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Michael 'Mick' Denis Mills (born 4 January 1949 in Godalmingmarker, Surreymarker) was a football full back who, by the end of his career, had achieved Ipswich Town's record number of appearances and captained England at the World Cup.

Playing career

Mills joined Portsmouth as a schoolboy, but the club abandoned its youth system, forcing him to look for a new club to begin his fledgling career. Ipswich took him on and he made his debut for the first team in 1966, aged just 17, in a 5-2 victory against Wolverhampton Wanderers.

A full back who could play on either side but was more frequently used on the left, Mills spent his late teens in and out of the Ipswich first team but became an established regular in 1969, the year the club achieved promotion to the First Division. It was also the year that Bobby Robson would arrive as manager.

Robson appointed Mills as team captain in 1971 and so began a close working relationship between coach and skipper which would be at the forefront of Ipswich's rise to the top of the game for a decade.

In 1973, Ipswich finished fourth in the First Division, won the Texaco Cup and qualified for the UEFA Cup, and during the same season, England coach Alf Ramsey gave Mills his first international cap in a 1-1 draw with Yugoslavia at Wembleymarker. Mills played at right back, a position which would become more familiar to him with England than with Ipswich as his career continued.

Ipswich began to finish in the top sector of the First Division with some regularity and played in numerous European competitions, but actual success seemed to elude them. Mills was the experienced captain of a young side consisting mainly of players brought through the ranks. They achieved third place in the First Division in 1977 (by which time Mills was back in the England fold - his second cap came in 1976 against Wales and he had eleven by the end of the 1977 campaign) and expected to go better than that the following year.

However, that subsequent season in the First Division for Ipswich was disappointing as they struggled to find any consistency and finished a lowly 16th. There was a tremendous bonus for them in the FA Cup, however, as they reached the final where they beat runaway favourites Arsenal 1-0 at Wembley. Mills, as captain, lifted the trophy - Ipswich's first major honour for 16 years.

While his club had finally won a trophy, Mills' international career was in a semi-statuesque state. Don Revie had given him a number of games at left back, including the opening qualifiers for the 1978 World Cup (a straightforward 4-1 win for England over Finland, followed by a disappointing 2-0 defeat to Italy) but Mills had to cope with lots of competition for both full back slots. After Revie's departure, successor Ron Greenwood seemed to prefer Liverpool's Phil Neal at right back and Leeds United's Trevor Cherry at left back, with Mills as reserve for both. He didn't play in any of the remaining qualifying games, and England failed to reach the finals.

Mills, however, started to become a regular in the England set-up in 1978 though some confusion continued over his best position as, of the eight internationals during that year, he played six at left back (with Neal on the right) and two at right back (with Cherry down the left). Mills sacrificed his place in the final England game of 1978, against Czechoslovakia, when Nottingham Forest's right back Viv Anderson was handed his debut, becoming England's first black player.

Another young debutant, Kenny Sansom, emerged in 1979 to give Mills food for thought in the other full back slot, but he began to settled in at left back for his country as England qualified for the 1980 European Championships. Mills was named in Greenwood's squad but by now Sansom was an established option in the left back slot and he got the nod over Mills in England's opening two group games - a draw with Belgium and a defeat against hosts Italy - before Mills returned for the final game against Spain, which, despite an England win, saw their exit from the tournament.

Ipswich, meanwhile, continued to hit high spots, finishing not out of the top five between 1978 and 1982, including a memorable season in 1981 which saw them just miss out on First Division and FA Cup glory, but win the UEFA Cup, which Mills duly collected after victory over AZ 67 Alkmaar in the final.

Mills played four England matches in 1981 - notably, they were all World Cup qualifiers for the 1982 tournament, with Greenwood happy to use less experienced players like Anderson and Sansom in the friendly games which preceded them. When England beat Hungary at Wembley in their final qualifier to reach their first World Cup in a dozen years, Mills won his 35th cap.

Still switching flanks for his country when required (but rarely for club - he was almost always the left back), Mills played in just two of the preparation matches for the competition, but was named in the team as right back and captain (squad captain Kevin Keegan was injured) when England played their first game of the tournament against France in Bilbaomarker. England won 3-1 and Mills stayed in the side for the remaining group matches, both of which England also won, although he switched to left back for the final match to allow a run-out for Neal.

Greenwood reverted to a Mills-Sansom full back pairing for the second phase, but two goalless draws against West Germany and Spain (the latter of which finally saw Keegan's return to the team) sent England out of the competition.

In the same year, Robson had told a 33 year old Mills that his contract at Ipswich would not be renewed. Mills joined Southampton in November 1982 for 40,000 pounds while Robson became Greenwood's replacement as England coach, thereby ending Mills' international career too. He made 741 appearances for Ipswich over 17 years, winning 42 caps for England in the process. He never scored for his country and was an irregular goalscorer at club level.

Despite his advancing years, Mills played frequently at Southampton over three seasons and was awarded the MBE for services to football.

Coaching and management career

In 1985, Mills became player-manager of Stoke City, where he lasted until November 1989 when he was sacked. The following year he became manager of Colchester, but was sacked after only a few months when they were relegated to the Conference

Mills became chief scout for Sheffield Wednesday and then a coach at Birmingham City - at one point becoming caretaker manager after the dismissal of Trevor Francis. He is now technical director of Galaxy Sports Management, a sports management company. Like many other ex-Ipswich players he settled in Suffolk following his retirement from the game.


As a player

Ipswich Town


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