Former NSW AFL Commissioner Rod Gillett recalls his association with Australian sporting legend Keith Miller when “Nugget” was the Chief Commissioner of the state body. Keith Miller is the only former Australian football player/official featured in the SCG’s Walk of Honour. He was also made a Life Member of the SCG.
“Roddy, could you chair the meeting for me please mate? Thanks old boy”.
Keith Ross Miller MBE, then the NSW AFL Chief Commissioner, would ask me this prior to our monthly meetings. This would enable him to enjoy a scotch and soda while perusing the form guide as I led my fellow commissioners through the agenda.
Keith Miller was a Boys’ Own Hero – war fighter pilot, Test cricketer, and VFL footballer. A dashing, handsome physically blessed man who also liked a drink, a punt and a night-out.
Appointed the inaugural chief commissioner for the AFL in Sydney in 1986, Keith had an impressive background in football. He had been a star player for St Kilda in the VFL prior to the war and then returned to the Saints in 1946 when he also represented Victoria.
Upon moving to Sydney after he played for Sydney Naval in the local competition and represented NSW at the 1947 ANFC interstate carnival in Hobart.
After the 1948 Ashes tour of England where he was a key member of Bradman’s “Invincibles”, Keith became a sportswriter reporting on cricket and football.
While he wasn’t really that interested in sports administration, he played a key role as chairman of the inaugural commission by leading the re-union of the disparate football bodies in NSW (Sydney, Country & Juniors) back under the one governance model. He stood down from the position in 1988.
It was a shame he didn’t stay on for the last ever national carnival in Adelaide in which NSW playing as an Origin team for the first time lost narrowly to the SANFL and beat Western Australia. He could have taken my place in the governor’s box at the game as he was very comfortable in the company of royalty.
When he was Chief Commissioner he would come down from his home in Newport Beach meet me for an hour or so prior to the meeting at the Old Fitzroy Hotel in Cathedral St just opposite the Powerplay offices in Woolloomooloo. At that stage Powerplay had the licence to run the Sydney Swans and were responsible for funding Development work in schools and for junior football through the NSW AFL.
Marketing guru Bob Pritchard and Swans general manager Ron Thomas were the Powerplay nominees on the NSW AFL Commission.
Then-NSW AFL CEO Ian Granland would join Keith and I to “caucus” at the pub.
Keith would regale us with all stories both from the war and his world of sport.
His best mate from the war, Gus Glendinning was a favourite conversation piece as he had played footy for East Perth in the WAFL and was the father of the inaugural West Coast Eagles captain and North Melbourne 1983 Brownlow medalist Ross Glendinning.
Miller and Glendinning meet while serving in the RAAF in the UK and both became commissioned pilot officers flying Mosquito bombers over Germany during the war. They remained life-long friends; Keith was very proud of his association with the Glendinnings.
The other footballer he spoke highly of was South Melbourne premiership star Laurie Nash. Keith played cricket at South Melbourne with Nash, who had played two Test matches for Australia as a fast bowler. It was Nash who leapt high at mid-on to take spectacular catch that netted a sixteen year old Miller his first wicket in District cricket in the 1935-36 season.
Keith came up against Nash’s South 1933 premiership team-mate and legendary goal-kicker Bob Pratt after Pratt had transferred to Coburg in the VFA. Playing at full-back Miller played the first match of the season for Brighton in 1940 and kept Pratt to one goal. He then transferred to St Kilda in the VFL and played two seasons before enlisting.
According to The Encyclopedia of AFL Footballers (5th ed.) Keith was “a strong marking key defender with a necessary touch of toughness and a fine exponent of the drop kick”. He won the St Kilda best and fairest award in his first season and was runner-up the next year.
He told us his school-boy hero was the swash-buckling Spitfire fighter pilot Keith “Bluey” Truscott DFC and Bar, from his school, Melbourne Boys’ High, where Truscott was captain of the school cricket and football teams. Keith played in the First XI under Truscott when he was in Year 9.
Truscott, a rugged, fiery half-forward flanker starred in the 1939-40 Melbourne premiership teams before enlisting in the RAAF. He died in a flying accident in 1943; the Melbourne Football Club best and fairest award is named in his honour.
Keith continued playing football when he came to Sydney in 1947 turning out for Sydney Naval (the old Sydney club had changed name in 1944) which was comprised mainly of ex-armed services personnel like himself.
He was famously late for a practice match prior to the season at Trumper Park, arriving from Randwick racecourse at half-time, and running out straight after the interval and booting a drop kick goal from centre half-back!
Selected to play for NSW at the 1947 ANFC Carnival in Hobart, Keith was injured in the second quarter in the first match against Canberra and moved to the forward pocket from which he kicked 5 goals and was awarded 3 votes in the Tassie Medal for best player of the championship.
His roommate at the carnival, Neil Stevens, a convivial country cop from Henty, who joined Eastern Suburbs after serving in the AIF in New Guinea in WWII, remained life-long friends with “Nuggett”. “We used to catch up for the occasional counter-lunch and he would come down to speak to the boys when I was coaching the Police team in the services competition” Neil told me in the company of his son Gregory, at a Sydney Swans game in 2005.
Many honours and awards including the Australian Sports Hall of Fame as well as those at the SCG have been bestowed on Keith Miller but he told me he was most proud of his portrait hanging in the pavilion at Lords; his favourite cricket ground. However, he did tell me that the SCG was his favourite cricket ground in Australia, and the MCG, his favourite football ground.
Keith Miller is honoured for cricket in SCG Walk of Honour.