How former Arsenal, Blackburn, West Brom and Middlesborough player Alan Miller ended up in north Norfolk

Former Arsenal player Alan Miller at Wells Beach Cafe. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Former Arsenal player Alan Miller at Wells Beach Cafe. Picture: Matthew Usher.

An interest in horse racing and a chance conversation brought a retired goalkeeper to our shores.

The dream of becoming a professional footballer is one held by many a schoolboy – and for Alan Miller, business development manager at Holkham Hall, it was one which came true almost by accident.

As a tall teenager, Mr Miller was an obvious choice to go in goal when the regular goalkeeper failed to show up back in Loughton, Essex.

The substitution proved to be a defining moment as Mr Miller, who now stands at just shy of 6ft 4in, went on to win 'man of the match', and, as they say, the 'rest is history'.

He went on to play for Arsenal, Middlesbrough and Blackburn Rovers, among other teams, and also earned a handful of caps for England at under-21 level.

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Now, some 13 years after a back injury forced him to retire from football, the 46-year-old still puts what he learned from footballing greats – Graeme Souness, George Graham and Bryan Robson – into practice, managing a young team at the Wells Beach Café.

Mr Miller, who has been in the town for four years, said: 'I was really lucky to have played for Arsenal at a really successful time for the club and to have played in the Premiership and for my country.

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'I was understudy to David Seaman at a time when he was England's best goalkeeper and probably one of the best goalies in the world.

'I played eight games for Arsenal and got two FA Cup winners' medals and a European cup winners' medal. Training under Bob Wilson and David Seaman was amazing; it was a great time.'

Mr Miller, who lives at Holkham, had been selected at the age of 14 for the England School of Excellence for football, the national training centre, in Shropshire.

The Leyton Orient Football Club fan had the choice of playing for West Ham, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal but chose the Gunners because 'there was something about the place'.

With Seaman playing at his best, however, Mr Miller made the tough decision to leave Highbury after 10 years at the club and headed up north to join Middlesbrough.

The move to Teeside came at a time when Boro were seeking automatic promotion to top-flight football as the club looked to move from Ayresome Park to the all-new 30,000-seater Riverside Stadium.

Promotion was won and Mr Miller cemented his place in part of the club's history.

'I played the last game at Ayresome Park and the first

game at the Riverside,' said the cricket fan, who as a youngster not only idolised goalkeeper Peter Shilton but also cricketer Ian Botham. 'It's good to be part of

that history.'

After a stint at Blackburn Rovers and a second slipped disc, Mr Miller hung up his football boots in 2003 and headed to Mallorca to run a bespoke holiday service for seven years. But it was his interest in horse racing which brought him to Norfolk.

He had owned a couple of race horses as a footballer and a horse-racing friend had taken over the Nelson pub in Burnham

Market, which he had renamed The Jockey.

The opportunity arose for Mr Miller and his partner Nerida Britton to take on the pub, which they did for five or six years, before they both started to work within the Holkham Estate.

As development manager, Mr Miller has helped to oversee the transformation of the Wells Beach Café, which is managed by Mandy Connor, and see it become a thriving venue for beach-goers, dog walkers, cyclists and more.

Since the Holkham Estate took back the management of the site, it is open all year round,

In the summer months, the café is decked out with pastel-coloured picnic tables outside and the season is reflected inside with its decor and fun vibe, while the winter brings cosy sofas and a fire.

And as a dog lover, Mr Miller has put a heavy emphasis on the café's friendliness for four-legged friends, with its own dog-washing facilities – and now dogs even have their own 'bar'.

The venue also won the national Kennel Club's Be Dog Friendly Award last year.

Mr Miller, who has two black labradors, Max and Alfie, said: 'I did wonder if I was going too far down the dog-friendly route, but

I've been told that there are nine million dog owners in the country so if we're going to do it, to be

the best.

'It's really taken off and we're feeling the dividends of it now. If you have a happy dog, you have a happy customer.'

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