SADLY, there’s not ‘great news for Albion fans everywhere’ with the news of the sudden death last week of broadcasting legend Tony Millard.
Cantankerous, obnoxious, rude could all have appeared in any profile of Tony, as could professionalism, expertise and kindness. But, perhaps, most of all, entertaining. I’ve had the privilege of knowing and working with Tony for almost 25 years, including a number of years on the road covering the Albion.
One thing is for certain, it was never dull and he had an opinion on absolutely everything and wasn’t afraid to share it with anyone who would listen and, in some cases, people who didn’t want to.
He was the pioneer of the football phoneline, starting the original Seagull line on 8049 more than 30 years ago.
“The line for Albion information 24 hours a day” almost certainly caused no end of arguments in households around Sussex with large phone bills run up by young, and perhaps not so young, Albion fans – eager to hear the latest information on their beloved club, long before the internet and 24-hour rolling sports news.
Tony was also instrumental in the first-ever Albion shirt sponsorship deal with British Caledonian in 1980 and arranged the iconic helicopter journey by the club to the 1983 FA Cup final.
For many years, he was the Albion programme editor and match announcer, again gaining notoriety on Danny Baker’s network radio show when, during the York City riot of 1996, he went on the microphone while goalposts were being destroyed and said “Whilst we’ve got this break in the play, can I remind you all that this coming Tuesday evening it’s Steve Foster’s testimonial, 7.45pm kick-off.”
Tony also loved cricket, ice hockey and speedway, something, despite a number of kind invitations over the years to myself and Harty junior, we never got round to going to.
I recall one long car journey north to cover the Albion he was trying to explain the complexities of speedway. As hard as he tried, he couldn’t get through to me that it wasn’t a case of the first bike to reach the first corner would always win.
He was also very charity orientated, turning out in the first ever Ian Hart’s Spare Parts charity football match for St Barnabas in 2002 at the age of 63, and he also played in a number of cricket games for the hospice as well.
In short, he was a character. A one-off, he didn’t suffer fools gladly, called a spade a spade, even when it got him in trouble.
We’ve all got flaws but I also believe that everyone has a bit of good in them.
For me, two of Tony’s overwhelming qualities were loyalty and kindness. When I was in trouble, I had his unwavering support, but, perhaps, for me, the incident that epitomised Tony Millard the man came in 1997 when a young Albion fan took the ongoing struggle to save the club to a different level and ended up, albeit harshly, with a custodial sentence.
Through cricket, Tony knew a number of warders at Lewes, to the point that when the young fan arrived in his cell for his first night locked up, there was a letter from Tony sent by fax, telling him how sorry he was at what had happened but most importantly keeping the young man’s spirits up.
I know for all Tony’s knockers and detractors that young man really appreciated what he did for him at that very dark time.
Tony Millard, I, like many others, will miss you. The word legend is often an over-used word, but, in my opinion, when it comes to the Albion, he was just that.