In this week’s Life after League, we caught up with Wales international David Mills to reflect on his career…
The Widnes-born player made his professional debut for his hometown club in 2002, following in the footsteps of father Jim Mills, who made over 150 appearances for the Vikings.
The 37-year-old had a long and successful career, including appearances for Harlequins, Hull Kingston Rovers, Leigh Centurions, Swinton Lions and North Wales Crusaders.
The utility-back also represented Wales on the international scene, and played more than 250 career games.
We caught up with David to see how life after league is treating him…
David, you had a long and successful career with well over 250 appearances, but what was your greatest achievement in the sport?
“I think my greatest achievement is one of my proudest moments too, which is playing for the Wales team. I played quite a few games and had a chance to play Australia and New Zealand and I had the chance to captain them against England when they were warming up the year Wales weren’t involved. It was a bit of a cricket score, but to be able to captain your country was a massive honour and my proudest moment.
“One of my greatest achievements as well was also the year I dropped out of Super League. It was probably my most successful year when I went to Leigh. We won the Northern Rail Cup at Blackpool and that sticks in my mind. It’s the only trophy I took part in winning. It was a good season and a good team so that’s another memorable time.”
Did your dad, David Mills, inspire you to play rugby league?
“When I was younger he never really pushed it on me. He would take me along to the reserve games at Widnes on a weeknight and it was the more I went the more I took notice of the game. I never really got pushed into it by him, it was the man that lived by us that got me involved. His son played in Widnes and invited me along to have a look and that’s how I got into it. I watched one game and said I want to be involved. Ever since I’ve taken it up my dad’s been there every step of the way, every game he went to, he’d talk to me about where I’ve gone right and wrong and he’s given good advice to rugby side of things. He’s always been there when I’ve needed him.”
Is there a specific time or club you hold dearly to your heart?
“The time I enjoyed the most on and off the field was at London, with Harlequins for two years. It was when I was moving down there, and they sold the club to me. They were a real tight-knit community of a club and there were a lot of lads from up north and Australia and nobody knew anyone in London, so we were a tight unit. We were also living in a nice area, Kingston Upon Thames. Training was based there, and it was a really nice lifestyle and a good time. I suppose we didn’t have every success but the group of lads we had and the team spirit was good at the time. I enjoyed playing there the most.”
You represented your hometown club. Was that a special feeling?
“Definitely. I remember my first year in Super League in 2002 and it was their first year in Super League. Battling to get up there and the year we got up was the year I broke into the first team. My first game was against Saints and I wasn’t supposed to be playing. I got on the bench due to an injury. I remember I was over the moon and buzzing, full of adrenaline. I wasn’t out of the team for the rest of season, I missed one or two games but when you grow up watching the team and then playing for them, it’s a massive thing to achieve.”
How tough was the decision to retire from the sport?
“It was a difficult time. I was at North Wales Crusaders and I had a bad injury. I had torn muscles which were close to a dislocation. I played two games on after it and I could just lift my arm to shoulder height. I knew I was at the end of my career and I couldn’t play well in those two games, my arm was in bits. It was bit frustrating, I was out from the May until September until I had my operation for it. That kind of cancelled that season and left me in rehab through the following pre-season. I was out of contract at North Wales Crusaders and I had a couple of enquires from other teams but three months off work wasn’t ideal. I was working as well, self-employed, so I had three months off work on no pay which was difficult, so I ended up saying to my wife, and I’ve got two kids too, that it was too much of a risk having three months off and no pay again as we would have been in trouble, so that was decision made. It was difficult to make when it’s not on your own terms, but it was the right decision in the circumstances.”
You say you worked as well as playing rugby?
“I was full-time but finished playing full-time when I left Hull KR. I signed with Leigh and it kind of went straight from full-time into part-time. I joined Leigh late and I didn’t know what I would be doing or what money was on offer. I got there, and Ian Millward was the coach at time, and he said we have most of the squad, but we want you, but we’ve not got a lot of money. They offered a job too with the directors doing civil engineering and I had no idea what I wanted to get into. It offered me a chance to get involved and so I took it and went along, and he looked after me. That’s what I progressed into now. I was there for seven years and left last month and now I work for a company in Liverpool as site manager so that’s all because of backing I had off the guy from Leigh who put me through and helped train me up. I owe him a big debt of gratitude.”
Are you still involved in the sport?
“My eldest son, he’s eight and is just about to turn nine, plays for Crosfields at Under-10s and me and Shaun Briscoe, who was also at KR and we became good friends, coach the team. Both sons are each other’s godsons. It’s a good set up and a good group of parents.”
Do you still follow a team now?
“I’m always going to be Widnes in my heart. I grew up watching them and playing for them was a dream come true. I think I always look for their results, but it’s difficult now as my little boy lives in Warrington so he’s a Warrington fan. It’s obviously a big rivalry and he once turned up at my dad’s in a Warrington kit and my dad nearly kicked him out.”