Looking Back At: John Milner

John Milner

Date of birth: 14th May 1942

Born: Huddersfield

Height: 5ft 9in

Position: Midfield

City appearances: League: 109, goals: 6
FA & League Cups: 12, goals: 1,
Total: 121, goals: 7

John Milner progressed through the junior ranks at his local club Huddersfield Town, turning professional when he was 17 and playing a total of seventeen Football League games for the Second Division side over the next three seasons. Bill Anderson then signed him for Lincoln City towards the end of October 1963 and he went straight into the side in midfield replacing Russell Green, one of the few survivors from the Imps’ Second Division days. Milner’s first game saw a 2-0 defeat by Carlisle United at Sincil Bank, but in the next game, also at home, he helped inspire a late comeback for City to win 3-2 against Chester. He was ever-present in the remainder of the Fourth Division games that season, usually partnering Bert Linnecor, another Second Division survivor, as City finished mid-table. What we would nowadays think of as a holding midfield player, he was described at this time by Maurice Burton in the Echo as a ‘commanding half back’.

Hopes were high for City to mount a promotion campaign the following season, but after a good start with a 4-2 win over Hartlepools United things fell apart, leading to manager Bill Anderson being moved into the background as the team began to be selected by the club directors. Milner kept his place through this before sustaining an injury in a home defeat by Halifax which caused him to miss over a month of the season. Fit again, he played his part in an FA Cup Second Round tie which saw the Imps beat Third Division Hull City, a game which saw him at his determined best, scoring a goal with blood streaming from a head wound. The Fourth Division campaign then went from bad to worse for City after the appointment of pre-war defender Con Moulson to take charge of the team. This resulted in a run of eight defeats from eight games, Milner featuring in all but one of these, including a spell as City’s fifth team captain of the season. Under new player-coach Roy Chapman he was in the side which stopped the rot with a 2-2 draw at home to Bradford (Park Avenue) but then played just twice more in the remainder of the season including a 2-0 home defeat to Wrexham in which Maurice Burton described him as looking ‘out of touch and rarely happy about things’.

Despite being a part of one City’s worst ever seasons Milner was retained by Roy Chapman and was almost ever-present during the 1965/66 season, missing just one league game due to illness and one League Cup game. However, during the season he asked for a transfer more than once, with thoughts of going to play in South Africa and in February posted another request just days after what Maurice Burton described as his finest display for City in a 2-1 defeat at Stockport.

Although his transfer request was finally granted, he remained at the club, playing alongside a variety of midfield partners but finishing alongside Ken Fencott in an end-of-season run of just two defeats in twelve games which however was not enough to prevent another finish in the re-election zone for City.

Milner was retained again by Chapman for the 1966/67 season, signing a new contract as a part-time professional while working for an insurance company in Huddersfield but with a poor start he lost his place after four games and made just a handful of further appearances. His last game for City was in a 2-1 defeat at Bradford City at the end of October which was the first game under new manager Ron Gray. Left out for the next match he was out of favour under the new manager although Gray stated there was an opening in the team for any player who wanted it and played for it. Again wishing to leave to play in South Africa Milner was finally released at his own request the following February but joined Bradford (Park Avenue) for the remainder of the season playing eight games for them. He then had spells with Southern League Cambridge United and Irish side Sligo Rovers until early in 1968, when rather than going to South Africa departed instead for the USA where he joined Boston Beacons of the North American Soccer League. The team was coached by former Rotherham United manager Jack Mansell, and John Milner played in their first ever home match scoring two goals. Remaining in North America, he later played for Vancouver Royals and Denver Dynamos whose coach was his former Imps team-mate Ken Bracewell.

Milner’s best season was undoubtedly 1965/66 when as captain for part of it he was one of the few players to show any sort of consistency, with Maurice Burton describing him as enthusiastic and ultra-fit. However, such praise did not always come his way and he will mostly be remembered for being a City player during the dark days of the mid-1960s, and it was no surprise that he was one of the first of the existing squad to lose his place after Ron Gray started his rebuilding of the side.

John Milner’s Football League appearances totalled 134, with 6 goals scored.

Malcom Johnson