The club pays tribute to Johnny Miller, who died yesterday, aged 65.Seasoned journalist and Stags' fan Jon Griffin, a former contributor to our matchday programme, writes in April 2015 ...
He drove an Aston Martin at 22, played against the likes of George Best and Gunter Netzer, enjoyed European action at the Bernabeu and tasted defeat in a Wembley cup final – and later made Mansfield his home.
Johnny Miller was a key part of the most successful Stags’ league outfit of all time, the side which won the Third Division Championship in 1976-77. He was a highly skilled left-winger, with a box of tricks to fool any defender.
Johnny, now 64, has a treasure trove of memories from an age when football, and indeed life itself, didn’t take itself quite so seriously. He laughs easily, but no opponent who came across Mr Miller in his heyday would have found it a laughing matter, such were his skills on the field.
Ipswich-born, Johnny recalls beginning his playing career with his hometown club in Suffolk.
“Bill McGarry was manager when I first went to Ipswich. He was there for six or nine months or so and then it was Bobby Robson. I was there from when I was 15. It was First Division football," he says.
“There were people like Mick Mills and Colin Viljoen there. I was extremely proud to have made the grade at Ipswich. I do not think that you are ever quite so well appreciated if you come from somewhere else.
“I never made a fortune but I was quite comfortable, I couldn’t complain. I bought a house when I was 22 and was still living at home. I had an MG sports car. I went out and bought my first house and then had a James Bond-style Aston Martin.
“I had that car for a couple of months, it was a second-hand car, in those days all the lads were driving Jags. It was actually my mate’s car, and he had a garage. My girlfriend at the time wanted to buy a house.
“I had played for Ipswich Schoolboys, Suffolk Schoolboys. I was there for nine years and was in the first team when I was 17.
“Bobby Robson was a top man. I had no problem at all playing for him. If he was going to drop you, he would take you to one side and tell you he was going to drop you, he would say,‘You are not playing well.’
“He was a gentleman, he treated me like a person. Ex Stags’ player Peter Morris had gone to Norwich from Ipswich and he kept telling John Bond the manager to buy me.”
The transfer to Carrow Road eventually led to Johnny moving to North Nottinghamshire.
“I didn’t particularly want to drop into a lower league but I didn’t get on very well with John Bond, I just didn’t see eye to eye with him.
“I didn’t want to leave but there was no way I wanted to play for someone who I didn’t respect and get on with.
“I knew nothing about Mansfield. I was going down past the Reindeer pub on Southwell Road into the town, I drove into Mansfield down past Rock Hill and it looked a bit of a strange place. I didn’t think it looked particularly inviting.
“I was on the way to have talks with Peter Morris. He had been after me for ages. It never bothered me moving to Mansfield, I had done a lot of travelling in my time playing football, I was more concerned about the drop in the level of football.
“There were players at Mansfield like Paul Matthews, Colin Foster, Gordon Hodgson, Kevin Bird. I settled in pretty well at most football clubs I played at. It’s usually OK if you do not have a chip on your shoulder or play the “Big I Am”.
“It was a top team spirit at Mansfield, I saw Kevin Bird the other day, I still see Sandy Pate occasionally, I have seen Colin Foster a couple of times in the last three years.
“I had never been out so much in all my life, Sandy was having his testimonial year - there were pub nights, bread and dripping meals. I played the majority of games in that ‘76-‘77 promotion season.
“It was a great day at Wrexham when we won the championship, the weather was lovely, although I was injured at the time. To be honest, I thought we would hold on in the Second Division. But if you do not get off to a really good start, and you let silly goals in, it is always going to be difficult.
“I have spoken to Peter Morris about it since, and he has said to me ‘I suppose I got rid of too many players, people like Kevin Randall, Paul Matthews.” He also didn’t tell me that a London team had been in for me – it was West Ham. It’s water under the bridge now, although it would have been a good move for me at the time.
