The lights went out on Kenny Miller’s fledgling managerial career this week when the Irn-Bru Cup tie between his Livingston and Forfar Athletic was plunged into darkness. Two days later the power still hadn’t been restored at his new citadel, the Tony Macaroni Arena, and in order that he could provide a cup of tea, your correspondent has to be diverted to a nearby hotel.
Life away from the marble-floored certainties of Ibrox was always going to be different, possibly involving a certain amount of mucking-in, and amid the disruption caused by the abandoned game Miller admits to almost forgetting about this interview. “I don’t have a secretary at Livi – it’s a tight wee budget – so I think I’m going to have to get myself a desk diary,” he says. But he knew what he was getting into and he’s loving life as the Premiership’s youngest boss.
Everything will be back working for today’s visit of Motherwell in the Betfred Cup and although Miller won’t actually have had to reconnect the electricity himself he will be available for selection, having told the Livi board that, yes, he’d like to become their manager but would it be OK if he carried on playing? They must have been delighted.
What club wouldn’t want that? What team would say no to having the irrepressible, irresistible, imperishable Miller as part of their act? What team wouldn’t benefit from his scampering, those goals and a smile of celebration which would surely have been worth connecting up to the mains the other night in an effort to jump-start the floodlights? It’s always been the grin of a schoolboy running away from the scene of an ingenious playground prank which he can’t quite believe he’s pulled off, scooping up pals and heading for the bikeshed for a good giggle before the bell. When we first glimpsed it he would invariably be described in match reports as “young Kenny Miller”. There’s a neat symmetry to being able, in a managerial context, to call him that again.
“I’m playing up front right now with Lee Miller and are we the oldest strike partnership in Britain? We must be. He’s 35 and I’ll be 39 in December but I still move better than him and always have done. Actually, I move better than most of our team, even some of the younger ones.”
Miller is laughing as he says this, which I interpret as meaning the remark carries respect for his charges but also contains some truth. He’s always been a player who’s ran and ran and is still doing it now. The classic Miller goal – for instance, his 100th for Rangers up at Inverness a couple of years ago, a stunning volley of a Lee Wallace cross – has him arriving in the box like an express train. Franck Sauzee, a mentor at first club Hibernian, liked to be almost motionless when he scored. The most famous goal netted by Glenn Hoddle, one of his favourite managers from his days at Wolverhampton Wanderers, was a lazy turn and chip.
Miller thinks about this some more and how he’s always been in a mad hurry. “If I was playing snooker I’d want to get to the hall so quick I’d run there,” he says. “If my dad was bowling I’d run down to the park to see him. If he was playing football for Arniston Rangers and all his other wee junior teams he didn’t drive so he’d wait at the bottom of our street for a lift and I’d come tearing out of the house hoping to be allowed to jump in the back of the car. I can imagine my wee man – he just started school today, by the way – copying that quite soon.”
Miller’s father Jock was a striker like him and a good one but didn’t have his laddie’s “luck” in being spotted and getting his chance. Miller uses this word a lot, such as when recalling fellow groundstaff kids at Hibs who he reckons were more talented than him. Well, maybe like Miller’s younger brother Stuart, these guys didn’t quite have our man’s drive. There’s no real shame in that as it’s a formidable thing.
While the pitch at the Tony Macaroni was being readied for the new season Livingston played their opening Betfred games at Linlithgow Rose, another of Jock’s teams. “Dad popped along, the old-timers were pleased to see him – and pleased to tell me he was the better striker,” Miller smiles. Did his father offer him any advice when he was starting out? “He told to me: Work hard, give everything you’ve got.’ And, ironically considering recent events: ‘Keep your nose clean.’”
Back in April Miller pulled on a Rangers shirt for what would be the last time, as an unused substitute in the 4-0 Scottish Cup semi-final thumping by Celtic. It was the immediate aftermath which ended his three-part association with the club: an alleged breach of discipline in the Hampden dressing-room alongside Lee Wallace, and a fine and suspension imposed on the pair which Miller contested all the way to an SPFL hearing this week lasting three days.
