I have always said that running shaped my life despite constantly being told in my school days to buck my ideas up as I would never make a living from running or sport. 

All these years later I think I can say they were wrong. 

So many doors opened for me on the back of just being able to run at what had been a reasonable level from being a young kid whose only interest was in sport. 

Having been offered a job with Bupa and their sports fitness testing unit (on the back of my running) in 1989, this not only brought me into contact with some of the country’s best athletes and cyclists, but also into contact with the Norwich City physio Tim Sheppard which further led to doing some fitness work with the club from the youth team to the first teamers for the next few years.  

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At the same time, friendships were gained with players which also led to business ventures with some of them.  

Having just opened my business, Sportlink, in 1994, a young Danny Mills turned up one day after having just broken through into the first team squad. Apart from already knowing him from some of the sessions I had done with the club previously, I also knew his family from my childhood days so when he asked me if he could train with me during the close season, I said ‘yes, of course’. 

Eastern Daily Press: A training run from the old Sportlink headquarters when based in Horsford back in 1996 for Danny

He basically wanted to do more than just pre-season work so when reporting back he was already in great shape. 

However, not only did Danny turn up for my early morning sessions, but so did several other players and not all just from Norwich City. On numerous occasions there would also be several top professional boxers which added to not just the quality of the sessions, but the competitiveness between footballers vs boxers; lots of banter too! 

Each and everyone of them knew the script, especially as I was doing the sessions with them.  

"We work hard, or you will be left behind.”  

I must have been doing something right as this went on for several years too. In fact just about right up to the end of Danny’s career. 

I will never forget one session in Felthorpe Park when there was an absolute abundance of talent all running round what has become known as the FOP (Field of Pain) when dog walkers were pinching themselves when seeing all these well-known sports stars running through their little village. 

Eastern Daily Press: Danny Mills lining up with a group of fellow professional footballers and boxers prior to one of

Danny really did stand out though; he wanted to be the best of the lot. Be it when doing longer steady runs through to specific speed work on the track. 

After one session of 400 metre loops round a woodland circuit, Phil Mulryne finished one of the reps covered in tree bark. "What happened to you?" I said.  

“I went to go past Danny and he barged me into a tree,” he replied.  

When looking at Danny, all I could see was a huge smile on his face. A similar thing also happened with Danny and Jerry Goss on another occasion, but I think it’s fair to say they were both equally as competitive on that day. 

“I was not blessed with natural talent and silky skills, so I knew I had to be as fit and strong as I possibly could for which running was a huge part of my career. To work harder than those who did have all the silky skills was my ethos,” he said. 

By his own admission, it was through sheer determination and dedication which took him and his career all the way from the Norwich City youth set-up to what was the World Cup Finals in Japan in 2002. 

Eastern Daily Press: A young Danny Mills receives a trophy as captain of Old Catton Juniors Under 10s at Carrow Road

“I was always in the top three at every club when it came to being the fittest,” he added. "This was also applicable to when being picked for the England squads too and if it had not been for the fact that I could outrun my opponents, I would not have had half the career I did.”  

Not one to give out compliments lightly, he added: “I have to thank Neil who advised and coached me on my fitness as well as my career during my early days from about the age of 15. Turning up at 7am in the morning and running round the streets, parks and woods of Horsford, Taverham and Felthorpe. Did I always want to do it? No, is the answer but it’s dedication over motivation which will win.” 

After all it is those who get on with it even when everything else is saying don’t do it when it comes to being great. 

I think it is also fair to say that whilst Danny had broken into the Norwich first team squad, he wasn’t the then manager Mike Walker’s first choice. However, he was picked for an England Football League Select side to play Italy where the Charlton manager Alan Curbishley was given the job of overseeing the England squad. 

Years later, he told Danny that having seen him in training and during the game where he made a crucial tackle during the very first few minutes, it led to him approaching Norwich to sign him.  

I remember it well. There were 10 games of the season left and Charlton were on the verges of the play-offs.  

