THE shipyards were the making of Alex Miller. For 17 months, he had a

glimpse of a life which was not football. He served as an apprentice

electrician in the engine room at John Brown's.

Machines had to be repaired, overhead cranes maintained, welding rods

re-cabled. For a week, he followed his journeyman to work on the

building of the QE2, but mostly it was routine work in the plant side of

the yard.

He did not despise the work. It wasn't beneath him. His father was a

foreman electrician. His older brother had begun an electrician's

apprenticeship. The 16-year-old Miller rose every morning at quarter

past six, and caught the bus from Drumchapel at seven in his dungarees

and working boots, with his pieces and his big flask of tea.

Diligence was ingrained early in his working life. But the yards were

keeping him from an ambition. On a Friday night in January, 1967, he

walked out of the gates of John Brown for the last time. On Monday

morning, he started at Ibrox.

''That drove me on all the time,'' he recalls. ''I knew that if I

didn't make it with Rangers, I would be back working in a shipyard. I

viewed those big gates and I said: 'I won't be back here.' ''

There had been an unusual determination about the young Miller. His

father remembers the day he had to come in from playing to have his

right ankle bandaged up for an injury. He was straight back out,

hobbling on his right, taking the opportunity to develop his left.

Contrary to the impression he would give later as a competitive, often

uncompromising player, it was a high level of skill that singled him out

as a future professional.

Older brother Jimmy was the Billy Bremner type, and he started a

career with Barnsley, and later St Mirren. It was Alex who was more

comfortable on the ball, who showed all the skills. In his first season

with the Rangers reserve side, he was a centre forward, scoring more

than 20 goals.

His arrival at Ibrox coincided with two events that might have shaken

a less one-tracked conviction about football. The infamous Berwick

defeat in the Scottish Cup came within two weeks of his start, and he

would have an opportunity to witness how fickle are the fates which make

or break careers in football.

An injury to Willie Mathieson let him in the first team at left back,

and he went 31 games in a row before being dropped. Any personal

disappointment was quickly put into perspective.

It was the day of the Ibrox disaster.

He had passed 10 tickets on to friends. Three of them were killed.

One, his former manager in the juveniles with Clydebank Strollers,

Johnny Gardiner, had stayed overnight at the Miller home before the

game. It was a terrible imprint to leave on a young professional. The

effect might have been to alienate him. It probably bound him tighter to

the club, to the notion of football as an extended family brought closer

by shared experience.

He married early. His wife Ann remembers the advice she received from

a family friend. ''She said I could make a completely different routine

of my own, and be lonely. Or I could join in football whole-heartedly.''

She chose the latter.

Like a boxer's wife, her memories of the career focus on the injuries.

The broken jaw -- ''if I had ever gone off him it would have been then.

He was a candidate for a horror movie'' -- in a final against Celtic.

The ligament damage and chipped knee in the final against Aberdeen. She

checks the winners' medals for dates, eight of them from 10 cup-final

appearances, and three league championship badges. Sixteen years at

Ibrox, but the nearest he came to a Scottish international cap was when

Willie Ormond made inquiries, but the call-up never materialised.

Successful football managers often have some unfinished business which

prods their ambition. His playing career ended prematurely when he took

over the managership of St Mirren in 1983, and Morton retained his

player's registration for two years.

Miller is convinced he had the fitness to give himself another couple

of seasons in the game. At 34 he had looked after himself, a non-drinker

and non-smoker, a compulsive close-season trainer, a follower of a

disciplined life-style. Ten years later, the longest serving premier

division manager, he looks no more than his recorded weight, 12 stones

on the button, in his final season at Ibrox.

He reveals a mild grievance over people who remember him only as a

player who kicked opponents off the park. Five successive managers at

Ibrox regarded him as the most professional member of staff in terms of

approach. The trouble is that some see the former player as personifying

the teams that he coaches, hard-working and organised, but cautious and

defensive. He is acutely sensitive to the unfairness of this, and the

presence of two wingers in the current Hibernian side might be taken as

his rebuttal.

Coaching began earlier than he intended. He was only around South

China FC long enough to discover that the job brought instant loneliness

and to begin the habit of watching an awful lot of football matches.

