Interview by Weekend Editor Graham Chalmers
Ex-England footballer Danny Mills used to play a good game, now he talks one.
Chatting to him in Harrogate Theatre’s circle bar, it’s easy to see why the former Leeds Utd defender, who has been a Harrogate resident for nearly 15 years, is in such great demand as a football pundit on TV and radio.
A refreshingly intelligent and open thinker about the modern game, the subject he’s pushing today is close to his heart, closer even than his memories of those days of playing in the World Cup alongside the likes of Beckham and Owen.
Come November, Danny will be presenting Sporting Truths, a celebrity-packed BBC Radio 5 live style event at the Royal Hall he has organised in conjunction with Harrogate Theatre.
The proceeds will go to Shine, the spina bifida charity he has supported since the death of his third child Archie from the condition four months into his wife Lisa’s pregnancy in 2002.
It’s not a subject I enjoy bringing up but Danny seems happy to talk about it.
“It was a terrible time. Losing a child stays with you forever. Shine was there to help us when all seemed lost. I don’t know what we would have done without them.”
Joining Danny at this exciting charity event will be a formidable line-up of fellow sporting experts.
As well as Match of the Day 2’s Mark Chapman, Sporting Truths’ guests also include Mark Lawrenson and Darren Fletcher with ‘pre-match’ entertainment being provided by TV comic Justin Moorhouse.
Having worked closely with Harrogate Theatre on the original idea, the title of Sporting Truths wasn’t chosen by accident.
Danny represents a younger, perhaps,more honest generation of commentators who are on the way up just as veteran pundits like Alan Hansen prepare to say farewell
Saint and Greavsie, he isn’t.
Danny said: “It’s going to be a good, honest, open debate at the Royal Hall. The audience will get the chance to ask celebrities questions and they will hear the real truth about sport in return.”
Now aged 36, as a right-back in the late 1990s, Danny had the reputation of being a winger’s worst nightmare, though he puts some of that down to his then manager at Leeds Utd, David O’Leary.
“Normally I’d get booked every third game in the Premier league but I only got two bookings in 19 matches in the national team. It didn’t help my cause in the England team when O’Leary said in the press I was a bit of a liability.”
Controversially, perhaps, Danny thinks the thorny subject of cheating is long overdue a fresh look.
He even has some sympathy for those in modern sport who break the rules like disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong.
“Lance Armstrong wasn’t the only cheat in the cycling world. If it was only a matter of black and white then appealing for a thrown-in or lbw when you suspected you were wrong wouldn’t be right either. The question is worth asking.”
Having lived in Harrogate for 15 years (“I was one of the first footballers on the Duchy,” he says) Danny is a self-confessed regular reader of the Harrogate Advertiser.
Now a successful businessman, he cuts a more cultured, though still sharp, figure off the pitch than he did on it.
He’s even been known to take part in 10k runs locally for Shine and once turned up at a popular supermarket to serve health snacks to customers during a charity event.
Perhaps competing in the rough and tumble of sport at the highest level smoothed the edges or, maybe, he has learnt from some of the traumatic experiences in his own life.
Either way, Sporting Truths looks set to be an enjoyable and memorable evening.
“It’s brilliant doing what I can to help Shine, raising chunks of money for charity and spreading the word about the great work it does.
“It’s hard to learn to deal with the loss of a child but I see it now as part of my life story.”
Sporting Truths takes place at the Royal Hall on Thursday, November 14 at 8pm.
Tickets are available at Harrogate Theatre Box Office on 01423 502 116. or online at www.harrogatetheatre.co.uk.