Danny scored on his debut and a win at Crewe. They then went on to also win the next eight matches whilst drawing the last game without conceding a single goal. 

This was followed with two wins without conceding against Ipswich during the play-off semi-finals before lining up at Wembley for a place in the Premier League the following season for the winners.  

Win Charlton did, on penalties, and it really was like a ‘pinch me’ moment after what had been a case of wondering where his career was going just a few months earlier. 

It didn’t end there either. He trained even harder, and I always knew he would be looking for a burn-up during some of our longer steady runs if I left it to the last half mile. Oh, and we had plenty of those runs too. On one occasion I took a wrong turn and just kept going until I came to a riverbank. I remember thinking, I bet he is now at home laughing his head off, but no, just a few minutes behind there he was running towards me. I won’t say what he said but that really was a long run! 

His first game in the Premier League for Charlton was away at Newcastle where he was up against John Barnes. With the game tied at 0-0, Barnes had a break and charged towards the Charlton goal with just the keeper to beat. Danny, who was a couple of metres behind, hurtled after him, making a last-ditch tackle which without a doubt earned Charlton their first ever Premier League point and of course the name Danny Mills being mentioned on Match of the Day that evening. 

During one of our sessions, I asked him what he thought he could run for a straight off 400 metres. “About 50 seconds,” he replied. I told him that I did not think he could so off to the Sportspark we went and with very little warm up, he ran just over 51 seconds. 

As a schoolboy, he was a decent cross-country runner making the county team, but it was over 200 and 400 metres where his strengths really lied. 

“Football was always my first choice, often playing three games on a weekend, playing for the school, the district, county and Old Catton juniors, but I always loved athletics especially the 200 metres where I won several school titles.  

"If it hadn’t been for football then I would have focused on the 200m and 400m as I had the power and speed and whilst my endurance was also decent, I was probably just a bit too stocky for the longer stuff,” he said. 

Danny now runs for fitness and just the sheer pleasure of running. 

He said: “I still run for fun plus a little pleasure-pain too. I’ve run six marathons to date; Yorkshire, London, and New York with a PB in London last year of 3 hours 12 mins which is second only to Arjen Robben when it comes to international Premier League footballers who have also ran marathons. He used to outrun me when I played against him, and he’s still haunting me today!” 

However, and whilst running marathons ‘for fun’ might be the order of the day for Danny now, his main focus is on his son, George, who is one of the UK’s top athletes whilst also hoping to be selected for this year’s Olympic Games for Team GB. 

Whilst George was a half decent footballer himself and one who I know could smash a ball with either foot as I have seen him when he was just a few years of age, unlike his dad, it was running and athletics which proved to be the stronger of the two sports for him.  

At 15 years of age, he won the English Schools 800 metres whilst following this up a couple of years later when winning over the same distance at the European Youth Championships. Since then and just like his dad, through sheer hard work and determination, last year saw him finish in the world top 10 rankings over 1,500 metres. He also finished the year as the UK’s all-time third fastest ever miler having ran 3 mins 47.65 secs in what was the Diamond League Final. The fastest time ran by a British athlete since 1985 with only Seb Coe and Steve Cram having run faster. 

2024 is certainly going to be one heck of a year for not just George and Danny, but all their family, especially if we see George on the start line in what will be his chosen distance in Paris come August.  

As for Danny, I learnt many years ago to always let him have the final words. 

“From Norwich Reserves to the Premier League with Charlton Athletic, a European Cup semi-final with Leeds United, Carling Cup final win with Middlesbrough and 19 England caps including a World Cup quarter final and all because I could run. However, and after two knee ops which brought my career to an end with Man City, plus several prolapsed discs and injections, I should probably stop running… but I can’t! The freedom which goes with whacking on a pair of trainers wherever you are in the world is just second to none. I love it… even with a hangover! Incidentally, I never did get to race Neil, but these days I don’t think he could catch me anymore even with his free bus pass!”