Thursday, January 20, 2022
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Robert Millar – Let’s give the guy his dignity


“Elusive cyclist (Robert Miller) is rediscovered as ‘queen of the mountains’ “- so says the headline in the Sunday paper, The Star? The News of the World? The Sport? No, it’s our “quality-read” for the sabbath – the Scotland on Sunday.

Whilst George Best drank himself to death, and as “Hurricane” Higgins trots down the same trail, many of the gentlemen of the press struggle to conceal their admiration for these ‘lads’.

Drinking, womanising, brawling, gambling, gamesmanship – all the activities that proper sportsmen should engage in. Robert and his six hour stages in the rain, through the Pyrenees? Surely if you take enough drugs, practically anyone could manage that?

Robert Millar
Robert showing off his Tour de France KOM jersey in the Glasgow Kellogs City Centre crit, 1984.

But is this story, about one of the country’s sporting greats, even true? The last time the press ‘doorstepped” Millar about his sexuality, within weeks he was out advising the Scottish Commonwealth Games squad at Manchester. The trademark, long hair was there, but that was all.

Having spent a lot of my life working on building sites, this kind of story is good for ribald banter. But when it’s one of your few heroes (his picture still graces my wall) who is the subject matter then it’s no longer quite so funny.

If it is true, then it’s hard to take-in, leaving you sad and confused. That’s on the outside, looking-in, how must Millar feel?

But that was one of his strengths – he never did care much what people thought of him.

He ploughed the “lone furrow” of cliche. Journalists, team directors, fans – if Robert didn’t want to talk, then that was that.

The ‘queen’ headline isn’t even original, it’s pinched from Saturday’s Mail – always a bastion of open-mindedness and middle-of-the-road journalism. The Mail’s attention to detail is so thorough that the picture they run – of Millar in his Panasonic days – is back to front.

As a fan of the the man, you had to be capable of divorcing the personality from the athlete; tales of his obnoxious and anti-social behaviour are legion.

But Millar the cyclist has no peer in the history of British competition in bicycle stage races. Whilst Tom Simpson is undisputed king of British bike racing – Milan-San Remo, Flanders, the Worlds and Lombardy; the Harworth man’s palmares in multi-stage events are far less sparkling than Millar’s.

As well as Millar’s unparalleled Tour record, with a highest placing of fourth and a win in the mountains competition, he was second twice in the Vuelta and second in the Giro.

Robert Millar
Robert flat-out: climbing in the Tour of Britain prologue in Dundee.

The recent fuss surrounding Moureau’s win in the Dauphine made me smile; imagine what it would be like if David Miller won it? That’s exactly what the waif-like man from Glasgow did in 1990 – and I don’t remember nearly as much media excitement.

But then, he didn’t do ‘media friendly’, or predictions – he just went out and rode until he was wasted – or he won.

In Scotland we have few-enough sporting heroes, shouldn’t we show a little mercy? respect? – call it what you will, in a situation like this?

I spoke to someone who knows a little about this type of situation; their take was that a person’s sexuality is what is within them – what they feel, and have probably always felt.

A sex-change is a physical, not a pyschological thing; the conflicts within the man must have been terrible – again, assuming the story is true.

Millar was never a man who sought-out the press or craved headlines, personally I can’t see how this story is in the public interest.

It’s his life, he’s not acting in a hypocritical fashion, he just wants to be left in peace.

I understand that bad news sells newspapers, but if we have to print the story, can’t we ditch the tacky headlines and get some expert opinions? But maybe that would be too much like hard work.

Will I still keep his picture on my wall, will I still remember when he dropped Delgado to win at Superbagneres in 1989?

Damn right!