My Welsh Footballing Hero: Tony Millington by Chris Leek
Chris aka The Man From Uncle (one of the sax players with The Barry Horns) and long time Swansea City and Wales fan introduces one of his Swansea and Wales footballing heroes: the late Tony Millington.
Tony Millington (1943-2015) saw himself as not just a goalkeeper but an entertainer; he always made a good save look spectacular and we all loved it. He would often engage with the fans behind his goal by cadging sweets off them and even ate a pie from one fan whilst the game was taking place.
One of his party pieces was to swing from his crossbar imitating a gorilla, this though he had to stop doing as he once missed a backpass that resulted in a goal! ‘Milly’ was also quite superstitious. If the Swans had a penalty, he would kneel down by his goalpost and face the other way. When the Swans scored he would celebrate by performing a handstand in his box.
My first Swans game was in 1967, when I was nine. By the late sixties and early seventies, Swansea usually flitted between the old third and fourth division. I missed the pre 1965 era in which Swansea spent 22 consecutive seasons in the old second division; meaning, too, that I missed watching the likes of local heroes Ivor Allchurch, John Charles and Mel Charles and about whom my father would always remind me. There were also the exciting FA Cup runs, including to the semi-finals in 1964.
Because of those years I realised why my father’s enthusiasm to see his team week after week was becoming less and less, and who could blame his generation after some of the fantastically talented home grown players he saw and the big teams that were constantly up against us.
The early 80s were another golden era, marked, like that late 1950s era, with an occasion when seven Swans players were picked to play for Wales: once in 1958 and once in the 1981. What an achievement for a town the size of Swansea.
Hawarden/Penarlâg-born Millington though joined Swansea from Peterborough United in 1967 so missed out on both eras. He had already amassed 13 Wales caps by this point, but over a period of seven years in which he competed with Dave Hollins and Gary Sprake for the Wales number one jersey.
He eventually played 21 times for Wales during his career including in far-flung places such as Moscow, Belo Horizonte and Santiago, and played in all three matches of the 1970 Home Championship that Wales jointly shared with England and Scotland. His final cap came while still a Swan in 1971.
The season before in the third round of the FA Cup he played for Swansea against Rhyl for whom Tony’s younger brother Grenville was playing in goal, with Swansea winning 6-1.
During this period, most teams used to have a reserve squad which competed in the Football Combination Reserve League which was also used for players coming back from injury.
At one of these games I actually took a penalty on the pitch at half time against my hero. The reason this happened is because Swansea were playing Arsenal in a reserve fixture in which Arsenal’s great superstar striker Charlie George was playing as he was coming back from injury.
This was big news and it was reflected in the gate of about 4,000 turning up on a bleak Tuesday evening at The Vetch just to see two reserve teams. Anyway, half time arrived and the PA man announced that Tony Millington (who was not playing in the match as he was in the first team) was coming out onto the pitch and would any of us schoolkids like to take a penalty against him!
My three mates and I immediately ran onto the pitch with a few other kids – don’t forget that those were the days when the fans weren’t fenced in like caged animals or shepherded by an army of fluorescent stewards.
I was extremely excited and nervous. He saved my attempt but I didn’t care as I had just taken a penalty against my hero. What a story to tell!
He was a great character, a lovely, genuine person, and a fantastic goalkeeper too and even though he was severely paralysed in a car crash in Northern Ireland, where he was playing semi-pro for Glenavon the club he left the Swans for, his later years were marked by pioneering campaigning for disability rights and access in his work at Wrexham AFC.
Tony sadly passed away in 2015 in Wrexham aged 72 leaving behind a legacy both on and off the pitch: a true legend who was loved by all Swans fans.