Miller does not look back in anger on time at Darlington

First published in Sport

He still talks with vigour and a glint in his eye about a memorable day out in London, an historic occasion witnessed by 10,000 Quakers fans when he became the first ever Darlington player to lift a trophy at Wembley.

And 12 months after making the difficult decision to leave, Ian Miller is now willing his old club to climb back through the leagues.

It's coming up to the first anniversary of an acrimonious departure.

Chairman Raj Singh plunged Darlo into crisis when he refused to pay the club's under-performing players.

Miller, who'd already stuck with the club during administration two-and-a-half years prior, had gone two months without pay. It was time to go.

Some say Singh was heeding the advice of financial advisors who had no interest in football. Tell that to the players who were approaching Christmas, and were playing for nothing.

But the players have gone their separate ways. Paul Arnison is emigrating to Australia soon. Jamie Chandler and Liam Hatch are at Gateshead. Marc Bridge-Wilkinson is coaching Academy players at Huddersfield. And Miller is making a wage with Grimsby.

Football moves on, but the players of that cup-winning day must do is hold on to the precious memory of May 7, 2011.

Although Miller spends most of his time in Grimsby, he has retained his family home at Ingleby Barwick, with wife Vicki and their new son, Hudson Franklin Miller.

Their new arrival came on August 17 - the day before Darlo's rebirth as Darlington 1883, when they played their first Ebac Northern League game at Bishop Auckland.

Sitting in his games room, he flicks through a one-off book he had made, using some of his pictures and others provided by photographers from that memorable day.

His match-worn shirt is on the wall. The boots he wore at Wembley are in a case, never to be used again. He even managed to scrounge one of the match balls from the Wembley officials. While watching highlights of an unforgettable day, Miller struggles to conduct his interview.

"I can't help but keep looking at it!" he says. "I look at the players in the team, who I'm coming up against now. It's good memories, and good to look back at.

"Not every player gets the opportunity to play at Wembley. This (memorabilia) wouldn't be here if the result was different.

"I've moved on, but it's a memory I'll always enjoy looking back at and tell my grand kids about."

Miller tries to focus on the positives. He wants to remember Darlington for the right reasons, and not the club's demise. But it's difficult to forget.

"We won the Trophy in May, and six months later we're being told to take pay cuts," he recalls.

"I felt that I'd been a loyal servant. I enjoyed every minute of my time at the club, it's just disappointing the way that it finished. But ever since my first game for Darlington against Boston, I enjoyed every second of it.

"I went through two administrations, and it's something I wouldn't wish on anyone, whether at a football club or any other form of employment.

"But when you look back at games like this, you kind of forget about not being paid for six months."

Miller is pleased to see Darlington reborn and flourishing at a different level.

"I'm just glad that Darlington as a club hasn't capitulated and totally gone bust," he said.

"It's difficult for them to be dropping that many leagues and playing at that level, especially when you look at the size of the club.

"But they're obviously heading in the right direction. They're doing well, which you'd expect in that league. I'd love to see them get back up the leagues, but it's going to be difficult.

"One big credit to the club is their following. The gates they're getting in that league just epitomises what the Darlington fans are like.

"They're patient enough to know that it's not going to happen straight away.

"Darlo fans will always share a special place in my heart, and how they treated me from day one, and hopefully they'll get their rewards by moving back up the leagues."

Darlington continue their Northern League promotion push at Newton Aycliffe today (3pm at Moore Lane Park).

Miller fondly remembers visiting Aycliffe, only a couple of weeks after lifting the FA Trophy at Wembley, to dish out the end-of-season awards after the Northern League new boys won the second division title. It's difficult to comprehend how the clubs have ended up in the same league.

"That's the strange thing about football," sighs Miller. "You wouldn't expect Darlo to be penalised the way they have.

"But it'll be brilliant for Aycliffe to be playing Darlington, and I'm sure there'll be a lot of fans there that were most probably sat in the seats at Wembley, and probably a few Aycliffe fans that would have travelled to that game as well."

* Darlo's game at Newton Aycliffe today kicks off at 3pm, with admission £5 adults and £3 concessions, and fans are strongly advised to give plenty of time. Aycliffe are providing a shuttle bus service, from the Xcel Centre on Aycliffe Business Park (DL5 6AP) with a maximum of 100 cars available, from 1.30pm up to 2.45pm, and returning after the match.

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