It’s late February 2007 and Sunderland, under the stewardship of Manchester United legend Roy Keane, are in the midst of late title surge which seemed so unlikely only months previous. They are facing their toughest and most defining challenge yet against fellow title challengers Derby County.
This writer, as a thirteen year old boy pitches across the Irish Sea along with his father, with knots in his stomach, fully aware of the magnitude of this game.
I hit the jackpot pre game when a chance encounter with the Sunderland manager (and Irish legend) leaves me beaming. You would think this would be the long lasting memory of the weekend.
The match is deep into injury time, and the two teams are level one apiece after an intense game. The draw would not be the worst result against a fellow promotion challenger after all.
Another Cork man representing Sunderland had different ideas, however.
Sunderland are forcing the issue. Going for the jugular. Grant Leadbitter finds himself out on the wing - he puts a hopeful cross into the box which finds the head of Liam Miller, who is sandwiched between two Derby defenders.
The ball hits the net. The Stadium of Light erupts into joy, with a noise not heard in years. Liam Miller instantly becomes a Sunderland hero... and has made a lanky, buck-toothed 13-year-old Irish teenager very happy.
Liam William Peter Miller was born on the 13th February 1981 in Cork, Ireland. His closest friends recall a football-obsessed Miller insisting that he will one day play for the two clubs he adored growing up - Glasgow Celtic and Manchester United. His teachers told him to start living in the real world. He was, and he lived the dream.
Miller secured the move of his dream when he was signed up by Celtic as a youth academy player in 1997. He went on to play for Celtic almost 30 times as a teenager, and was highly regarded by Martin O’Neill, who intended to build his Celtic team around him for years to come.
This intention was torn up when another of Miller’s heroes, Sir Alex Ferguson, came calling and offered him a contract to join Manchester United.
How could he refuse?
Whilst this transfer did not particularly work out, the Corkman could boast to have played for his two favourite clubs by the tender age of 24.
Sunderland, under Roy Keane, signed Liam Miller to join the rollercoaster ride in 2006. An energetic, box-to-box midfielder, Miller contributed significantly to the promotion winning team with big goals against Leeds United and the aforementioned goal against Derby County.
He sustained this form the following season as he still played an integral role in a squad that was heavily invested in by the Drumaville Consortium. His goal, and the scenes after, against Midlesborough in the Tees-Wear derby in September 2007 will be fondly remembered by all.
All in all, Miller made 60 appearences for the club, scoring 3 goals. His contribution was in the midst of what was possibly one of the most memorable times to be a Sunderland fan and for that reason, he will always be fondly remembered. And so should he be.
Upon leaving Sunderland, Miller had stints in the UK with QPR and Hibernian FC, as well as playing abroad in Australia and America.
Liam Miller sadly passed away on the 9th February 2018 after a harrowing battle with pancreatic cancer. He is survived by his three children, and his wife Clare.
Liam was a popular man. His friends described him as someone who was always in good form and thoroughly enjoyed the fun and games that would occur with his friends.
More importantly, he was a family man. Family was everything to Liam, and it is said that everything he did was with his family in mind.
He has been described as being a doting father, a “besotted” husband and a thorough gentleman. Miller fought his illness with “ferocity” and was doing everything he could to survive for his family.
If anything can measure how fondly remembered the man was, it was the testimonial that was arranged for him by his former manager Roy Keane. 43,000 spectators packed the Páirc Uí Chaoimh stadium for a tribute match between Manchester United and Celtic in his honour.
With names such as Keane, Gary Neville, Robbie Keane, Paul Scholes to name a few on show, it doesn’t only highlight the calibre of player he played with, but how well respected he was as a man.
On the week of the third anniversary of his death and of his 39th birthday, not only do we remember Liam Miller the footballer, we remember Liam Miller the gentleman.