RUSS OF THE ROBINS

New Chel­tenham boss Russ Mil­ton bor­rows from Socrates’ phi­los­o­phy

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE - By Chris Dunlavy

IN a par­al­lel uni­verse, un­der a dif­fer­ent coach, Rus­sell Mil­ton might have played for Ar­se­nal. He might have won ti­tles and FA Cups. He might have knocked around with Den­nis Bergkamp.

But then he would never have teamed up with Socrates, played in Hong Kong or tried his hand at broad­cast­ing and teach­ing. He may have missed out on fame and for­tune, but Mil­ton’s is a life richly lived.

“I’ve lived in seven or eight coun­tries,” said Mil­ton, now in care­taker charge at Chel­tenham. “I’ve seen dif­fer­ent cul­tures, the way they play foot­ball and do busi­ness. I’ve got friends all over the world. I’ve had a fan­tas­tic time and if I could go back now I wouldn’t change it. Not a thing.”

For a while, though, the young Mil­ton had good rea­son to be­lieve he was des­tined for do­mes­tic great­ness.

A tal­ented sports­man (he played cricket with Mark Eal­ham in his youth and re­jected an of­fer from Kent), Mil­ton was one of just two Ar­se­nal young­sters to be handed a pro con­tract from a short­list of 30 ap­pren­tices. The other was Paul Mer­son. Then, in De­cem­ber 1989, came what ap­peared to be his big break. “We played a train­ing game of first team against re­serves,” re­called Mil­ton, then 21. “Paul Davis got in­jured, so Ge­orge Gra­ham put me in the first team. I played re­ally well.

Re­leased

“They were play­ing Man United at home on the Sun­day on TV so I went off think­ing ‘I’ve got a chance here’. I even re­mem­ber Tony Adams say­ing ‘What a game to make your de­but’. I rang my mum, my mates. I told ev­ery­one. The next day, Ge­orge called me into his of­fice and said I was be­ing re­leased.”

It was then that Ar­se­nal winger Brian Mar­wood, recog­nis­ing that Mil­ton’s tech­ni­cal ap­proach was ill-suited to the blood and thun­der of English foot­ball, urged him to chance his arm abroad.

So he re­jected Bury and Stoke, first join­ing Ja­panese out­fit Hi­tachi Kashiwa Reysol (who would later sign Brazil­ian leg­end Careca and be man­aged by Steve Per­ry­man) be­fore spend­ing three sea­sons with Dou­ble Flower FC in Hong Kong’s top flight.

There, he played with Socrates and Serginho, took on the AC Mi­lan of Van Bas­ten and Gul­lit and ate – amongst other things – rat, snake and dog.

Mil­ton ranks play­ing with Socrates as the high­light of his ca­reer and it was the prompt­ing of the Brazil­ian – who put off turn­ing pro un­til he was 25 in or­der to grad­u­ate in medicine – that en­cour­aged him to re­turn to Eng­land to take a de­gree in Sports Science and be­come a PE teacher.

Wand

He did too, all whilst play­ing part-time for Dover in a fond­lyre­mem­bered spell that yielded 21 goals in 165 games. It is, how­ever, Chel­tenham and the all-con­quer­ing side of Steve Cot­ter­ill that brought the best out in Mil­ton.

When Mil­ton ar­rived in 1997, the Robins had just won pro­mo­tion from the South­ern Prem. When he left in 2003, they had won an FA Tro­phy and played in League One.

“Russ was a re­ally nice lad and a re­ally good team player,” says Cot­ter­ill, now in charge at Bris­tol City. “He had fan­tas­tic tech­nique but he could com­pete, too.

“My main mem­ory of him is that ab­so­lute wand of a left foot. His set-pieces used to get us so many goals.”

Though he would spend a fi­nal sea­son at Bath, Mil­ton never cut his ties to Chel­tenham, lec­tur­ing, com­men­tat­ing on their matches for BBC ra­dio be­fore head­ing up the academy un­der for­mer team­mate Mark Yates.

And when Yates’ five-year reign came to an end in Novem­ber, Mil­ton was given a chance to stake his claim.

“It would be fit­ting if Russ kept them up be­cause he was a big part of the team that got them there,” added Cot­ter­ill

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

ALL SMILES: Rus­sell Mil­ton packed plenty into his ca­reer

IN HIS PRIME: Mil­ton in ac­tion for Chel­tenham Town

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