GOAL: Peter Millar pictured scoring for Boca Juniors against River Plate
A few weeks ago, in my ‘It Occurs To Me’ column, I wrote about the mystery tour from Ardara and the fantastic time we had in Wilkins in Churchill.
It was there Frankie Campbell introduced me to his sister-in-law, Margaret Fisher, originally from Tullycleave, Ardara, and her husband Peter Millar, who were visiting from the USA.
They celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary last December, having met and fallen in love in Brooklyn, New York. Peter is 78 going on 58, a very striking handsome man and still extraordinarily fit.
When he mentioned the 1966 World Cup, Argentina and Antonio Rattin, I was immediately hooked. The game between England and Argentina at Wembley, was described by the Observer’s Hugh McIlvanney as “not so much a football match as an international incident”, in which the Argentina captain, Antonio Rattín, was sent off after 35 minutes for dissent and refused to leave, delaying the game for nine minutes, and Geoff Hurst scoring the only goal with 12 minutes to play.
“It was clear,” Rattín later said, “that the referee played with an England shirt on”. It was in the quarter-final match against the host team that Rattín was sent off by the German referee Rudolf Kreitlein for "violence of the tongue", despite the referee speaking no Spanish. Rattín was so incensed with the decision, believing the referee to be biased in favour of England, that he initially refused to leave. As a way to show his disgust, he sat on the red carpet which was exclusively for the Queen to walk on.
He eventually had to be escorted from the field by two policemen and as a final sign of disgust he wrinkled a British flag before he was escorted out.
But it was only after the final whistle that all hell broke loose. Alf Ramsey stopped George Cohen from swapping shirts with an Argentinian player, shouting: “George, you are not changing shirts with that animal.”
Peter Millar played with Rattin and would disagree fundamentally with Ramsey’s remark.
Incredibly, his amazing exploits were somewhat under the radar until he recently shared his recollections with the Scottish Herald. Born in the small seacoast town of Saltcoats, Scotland in 1942, Peter was the son of a soccer player. His father John played in the Scottish First Division for Aberdeen FC prior to the Second World War, and passed on his love of the game.
Peter began playing at age 6, signed with Kilwinning Rangers, a member of the semi-professional Western Ayrshire League, at 15, and dreamed of a professional soccer career.
There was even talk of a trial at Glasgow Rangers, but at 16 that dream seemed to evaporate when his family emigrated to the United States in 1959.
ARDARA CONNECTION: Peter Millar pictured with his family
The Millars settled in Union City, New Jersey, and since the local high school didn’t have soccer, the lanky yet athletic Millar ran track.
To satisfy his soccer yearnings, Peter joined West New York SC of the German American Soccer League, and according to a local newspaper, he was “a boy who stepped into a man’s league.”
Yet the outside right forward was most definitely not out of his league, scoring 80 goals in 34 games. Millar even scored eight in a 12-2 thrashing against a side full of Lativians at New York’s Central Park.
By 1961, Millar’s scoring feats caught the eye of Enzo Magnozzi, the owner and manager of the Queens-based Inter SC. In 1960, he had formed Inter SC and a year later bought a field in Flushing to showcase his cast of “imported players.”
“That is the reason management has named the team International Soccer Club,” noted a club bulletin, “because soccer belongs to all nationalities and for all people to enjoy and criticize for their pleasure.”
Magnozzi treated Millar, one of three Scots in a squad full of Argentines, like a son.
Peter Millar, third from left, kneeling, pictured on a USA team
Peter joined Inter in 1961 and by the end of his first season he led the league in scoring and was voted its top player.
He took home the Most Valuable Player award again after the 1962-63 campaign, and by early 1964 a black and white photograph of a smiling, bushy-haired forward appeared in World Soccer, the London-based magazine covering the international soccer scene.
Largely about his new club, the photo’s caption read: “Pete Millar from the American Soccer League club Inter was transferred to Boca Juniors”.
One of Magnozzi’s buddies, an Argentine boxing manager, came to Inter’s Sunday matches and rated two players in particular, Millar and Bobby Waugh. Millar played on the right and Waugh on the left, and one day after a match the gentleman walked up to the pair and said, “How would you like to go to Argentina for a trial at Boca Juniors?” “It was a big shock getting asked to play for Boca,” recalls Peter.
Within a handful of months, though, Pete so acclimated himself to his new city and club that one reporter’s headline highlighted his remarkable adaptability: “Miller: Scottish-Yankee Completely Argentine.”
The squad they joined was stocked with top-level talent. Brazilian defender Orlando, a World Cup winner in 1958; Argentina internationals like the forward Norberto Menendez and the aforementioned midfielder Antonio Rattin; in goal there was Antonio Roma, another Argentina cap and there was prolific Argentinian goalscorer Jose Sanfilippo.
“It was very hard to break into the first team,” Peter recalls, “I played outside right. We had Omar Corbatta, an Argentinian international, and I was his back-up. He was a player I admired.”
Peter Millar joined Inter in 1961 and by the end of his first season he led the league in scoring and was voted its top player. He played as a “numero siete,” or outside right winger in Boca’s 4-2-4 formation.
“The speed of play wasn’t as fast as you would think. There was a lot of slow, intricate passing,” recalls Millar on his first season at Boca. “Also, in those days, they used to shoot a lot from distance. We spent a lot of time shooting in training. . . They wanted me to go up and down, and beat my man and cross the ball. I learned a lot there.”
Ever “el goleador,” he also scored a dozen goals in twenty matches to remain near the top of La Tercera scoring chart.
The new Boca forward relished La Tercera matches on Sundays, and at times, 20,000 to 30,000 spectators watched the Under 21 matches (2,000-3,000 came to training sessions). At one Superclásico a jammed-packed Bombonera watched Millar deflect a punt from River’s goalkeeper to a waiting teammate to score the game’s only goal. It denied their rival the championship.
He scored eight times in thirteen appearances for the USA. Millar’s first two goals came in a 3-3 tie against Israel at Yankee Stadium in September 1968, and he struck a hat-trick”the following month against Haiti in Port-au-Prince. He scored against the Haitians again a week later.
Haiti later knocked the Americans out of World Cup qualifying for Mexico 1970, but not before Peter nailed another hat-trick. In November 1968, he scored three goals to lead the USA to a 6-2 victory against Bermuda at Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium.
It was a highlight of my year to meet this humble legend. Knowing Frankie as I do, and between Ardara and St. Eunan’s yarns, as well as talk of Boca Juniors exploits, the Campbell and Fisher houses must be abuzz with fantastic sporting stories.