Every Celtic fan will have been devastated to hear of the news of Liam Miller’s sad passing from illness at the age of only 36.
Liam was originally spotted while playing in Cork as an under14 for Ballincollig Boys Club by Mick Conroy, the popular Celtic player of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, who was coaching there. The young Liam immediately impressed Celtic youth team officials when he went to Glasgow for a one-week trial on Conroy’s recommendation.
Having signed for the Celts, who he had supported as a boy, he made steady progress through the underage ranks with Celtic youth coach, Willie McStay, marking him out as someone who was a ‘little bit special’.
Liam’s growing reputation was enhanced in the summer of 1998 when Ireland astonished the football world by winning the UEFA under 16 European Championships which were held in Scotland. Ireland beat Spain and Portugal along the way and then Italy in the final. played at McDiarmid Park. Celtic were fortunate to have two young Irishman on their books from that winning team, Liam and Jim Goowin.
He made his first team debut on the last day of the season back in 2000 in a 2-0 win against Dundee United on the day Henrik Larsson made a dramatic return from injury. Other young hopefuls, Goodwin, Brian McColligan, John Convery and Ryan McCann also made their debuts that day where it is reckoned Celtic fielded their youngest ever side under the careful eye of caretaker manager, Kenny Dalglish.
Liam was expected to push on and make an impact during the campaign that followed. Instead, hampered by injuries, he remained a peripheral figure, making just one more appearance in the 12 months that followed. A six month loan spell in Denmark with AGF Aarhus then came, at the end of which Marc Rieper, the former Celtic defender, then managing the Danish outfit, came close to landing the youngster for just £300,000.
Ireland’s youth manager, Brian Kerr, talked to Liam and his family at that time regarding the player’s growing frustration at his lack of progress, and he returned to Celtic Park in the hope his chance would finally come.
Liam’s big break came in the summer of 2003 when Celtic played Arsenal in a prestigious friendly game. The result was 1-1 with Liam scoring Celtic’s goal with an excellent shot on the turn. Paul Lambert sustained an injury shortly after and Liam was given an extended run in Martin O’Neill’s team that autumn.
His first big break came when he came on as a substitute against Lyon at Parkhead in the Champions League and scored the opening goal in a 2-0 win with a header following a scintillating move. Days later he started at Ibrox in difficult circumstances. Celtic won 1-0 and Liam was said to have played like a veteran. He had added much needed pace and directness to Celtic’s midfield and he was an excellent passer of the ball. The midfield duo of Miler and Petrov was reckoned to be the cornerstone of O’Neill’s Celtic team for the future.
Another spectacular Champions League goal was netted by Liam against Anderlecht in a 3-1 home victory. In the away game in Brussels Liam was controversially left out as Celtic went down 1-0 and, somewhat unusually, Martin O’Neill was heavily criticised by the support for leaving Liam out of the team.
On January 3rd 2004, Liam was part of the Celtic team who thrashed Rangers 3-0 at Celtic Park. He was now in the last 6 months of his contract and although Celtic had a deal on the table since October, nothing had been signed. Manchester United manager, Alex Ferguson, saw his chance and persuaded Liam to sign a pre contract for United, just days after the victory over Rangers.
Celtic fans were unhappy at what the regarded as disloyalty and Liam lost his place in the team. He made sporadic appearances towards the end of the season but left quietly for Old Trafford in the summer of 2004.
It’s reckoned that Liam was heavily persuaded to join United by his fellow Cork man, Roy Keane. Sadly, the move never worked out and after that Liam moved clubs regularly with moves to Leeds, Sunderland, Hibs added to spells in Australian football and the USA.
However, it remains a great source of regret to Celtic fans that Liam did not stay longer at Parkhead to develop is talents and allow us to further enjoy his energetic and enthusiastic displays in the hoops.
Liam Miller is survived by his wife Clare and his three children Kory, Leo and Belle and the thoughts and prayers of every Celtic fan are with them at this difficult time.
It was a great pleasure to have witnessed Liam Miller playing for Celtic.
Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord and may eternal light shine upon him.