IT may have been tough at the time, but when he looks back now Charlie Miller realises just how much playing Ayrshire junior football as a youngster helped him when he made the step up to the Rangers first team.

“In the first year of my apprenticeship I went down and played against Auchinleck Talbot, Cumnock, all these teams,” he said yesterday at a tournament for 500 kids at Toryglen which his Charlie Miller Football Academy had organised in conjunction with the Nick Maughan Foundation.

“What an upbringing that was for you! The guys you were playing against would have no problems leaving a boot in on you. These big guys would just kick the s*** out of you and not care who you were.

“I also loved playing for the reserves against professionals who were coming back from injury and getting the s*** kicked out of me. It was a learning experience. Playing against men will show you if you have what it takes to play football for a living.”

Miller, who went on and picked up four Premier League winners medals with the Ibrox club during the Nine-In-A-Row era in the 1990s, knows that professional football has changed since his day and appreciates there is little likelihood of Rangers exposing their best prospects to that sort of treatment.

Still, the former midfielder is hopeful that Alex Lowry, who scored on his first team debut in the Scottish Cup win over Stirling Albion in Govan on Friday night, and his contemporaries can make the same successful transition from the youth ranks to the senior game that he did for another reason.

The ex-Scotland internationalist feels having manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst, his assistant Dave Vos and first team coach Roy Makaay, who have all either come through or be involved with the renowned Dutch system, will result in more prospects getting game time at Ibrox.   

“I’m sure Giovanni will give kids a chance because he has that Dutch mentality,” he said. “Obviously he has to be successful here with Rangers and Celtic competing for titles. But it was the same in Holland with Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV.

“Hopefully that’s what happens. He has brought his own staff, his own guys, in to the academy as well. Let’s hope they give they kids a chance if they are good enough.

“Alex did well on Friday and it was a good finish from the boy. Long may it continue. No disrespect to Stirling Albion, but it wasn’t a Premiership match. But Rangers still had to take care of the result and the wee man did well. It’s just good to see another homegrown player come through.”

Miller, who hailed from the tough Castlemilk housing estate in Glasgow, forced his way into the Rangers first team at a time the Ibrox club were lavishing millions on expensive foreign internationalists and dominating the Scottish game.

So there could be no better person to offer Lowry advice on how to remain involved going forward. He thinks the teenager has to develop a strong mental attitude and realise that he still has a lot of work ahead of him if he wants to establish himself as a regular.   

“It’s tough,” he said. “A lot of folk when they go full time, they think that’s them made it. They think they’re a Rangers player at that point.

“But what you have to realise is that’s you only starting at the bottom. You’re a first year apprentice and still have to move up to the second year apprentices. After that you have the first year pros, the second year pros then the reserves. It’s only then you can see into the first team.

“That’s what happened to me. You soon clock it’s a journey. A long journey. But I soon realised I’m in this for myself. My team mates were my pals, but this was about Charlie Miller, about me becoming a football player. It’s not about friendships.

“People think the senior pros help the young kids, but a lot of senior pros don’t. They are wanting to play and you are coming for their jersey. Some guys are wary of you, some aren’t.

“I was lucky that I broke in and had Stuart McCall and Mark Hateley especially beside me. I played in the middle with Stuart and behind Mark. They were great for me. Not that the rest weren’t, but other players were wanting the jersey. You have to fight hard to keep it.

“You have to want to make those steps up each level and I did. I was lucky to get through it and break into the team at that time. Alex has had the same journey, but he’s not finished yet.”

Miller, who went on to play for Leicester City, Watford, Dundee United, Brann and Lierse in a career than lasted 18 years, believes that playing in the Challenge Cup and the Lowland League with the Rangers B team will have helped Lowry to develop physically and mentally.

However, he is not a huge fan of the pro-youth system which the midfielder has come through and is adamant that changing it to allow kids to play for boys’ club teams as well will result in more talented Scottish kids emerging in the years to come. 

“The quality in the Lowland League is probably not the best,” said the former PFA Scotland Young Player of the Year. “But you have got some experienced pros in there who know about the tough stuff.

“I don’t really agree with the pro-youth side. I think the kids should be able to play pro-youth and also play with their boys club. I think the idea of kids not playing football every day if that’s what they want to do is wrong. The more they play, the better they become.

“In my days, it was the S-Form system. I played for Rangers Boys Club - which was run by the supporters’ association - all the way up to 15 and it was then I moved to Ibrox.

“But before that I could play with my school, with Glasgow District and Scotland too, so I was playing football basically every day. I don’t see a problem with that. 

“They talk about injuries, but if a kid’s going to get injured, he’ll get injured. There’s nothing you can do about that and I don’t think the amount of football they play is going to make them get injured.”

Miller added: “Our national team is looking a bit better right now and we’re getting stronger. But I don’t think it’s because of pro-youth. I think we used to produce more players with the old S-Form.

“A lot of clubs now are taking in clubs at eight, nine and 10 and putting a lot of pressure on them. They’re not allowing them to enjoy their childhood. At 10-years-old they’re almost being treated like a professional.

“They don’t get the side where they can just play with their friends and have fun. It becomes like a revolving door. Kids go in, others come out and that just breaks a lot of hearts.”