“We had people like Dave Syrett and Dennis Martin join. I remember the Spurs game in pouring rain in 1977. Dave Syrett got a hat-trick and Glenn Hoddle equalised with a free-kick right at the end.”
Johnny recalls tougher times at Field Mill, including injury and illness. “I was injured for a time at Mansfield, I had a really swollen foot. In the early 80s, I was ill for a year. Billy Bingham had come in as manager, and then Mick Jones had taken over. I had a very bad blood condition called sarcoidosis, I lost a lot weight and I was on steroids. My brother had it two years later although it is not hereditary.
"It is quite prevalent in African-Americans but I don’t know why I got it.
“They thought that I had leukaemia, they did all these tests but they didn’t know what was the matter with me. At one stage, I couldn’t play. Later on, I was getting back to fitness at Mansfield. I had a few games in the reserves but the manager at the time Mick Jones didn’t know me and I didn’t like him. Some managers are not right for the teams they manage.”
Johnny says he would love to reconnect with some of his old Field Mill team-mates.
Johnny Miller with team-mate Kevin Bird at 'An Evening with Johnny Miller' in March 2015
“You do not see many people but I do still go to Ipswich for the annual reunion dinner. They get over 200 people there, it’s held in the Bobby Robson Suite. I have been trying to get them to do one in Mansfield. I saw Terry Austin this year and he was interested in doing something.
“I occasionally watch games on YouTube. I played for Norwich against Aston Villa at Wembley in the 1975 League Cup Final. We got beat 1-0. Ray Graydon scored the winning goal, Kevin Keelan saved it and he knocked in the rebound.
“There were not many players who had a good game that day. It was a bad weekend all round. The wives got lost in London before we got to the match, we lost at Wembley, we got to the Talk of the Town for the post-match meal, the food was cold, the act was Moira Anderson, a singer who was quite famous in her day, I’m not sure why. And the next week I had to have a cartilage operation.
“I have watched a game I played in for Ipswich against Arsenal at Highbury. I loved playing at Highbury, I know I should have scored two or three that day. The changing rooms were better than Wembley, the Wembley ones were very disappointing.
“Arsenal are one of my favourite teams, they had players like Peter Storey, Frank McLintock, Charlie George, Ray Kennedy, John Radford.
“In my time I played against the likes of George Best, Nobby Stiles, Denis Law, Gunther Netzer. I played in the UEFA Cup for Ipswich in the Bernabeu, away at Lokomotif Leipzig.
“When I packed in football, I couldn’t run, my knees were that bad. Over the next two or three years, I used to do a lot of jogging. I did some coaching at Oakham and Blidworth, I must have been around 48 when I eventually packed in, the brain was still working and I could knock a good ball through.
“My last game was a charity game for Kevin Beattie at Ipswich, I was 54 at the time. There were a few old ones there, John Wark, Allan Hunter, a guy from Eastenders, a film star.
“The difference today is the camaraderie. Everything was done for you to an extent, dentists, doctors, meals here, meals there but we were not spoilt in my day. You just got on with it.
“Today some players think they are better than they are. I think there was a lot more entertainment in my day. I am talking about the characters, you could take a few more liberties on the field.
“You can’t get away with a lot today, because you are booked or sent off. There was a lot more fun, but with all the dieting in recent years, it had to go that way.”
After his playing days ended Johnny worked in local government in the Mansfield area and in his old stamping ground of Norfolk. “I worked for Ashfield District Council for 13 years, then I did four years in Norfolk. I was in charge of staff programmes, putting on events.
“My family were still up in Mansfield. I can hang my hat anywhere, live anywhere, Mansfield is alright. I am 64 now, I retired a year and a half ago. I had been doing a little bit of taxi-driving.
“When you think what you could have done in life, it is not worth thinking about. Your life is your life. I played football for 14 years, and there is nothing like playing. You are getting paid for your hobby.”