Over the past few days, the football world has been united in grief at losing one of their own.
Liam Miller tragically lost his long battle with pancreatic cancer at the age of just 36. It really hit home to me personally as he is only a couple of weeks older than myself.
It is the only battle the talented young Corkman has ever lost. And that was only because it was one that was impossible to win.
I first came across Liam in 1998 when we both were competing for our respective countries in the Under-16 European Championship Finals right here in Scotland. We had the Republic of Ireland in our group and drew 0-0 with them in Stirling.
Miller was part of that Ireland team that remarkably went on to win the tournament for the first time in their history at that age group – beating the likes of Spain and Italy on their way. Miller was a standout in a tournament packed with quality and was undoubtedly one of the players of the tournament.
It stuck in my mind how talented he was. I would soon see him in action again at close quarters.
We next crossed paths in the youth and reserve teams a year or two later – Liam at Celtic and myself at Hibs. Without exaggeration, he was the best young player I ever played against at 17, 18. He had the lot. Despite having a wafer-thin build, he was hard as nails. His touch and awareness were frightening. He was lightening quick and would just ghost past people.
We would all come off the park at full-time usually after a doing from Celtic raving about the wee Irish fella in the middle of the park who spoke in a strange accent. Yes the Cork dialect is actually harder to understand than the Glasgow version.
He was just different class and it was no surprise to me that he was very quickly in and around a very strong Celtic squad under Martin O’Neill.
Subsequently, Liam got in and scored a couple of high-profile goals for Celtic in Europe and Manchester United came calling. It was an offer Liam just couldn’t turn down. I remember bumping into him shortly after in a bar in Glasgow. He was in the Manchester United first-team squad and was getting pestered by everyone in the place for photos and autographs.
He went out of his way to come over to me to chat and ask how everything was going at Hibs. I didn’t think he would even remember me to be honest. But I will always remember that night and that summed him up as a man.
He was just a down to earth guy and I ran into him plenty of times after that and he never changed a bit. Liam never spoke about himself or how much money he was earning. I have played with and against guys who went on to play at the highest level and earn millions who would blank you in the street. That never happened with Liam.
Since he passed away, I have spoken to loads of people who either knew him or had played with him. I have not heard one person say a bad thing about him. They all say the same thing: that, yes, he was a great footballer, but more importantly a great human being.
I feel particularly gutted for Austin McCann who is Liam’s brother-in-law and a good mate of mine. He loved him like a brother. He is in absolute pieces at the news. Austin had kept me up to date with Liam’s condition which enabled me to put the truth out online when lots of horrible rumours that he had passed away started to surface weeks ago.
I know that hurt the family deeply and is unfortunately the dark side of social media.
Liam leaves behind a wife and three young kids. For them the grief will be unimaginable. The only tiny consolation is that Liam packed so much into those 36 years. What a career and life he had all over the world.
We all support our chosen clubs and football means everything to us. But football is nothing when something like this happens. Nothing. Cancer has no colours. When we strip away those colours we are all just human beings. Nothing else matters but family and health. Money and success are immaterial.
Liam Miller will rightly be remembered as a fantastic footballer who played at the highest level for club and country. Me? I will remember him as being an unassuming, humble and thoroughly decent person who doted on his family.
Rest easy Liam.