He went on to rack up 24 games that season as Archie Macaulay replaced Gordon Clark as manager, before he and Ray Potter shared the number one jersey the following season. That was the year when Millington forced his way into the Welsh side, his debut coming in Cardiff against a strong Scotland side. Playing behind a defence that included club colleague Stuart Williams and the great John Charles, now back from his time with Juventus, Millington had to fish the ball out of the net three times as the Scots won 3-2, Denis Law one of Scotland’s scorers.
Next up was a trip to Budapest to play a still strong Hungarian side, and another defeat, 3-1, before Millington was selected to play in goal at Wembley in the next of the home internationals. England were rampant, winning 4-0. November 1962 was a tough month for Millington given that Albion had shipped five goals at home to Blackburn. We then proceeded to lose 4-1 at home to Nottingham Forest which led to the return of Ray Potter to the team. Potter stayed between the sticks that season, except for one game where injury kept him out. Millington steeped into the breach and was promptly mown down by Wolves who won 7-0 at Molineux.
That was the end of his Albion career, not least because shortly after, Jimmy Hagan arrived to take charge as manager. Of all managers, Hagan was the least likely on earth to take to a showman goalkeeper, the kind who would celebrate a goal with a handstand, or swap sweets with supporters behind the goal while Albion were attacking, something that one of his successors, John Osborne, was not above doing either. More seriously, Hagan was not taken with Millington’s showmanship which, occasionally saw him making a save or two for the cameras.
That hid real ability though, and a move away to Crystal Palace reenergised his career, ensuring that for the rest of the 1960s, he would do battle with Dave Hollins and Gary Sprake for the goalkeeping job with Wales. Later, he returned to the Valleys to play for Swansea where he became a huge crowd favourite. They do say you should never meet your heroes though, and for Tony, that was true. A big fan of the former Manchester United man Harry Gregg, the appreciation was not mutual, the stern Northern Irishman cut from the same cloth as Hagan and he moved on again to Glenavon, before a horrific car crash ended his playing career.
Millington was always popular with crowds, for his humour and for his compassion. One story from his Swansea days sums him up. Warming up before the game, he suddenly chased off the field only to return carrying a chair. He’d spotted an elderly supporter on crutches in the crowd and ushered him into the disabled supporters enclosure and sat him down to watch he game.
By a wicked irony, Millington himself is now wheelchair bound following illness, but he is still involved in the game as the disability officer at Wrexham – a role in which he’s pictured on page five of today’s programme.