Football: Miller orders a famous repeat performance

Hamilton's manager is plotting the downfall of Rangers in the Scottish Cup today.
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The Independent Online
IF Hamilton Academical and Rangers are a million miles apart, few men are better equipped to bridge that gap than Colin Miller. The Canadian international has conducted a career in defiance of permanent jet-lag, but bringing Dick Advocaat's pounds 35m team down to earth would clear Miller's managerial career for take-off.

Compared to his Rangers counterpart in tonight's Scottish Cup fourth- round tie, Miller is travelling not so much in economy class, as somewhere below in the baggage hold. The first division side's young player-manager has spent less than one-thousandth of Advocaat's budget.

Yet, this 34-year-old Scots-born Canadian knows that, sometimes, even the VIPs can be embarrassed by those in the cheap seats. Miller once helped to humble a Brazil side containing Romario and Bebeto which, just six weeks later, were crowned the world champions at the climax of USA 94.

"I captained Canada when we drew 1-1 with Brazil in a warm-up game just before the 1994 World Cup Finals," Miller reflects. "It was the thrill of a lifetime. There were 53,000 in Edmonton to see the game, but while it was wonderful to play on the same pitch as some of the best players in the world, it was even better to know that we had competed with them.

"If I'm being honest, that scale of encounter is what my team faces against Rangers. They may have world-class players, but we have to compete. We are not simply there to make up the numbers."

The numbers game, of course, is what is at present shaping the Scottish game. Few in Hamilton can forget the astonishing triumph in 1987 when they went to Ibrox and knocked the team dubbed "Graeme Souness's Millionaires" out on their expensive backsides.

But things have changed at both ends of the spectrum since then. Rangers have grown rich beyond belief, while Hamilton are at present homeless. That is why the tie is being played in Glasgow, at Firhill Stadium, which Hamilton rent from Partick Thistle. It is the latest stop during a four-year planning wrangle which has prevented a single brick from being laid on the site which awaits their new ground.

"We've suffered through being isolated from our community," Miller admits, "and it's been tough to attract crowds after so long away from Hamilton. The money we'll make from a tie against Rangers is vital to the club."

Miller, who took charge four months ago, remembers better days. "I played in the Premier League with Hamilton 10 years ago," he pointed out, and, indeed, is listed as the club's most capped player, making 29 of his 61 Canadian appearances during that spell.

Yet, who better to pilot a club-in-exile than an ex-pat? Miller left Lanarkshire behind when he emigrated to Vancouver with his family at the age of 10. He returned to Britain 10 years later to forge his career, starting, ironically enough, at Rangers, before moving on to Doncaster, Hamilton, St Johnstone, Hearts, Dunfermline and Ayr United.

He has supplemented that itinerary with the more glamorous one provided by Canada. "I took out Canadian citizenship when I was a kid and I'm grateful I did," he said. "Without it, I would never have played in some of the places I have been to. I have played in the Azteca Stadium three times in World Cup qualifying matches against Mexico, with 110,000 hostile fans screaming their heads off. I also made my debut against Scotland in 1983, which was nice."

Miller's father, Joe, was there for that one and he also flew into Glasgow two nights ago for his son's latest big date, though in somewhat of a dilemma. "He's a diehard Rangers fan," Miller junior smiled. "Four years ago, I scored for Hearts to knock Rangers out of the cup, dad saw it live in Canada because it was on Sky. I think he choked on his beer."

Dick Advocaat might need a hangover cure too, if tonight turns out to be Miller time once more.