Obituary: Len Millard

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Rarely can a nickname have been as unrepresentative of a man's character as that of the footballer Len Millard, a stalwart defender with West Bromwich Albion for a dozen seasons after the Second World War. He was a quiet unassuming fellow, renowned for his gentlemanly conduct and never booked in his 476 senior games for the club, yet he was dubbed "The Agitator".

The sobriquet was coined, perhaps in a spirit of irony, because the wingers who were confronted by the ultra-dependable left-back tended to become agitated by his efficiency, which reduced them to marginal figures on the fringe of the action.

The prime example of the modest Millard's expertise was his subduing of the great Tom Finney in the FA Cup Final of 1954. It should be stressed that "The Preston Plumber", who was the newly crowned Footballer of the Year and arguably the finest player of his generation, never became remotely agitated, which would have been alien to his own sporting nature. But Finney was starved of the ball comprehensively by the steady Millard, who was man of the match by common consent and richly deserved the honour, as Albion's captain that day, of lifting the famous trophy.

Indeed, but for a late run of defeats, due at least partially to an injury crisis, West Bromwich might have won the League Championship, too. Had they done so, Millard would have entered soccer legend as the man who skippered the first team this century to capture the coveted League and FA Cup double. As it was, they finished as runners-up and the amiable Midlander remained an unobtrusive figure, little known outside the game.

Millard had signed for the Throstles as a teenage amateur in 1937, then played in wartime competitions as a centre- forward before converting to wing-half by the time hostilities ceased in 1945. During the subsequent decade he missed only a handful of matches and helped gain promotion from the Second Division in 1949, continuing to hold a regular place in the top flight until his 39th year.

In 1958 Millard moved to the non-League Stafford Rangers, whom he served as manager until 1961. After that he continued to shun the limelight, working in the West Midlands until his retirement in the early 1980s.

Ivan Ponting

Leonard Millard, footballer: born Coseley 7 March 1919; played for West Bromwich Albion 1937-58; died Coseley 2 March 1997.