Brian Mills: the OVF interview

Brian Mills: the OVF interview

Brian Mills was one of Port Vale’s brightest prospects in the 1990’s and we spoke to the former Vale striker about a footballing career that was cut short, too soon.

Brian Mills bio

Striker Mills progressed through the youth ranks and made his debut aged 19 against Swindon Town, scoring two goals. His promise was such that he appeared for the England U19 team in the World Championships playing alongside the likes of Andy Cole, Lee Clark, Ian Walker and Alan Wright.

But Mills’ potential was sadly never to be fulfilled. A spinal problem saw him forced to retire aged just 21 in 1993.  He had made 23 appearances for Vale, scoring four goals.

And for life after Vale? Our interview reveals all…

Here is our exclusive interview with Brian:

OVF: How did you first join the Vale?

BM: I first joined Port Vale as a schoolboy when I was 14. I was spotted while playing for Stafford & District schools and Staffordshire county schools.

OVF: Which person or persons had the biggest influence on your Vale career?

BM: Firstly, I must mention the support from my Mum and Dad. In particular my Dad, as during my Port Vale career from the age of 14 to 20, my Dad reckons that he did 100,000 miles. If it were not for this support and commitment, who knows what would have happened.

From a Port Vale perspective, the biggest influence by far was Mike Pejic. Mike came to my house to sign me as a schoolboy and coached me at all levels, schoolboy, youth team, reserve team and first team. Mike was a fantastic coach with incredible knowledge and enthusiasm. He taught me an awful lot. I obviously also have to thank John Rudge, as he believed in me enough to offer me a professional contract when I was 18.

OVF: Can you describe what was it like scoring twice on our full debut?

Scoring twice on my debut was unbelievable and I was unlucky not to score a hat-trick

BM: I can’t remember which day I was told that I was playing, but it was probably a day or two before the match. Scoring twice on my debut was unbelievable and I was unlucky not to score a hat-trick. As a striker I just wanted to score goals, and even if I had the best game ever I wasn’t happy if I didn’t score, so obviously, to score 2 I was very pleased. A hat-trick would have been nicer though!

OVF: You played in the World Youth Championship for England alongside players such as Ian Walker, Andy Cole and Lee Clark. What was it like being in a squad with players like that and do you have happy memories of playing that game against Uruguay?

Going to the World Youth Championships when I was 19 was a fantastic experience and one that I will never forget.

I was with the squad for about three weeks, spending the first few days training at Bisham Abbey and then flying out to Portugal. There were some very good players in the squad as you have mentioned but I did feel comfortable. The first two matches were against Spain and Syria. I was substitute for both of these matches, but did well enough in training, scoring plenty of goals to be picked to start against Uruguay ahead of Andy Cole (a match we needed to win to qualify).

It was a tough match and I didn’t get any chances. I was obviously very disappointed not to score and was replaced after about 70 minutes by Andy Cole. The match ended in a goalless draw which was extremely disappointing as it meant that we did not qualify for the next stage of the competition.

But it was a very proud moment for me to represent my country and my England cap is something that I will cherish forever!

OVF: I am sure it was a life-changing moment when your playing career came to an end after your diagnosis? Can you explain the events leading up to it?

The season had finished and we were in a bit of a heat wave at the end of May 1992. I went to Alton Towers for the day and jolted my back on the Thunder Looper. The neurologist said that this was just a coincidence but my Doctor said that this may have lowered my immune system.

Over the next four days I got progressively worse until by the fourth day I could not move my legs at all, not even my toes (I had four Doctors out to see me over this time and the first three thought that it was heat exhaustion. The fourth thought that it was transverse myelitis). I ended up at North Staffs Hospital and initially made a fantastic recovery. I was told that with it being caused by a virus it might get worse before it got better and unfortunately, after being released by the hospital (and having been told that I should be back playing in three months) I had a relapse while travelling back in the car on the way home and I felt my left leg become paralysed again.

This was devastating! The specialists were hoping that I would make as good a recovery as I did initially but unfortunately this did not happen. I worked so hard in my recovery, initially exercising virtually every minute of the day, learning how to walk again and once I was given the go ahead to drive after three months, I was receiving physiotherapy every day of the working week at Port Vale. (I must thank Jim Joyce the then Vale Physio and Susan Pitt my Physio in Lichfield for all their hard work!)

My football career ending was heartbreaking, but I am mentally tough and a very positive person.

Unfortunately, my spinal cord was too badly damaged and I didn’t make a full recovery and was released in the summer of 1993. My football career ending was heartbreaking, but I am mentally tough and a very positive person.

Even though my career ended so prematurely and unfulfilled (as I think that I would have been a prolific goal scorer and played in the Premier League) I try to look on the positive side of things. How many people can say that they have been a professional footballer, played in the second tier of English football at the age of 19 and represented England at U19 level. Those achievements can never be taken away from me.

OVF: You’ve moved on since then – can you give the Vale fans an update on your life after Vale?

After Port Vale I went to Stafford College and studied Maths and Physics at ‘A’ level achieving grade A in both. I then went to Loughborough University to study Physics and Sports Science achieving first class honours. For the last 14 years I have been teaching Physics, where I did two years at a Derbyshire school and have done twelve years at a school in Staffordshire.

I am happily married with a lovely wife, son and daughter. I have remained very active since leaving the Vale and have weight trained and swam regularly.

For the last eight years I have been Powerlifting and have won numerous West Midlands bench press titles in the 93Kg class and I am currently the British Masters 1 unequipped bench press champion. I am a natural powerlifter and lift for the Great Britain Powerlifting Federation as it is drug tested.

My best lifts in competition for the bench press, which have very strict rules which includes a 1 second pause on the chest, are 152.5Kg at 97.3Kg bodyweight and 145Kg at 89.9Kg which is my present bodyweight.

OVF: Do you still keep an eye out for Vale’s results?

Yes I do, I look out for them every week. It is such a shame that they are now in League 2.

One day I am hoping to show the kids around the Vale to see where their Dad used to play football.

One day I am hoping to show the kids around the Vale to see where their Dad used to play football.

OVF: Finally, there have been some nice comments posted about you on the OVF forum? Do you have any message for the Vale fans out there?

It was interesting answering the questions as it made me think about things that I haven’t thought about for a while.

I would like to thank the Vale fans for all of their nice comments on the website. It has been very much appreciated.

Up the Vale! Pride of the Potteries!

 

We’re very grateful to Brian for taking the time to speak to us. As a “thank you” OVF will be making a donation to the Stoke Mandeville spinal injuries hospital, Brian’s chosen charity.

1 Comment

  1. Fantastic teacher and a huge inspiration!

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