I have been asked today to pay tribute to Harry Mills the Sportsman. Quite frankly, I don’t think I have enough time to do him justice.
They say a picture speaks a thousand words and I think that’s maybe the best way to express what was so brilliant about Harry’s natural sporting ability. You see everybody I have talked to over the last few days has a picture of Harry. Many of the kids sitting here today have pictures of Harry on their wall in various sports teams, Marlow Rugby, Fantastic Football, Spinfield Football & Athletics, Marlow Park Cricket, Marlow Tennis, Wycombe Phoenix, John Hampden Football & Rugby amongst many others. Harry as ever is in the middle, grinning and holding the shield or the cup.
Our favourite at home is one from just about the time he was starting his sports career, with his first two mates at Marlow Rugby Club. The three of them are 5 years old in Marlow shirts two sizes too big, standing in a puddle at the rugby club with Harry roaring with laughter as the water came over the top of his welly boots.
Another great picture is one where Harry is holding the cup, which I know is in a number of bedrooms, being the one where the u8s Rugby team won the Marlow tournament, because Harry scored the golden try in extra time. On that day as the ball was passed down the line heading towards Harry on the wing, I could have sworn that I heard the opening bars from Chariots of Fire. Everything seemed in slow motion as the ball finally reached Harry, and as Vangelis’s Chariots of Fire overture pounded to its crescendo, he effortlessly, side stepped two opponents. Like Eric Liddle the winning runner in that Chariots of Fire movie, Harry’s head went back and he continued to run in apparently further slow motion with a natural grace and balance on the ball. I was quickly brought back to reality as I realized that while Chariots of Fire was the right analogy, the soundtrack was playing too slowly, as Harry had quite simply left the opposition for dust with his electric pace to score in the corner before they had even realized he had the ball. Game over in about 30 seconds flat. And at the final whistle, while enjoying the victory, Harry was the very first player to walk up to his opposite man and shake his hand.
Over the next few years at Marlow Rugby, Harry’s contribution made sure that the silverware kept rolling in and there were great joyous pictures in the Bucks Free Press when the squad won the tournament for the third year in a row because, yes you’ve guessed it, Harry Mills scored the winning try.
Similarly that year when we went on tour to Holland as guests with Tony Harjette’s group, the coaching team reckoned that Harry scored about a dozen tries including two when he played for Roermund the opposition side for a laugh. The picture of Harry with his new mates in the Roermund team wearing one of their pristine bright yellow shirts, over which he had managed to have one of his famous nose bleeds, is completely priceless.
At Wasps Coach classes, Harry had many pictures taken with famous and some not so famous, Wasps players because once again he was going home with all the stash, as he had been selected Player of the Course from amongst a great pool of talented kids.
Finally on rugby there is a picture of Harry at a London Irish Tournament which says it all about his concentration and ability to pass the ball off both hands, a skill which is actually not that common in many rugby players. The picture captures his concentration and his anticipation of the next move, which is the mark of a great player. Harry is looking over his left shoulder, having quickly selected the best option, and the ball is about to be spun out like a precision guided missile to one of his team mates, whom you just know went on to catch it and score. Utterly fabulous.
And so was his football. From the outset at Fantastic football run by the equally fantastic Nick Blades, Harry demonstrated his excellent first touch, which is the mark of a top player and an ability to strike a ball into the top corner of the net like one of the strikers from his beloved Arsenal.
There are loads of pictures of Harry from those days, posing with the ball and always enjoying himself while again proving to be the ultimate fair player. Indeed as the Spinfield football team can no doubt testify, Harry was one of the top scorers in the local primary school league & many school teams would rate their chances of progressing in the league or cup on whether or not Harry was playing. And believe me he was playing and he scored the goals that put them out.
More recently, Harry played for Holy Trinity Inter and scored 13 goals in 6 matches, a record of which many of his Arsenal heroes would have been proud.
Then there is the picture of Harry winning at Cross Country with the medal around his neck and again grinning widely. That was the time when he took off from the gun so quickly, he wasn’t sure if he was running in the right direction. So he stopped and waited for the rest of the field to catch up, checked the directions and then ran off again and won the race.
In cricket, Harry had a superb batting style and was a demon medium to fast bowler. Those parents watching from the comfort of the Marlow Park pavilion on many a Friday night, can surely picture that reassuring slap of leather on willow as Harry hit another six or the crunch of leather on wood as another wicket went flying. Little wonder that he made the Marlow Park Cricket Squad so successful. And afterwards, when Harry went to get a drink, if one of the other lads was short a bob or two for a coke or an ice cream, Harry would quietly sort it out from his own money.
But perhaps the most unorthodox tribute to Harry’s cricketing prowess comes from one of the boys who recalls that once when he went to play at Harry’s, they couldn’t find a bat. Not to be outdone, Harry suggested playing with a beach spade and proceeded to knock 4s and 6s all over the garden.
There is so much that you could say about Harry’s skill but again no wonder that he was on the Gifted & Talented register at John Hampden. Perhaps the ultimate accolade is the dozens of medals & trophies which he had in his room marking his achievements in all these sports. He was that good but to whom could we compare his ability? Well, you could say that in rugby Harry was like Jason Robinson. In football, he was like his hero, Thierry Henry. In cricket he was a bowler like Freddy Flintoff, could serve like Roger Federer in tennis and had the stamina of Mo Farrah in Cross Country.
But, you know, we started this tribute thinking about pictures. So in closing, I’d ask everyone who played with Harry or watched him play and indeed everyone else to close their eyes for a moment.Now I want you to smile, still with your eyes shut and hold a really happy picture of Harry in your mind. What is that happy picture you can see? Maybe it is Harry in a rugby match darting through a gap in the opposition centres and leaving them flat footed. Or in football beating 3 men with his super dribbling to score in the top corner of the net in a vital cup game. Or romping home first in Cross Country & turning to clap the other boys home. Or beating older boys at Tennis with his lightening serves, and sharing a coke and a laugh with them afterwards. Or scoring the winning 6 at cricket & running off giggling with the stumps. And if you concentrate hard, very hard, maybe you too can hear that music from Chariots of Fire. And keep smiling as you picture Harry Mills in slow motion, grinning & gliding effortlessly across the line with a rugby ball in his hand once again.
Harry Mills, Marlow’s Sporting Superstar.