He’s reluctant to discuss the issue. “I can’t go into it just now. Maybe I will say my piece eventually but I’m just glad it’s out of the way and I can get on with my job at Livi.” There is regret, though, at the shabby manner in which the curtain was brought down on what in total was eight years of goals and running, yielding three Premier League titles, a Scottish Cup and a League Cup as well as the various bawbees from Rangers’ bread-and-water spell in the lower divisions.
“That is sad and I won’t ever be able to change it,” he says of how the story ended. “Rangers were the club I grew up supporting and signing for them as a 20-year-old was a dream come true. Not just my career, they were a big part of my life.” It’s a stain on things and he’s going to have to live with that, even though there are those in the game who will attest to his character, even though he vows that as a manager he will try to avoid doing what was done to him.
“People in football know me and what I’m about, I’m sure of that,” he says of the accusation he was a disruptive influence. “And you can ask my players at Livi how I’m trying to go about the business of being a manager and hopefully they’ll tell you I’m really, really big on honesty. I was like that before, even more so now given what’s happened over the last few months. A manager should treat his players and staff the right way, with respect and on a human level. Forget these are footballers; first and foremost they’re people. Treat them like you’d hope to be treated yourself.” The inference seems clear enough: in the final hours and days at Rangers he wasn’t.
You shouldn’t be surprised at Miller’s adherence to transparency, being a product of Musselburgh in East Lothian which is nicknamed the Honest Toun. He knew “early doors” what he wanted to do with his life and how he would go about getting it. “Although I was grateful for the guidance given me by my dad and great guys like Donald Park at Hibs, I’ve always been pretty independent-minded.” This Ranger-thrice-over crossed the Old Firm divide to play for Celtic and also had spells at Derby County, Cardiff City, Turkey’s Bursaspor and Vancouver Whitecaps. He invariably answered the Scotland call and with 69 caps to his name was a Tartan Army favourite, jetting across from Canada’s western seaboard to score his 18th and final goal for his country against England at Wembley.
“I was in full control of what I did that night,” he says of the delicious shimmy in the 2013 match which flummoxed Gary Cahill, “although I would have to give credit to Michael Mols: he kind of brought that move into the Scottish game when he came to Rangers and I pinched it off him.” That unerring strike was with the left foot. I mention another sharp turn and drive which had popped up on YouTube, the winner in a 4-3 Hibs victory at Dundee. “That was 1999, 19 years old, my first senior goal and it was with my right.”
Miller can remember all his goals. Jings, he’s even got recall of the should-have-been-goals. The one at Wembley came a year after he almost won the Carling Cup for Cardiff against Liverpool from a similar position on the same pitch, only that time the ball flew inches over the bar. “It still bothers me,” he says, so much so that its memory prompts one of only two sweary words during our chat, the other coming to emphasise the “bullshit” which sometimes comes out of managers’ mouths.
Another near thing which still niggles came in the 2016 Scottish Cup final when if his header hadn’t crashed off the bar Hibs might not have smashed their 114-year hoodoo. After the final whistle and amid the mayhem of the pitch invasion, Miller alone went to the Hibee dressing-room to congratulate the victors. “It’s just who I am,” he says by way of explanation. “But obviously Hibs were my first club and I was happy for them. Darren McGregor had become a good pal from his time at Rangers who’d really come up the hard way. I really admired how Alan Stubbs had went about his business and am looking forward to locking horns with him this season. Hibs deserved to win, they were stronger than us and they’d finally got the monkey off their backs.”