Things continued to move quickly throughout 1983.

Ann bought the two boys, Graeme and Greg, Morton strips. Then she had

to buy St Mirren strips. As manager at Love Street, the youngest in the

premier division, he had taken on his fourth successive job that year.

He stayed another three, taking St Mirren into Europe. The season he

left they went on to win the Scottish Cup.

Whatever his promising record, Alex Miller did not fit the profile of

a Hibernian manager. There had only been five managers in the history of

the club up to Hugh Shaw, who built the ''Famous Five'' side,

establishing a success in the early 1950s which has only been echoed

with League Cup wins in 20-year cycles.

After Shaw, six of the next 10 managers were former players, of whom

Eddie Turnbull was the most successful. The trouble was that the club

had more or less exhausted the possibilities with the last generation of

its famous sons. Pat Stanton had a go. John Blackley fared little

better. It was time for a change.

In the event, Hibernian were lucky to get Miller. Nobody else would

have had the strength of character to pull the club through the crisis

that awaited it. Bankruptcy, a Wallace Mercer takeover bid, and the

threat of extinction were endured by Miller. He sold #2.5m worth of

players of the calibre of Andy Goram, John Collins, and Paul Kane to

keep Hibs just solvent, and he somehow still managed to field a League

Cup winning side in 1991.

That was a miraculous achievement.

Two years later, he faces Rangers in another League Cup final with a

side that is still developing. Fascinatingly, it is the sudden

introduction of wingers Kevin McAllister and Michael O'Neill, acquired

in two astute deals with Falkirk and Dundee United, that invites direct

comparison with the two other good post-War Hibernian sides.

Hugh Shaw had Smith and Ormond on his wings. Eddie Turnbull had Alex

Edwards and Arthur Duncan. Hibernian fans, despite having a relatively

lean history, are great lovers of tradition. Miller has fashioned a side

which fits into it.

The extra dimension that Miller offers as a manager is that the sides

of Shaw and Turnbull were widely regarded as the best in the Scottish

leagues of their day, but they under-achieved. Miller has proved himself

capable of maximising abilities, both of himself and of his players. If

his side win tomorrow, he will surpass the achievement of Turnbull, who

had only one League Cup to show for his nine years as manager. Miller is

aiming for two in seven years, and his side currently lead the premier


What makes him tick?

His last recorded hobby outside of football was the Boys' Brigade. He

watches schoolboy football for relaxation. His scouring of English

reserve matches and the lower English leagues have led him on to the

trail of players like David Platt, for whom he made four bids when the

player was at Crewe, and the signing of Pat McGinlay on a free transfer

from Blackpool. Ann Miller, who never misses a match home or away and is

reckoned to be knowledgeable about the game, says: ''He gets more

bargains than I get shopping at Jenners.''

She thinks he would have remained a reserved person but for football.

Approachable, much more relaxed and affable than his drawn image on the

television screen would suggest, he exudes a healthy self-belief without

illusions or egotism. Ann observes: ''He has a single-mindedness you

don't often come across.''

She regards him as a perfectionist who will give the same

meticulousness to an after-dinner speech, and his worst fault is that he

is forgetful about everything that does not involve how a goal was

scored, even up to 20 years ago. He can analyse a sequence of passing

moves with the precision of a chess grandmaster.

His father, Jimmy, wishes that he could have got men who worked half

as much as his son when he was a foreman. Hibernian chairman Douglas

Crombe says: ''Alex is a winner. He is a very proud man, very honest and

very straight, who wants to be successful in everything he does. It

seems to rub off on the players. He has gone through hard times. We have

all gone through hard times. But it is the manager who has kept this

club afloat through his endeavours.''

And the extended family? His son Graeme plays in the Hibernian

reserves. Greg trains at the ground and has appeared in the Hibernian

youth team. The Miller family are converging from as far afield as

Canada and Jersey for tomorrow's game. Ann will be in the directors' box

as usual, and her family are coming too. Father Jimmy, a lifelong

Rangers fan, has seen more of Hibernian in recent years.

He says only this: ''I follow Alex.''