Remembering Tony Millington (1943-2015)

Last year 21-times capped Wales international Tony Millington passed away after a short spell with illness. As a stalwart of Wrexham’s disabled supporters association, Tony was well-known at the club and in the town. In light of this week’s press coverage of the inquest into his death Russell Todd recalls meeting Tony.

I used to live and work in Hightown, Wrexham in a community development role and got to know Tony, through his lovely wife Hazel, who attended computing classes that were put on at the centre on the estate they lived on. Tony would get about in a reclined wheelchair but sadly he couldn’t fit through any of the centre’s doors to join in the classes.

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Given his disability it was not apparent that he was an ex-footballer; clearly, I was seeing the disability first, the person second and what a thoroughly valuable lesson that has been to me in life.

Hazel would do any IT class that we put on and I had got to know her well. So one day when I arrived for work later than usual and explained that I had been to Cardiff the night before for a Wales game she mentioned that Tony used to play for Wales. I knew he was a Wrexham fan but, again due to my narrow-mindedness, I couldn’t conceive in what way; in disabled football perhaps? The IT tutor, on overhearing this, asked whether Tony was related to Grenville Millington. The tutor was a Chester City fan and Grenville was one of his favourite players while he was growing up and, assuming there can’t be too many Millingtons in NE Wales, had wondered whether they were related. Hazel confirmed they were; indeed, Grenville used to hero-worship is big brother and had meticulously followed his career, particularly his international career, compiling scrapbooks of press cuttings, pictures and other memorabilia.

Gary Sprake, David Hollins and, one of the greatest of all time, Jack Kelsey were the only Welsh international goalkeepers from 50s and 60s of whom I was aware. But I had never heard of Tony Millington, who also played for Swansea City bewteen 1969 and 1974.

Hazel invited the tutor and I to call round one day and take a look at the scrapbooks and have a chat with Tony. “He likes nothing better than have a natter about football and his playing days”.

But it was one of those open, “Why don’t you…” invitations; you know the sort. They rarely get taken up. And neither did this one for several weeks. I would see Tony walking his dog around the estate most days and so I eventually plucked up the courage (yes, courage) to speak to him. A Welsh international footballer. A de facto hero. But a polite man walking his dog all the same. There was no need to be nervous.

Cutting a long story short, I (the tutor was busy; call himself a football fan!) ended up sharing Tony’s company looking at his scrapbooks and soaking up every word of his recollections. How he had been on the South American tour in 1966 and faced Brazilian greats; played at Wembley; FA cup runs with Peterborough; playing with Ivor Allchurch and Mike England; getting called up for the first time; being fiercely and proudly Welsh even though he grew up in Hawarden (his words)….and more. We spoke about the present Wales team, at the time they were doing well under Mark Hughes.

But it was the scrapbooks that were his pride and joy. According to Hazel, Grenville had presented them to Tony, unaware that Grenville had been compiling them over the years.

Tony ended up on the losing side in each of his first eight internationals finally avoiding defeat, five years after his debut, in a goalless draw in Belfast in 1967’s Home Championship. Northern Ireland were also the opposition when he finally tasted victory a year later, ironically at The Racecourse. Tony’s international career coincided with arguably Wales’s leanest spell in decades and he only ever ended up on the winning side four times in his 21 caps (twice each against Northern Ireland and Finland) but he was very proud of his decade in and around the team. His performance in press reports of a game against England at Wembley, in only his third cap, is described as “heroic” and surely some of Wales’s defeats would have been far greater had it not been for Tony.

It is an afternoon I’ll treasure and remains to this day the most time I have spent in the company of an international footballer; I doubt there are many who are or were friendlier.

Cysgwch mewn heddwch, Tony

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