Listening to him archive his big moments in the game it’s easy to understand why this goal demon doesn’t want to stop playing, how the day that Miller the manager tells Miller the veteran striker he’s not picking him, not then or ever again, will be “the hardest, the worst”. He continues: “I’m hoping it’s not imminent and still think I’ve got a few years left in the legs. I mean, I don’t see why I can’t still be playing when I’m, say, 45. Why not? No really, why not?” His diet, he insists, is “nothing special”. He knows his body well and what’s required to be ready for the next game. Presumably, though, Kenny: the Kebab Years are a long time gone. “No, they still happen. Everything in moderation. I think for footballers age is a state of mind. Some decide when they reach 30 they’re getting near the beginning of the end. The trick, I believe, is to get past that. I don’t feel any different from when I came back to Rangers the last time at the age of 34 and am hoping I’ll be in the boss’s thoughts for this Saturday.”
We shouldn’t forget when Kenny played for Stenny; being loaned by Hibs to Stenhousemuir was a key staging-post for he returned to Easter Road, banged that goal against Dundee and never looked back. “Hibs had been relegated and [manager] Alex McLeish wanted to go with experience to get the club back up. Even though I’d been hoping to break into the first team as quickly as possible, I was fine about going to Ochilview. Don’t forget, I’m from the pre-training complex generation. Hibs used assorted public parks. Training at Wolves we got changed at a tennis club then in portacabins. Even at Rangers it was still a bus from Ibrox out to Stepps. Academy kids now, who don’t have Donald Park screaming at them to clean the toilets, don’t know they’re born! I just tried to make sure the Stenny experience was a positive one.”
He did that all right. Here’s an old quote from Stenny manager Terry Christie: “A lot of players dropping down from a big club would have turned up their noses at such surroundings, but Kenny just got stuck in right away.” He scored ten goals in 13 games – “five doubles” – and they’re imprinted in the memory-banks, too. Christie, by the way, was the headmaster at Musselburgh Grammar when that school with a fine football heritage (Liverpool goalkeeper Bert Slater, Falkirk Scottish Cup-winning hero Dougie Moran, the legendary John White) unearthed its latest protege: K. Miller.
In his breakout season at Easter Road, Miller no longer had to clean John Hughes’ boots although he hadn’t escaped the captain’s shouty tutelage, or the practical jokes. He winces at the memory of the game where he was confirmed as a gay icon by a section of the Hibs support and Yogi decided to drop his shorts.
His speed killed defences during that campaign, not least when Rangers came to Leith and Lorenzo Amoruso had to ask an equally dizzy and discombobulated Craig Moore for the final score. The Light Blues had escaped with a 2-2 draw, Miller netting both, and four months later Rangers responded in the time-honoured fashion when a player poses too big a threat to their preeminence: they snapped him up.
He was awestruck by the stellar company: “Mols, [Jorg] Albertz, [Arthur] Numan … we bought a player from Barcelona, we sold a guy who went to Barca via Arsenal … it was daunting but I tried not to be daunted. My locker was next to big Amo’s. We were stripped one day, him with his fabulous definition, and he said: ‘Kenny, you need to get to the gym, grow the shoulders.’ I said: ‘Don’t you remember Easter Road, Amo? One of these shoulders put you right on your arse!’”
One day soon Miller will go back to Ibrox but he insists that for his return in charge of Livingston he’ll only be thinking about his team. “It’ll be an opportunity for them to show how good they are. All I’ll have to do is remember to turn left to the away dressing-room instead of right.”
He’s underplaying his specialist knowledge, being able to tell his players how to win in Govan having done it so often himself. He can also, of course, tell them how to win when you’re Stenhousemuir, which may be more useful as Livi seek the top-flight survival which would confirm the season as an outstandingly successful one.
“I always wanted to become a manager,” he says, “and right now I feel like I’m 16 again, trying to win that contract at Hibs and get into the big team. I want to become the best manager I can possibly be, go as far as I can possibly go, but first I’ve got to sort out my routine post-match when we bosses have a drink and a blether. If you’ve been playing you obviously need a shower, but last week [Kilmarnock’s] Steve Clark had gone before I was out. I felt bad about that. Maybe the other guys will have to take me as they find me, all sweaty from chasing more goals … ”