It’s not easy running through mud, but the man in amber and black halves made it look as if he was as comfortable as a sprinter on the track. What followed next was even more astounding - he outpaced two opponents on the boggy turf before executing an inch-perfect 25-yard lob that left the goalkeeper stranded, turning his head back in disbelief as the ball settled in the net he had just left vacant.
The date was January 4 of this year, and that simply sublime goal was how Ricky Miller marked his return from injury as Boston United defeated Vauxhall Motors 5-2.
Fourteen days later the same man was at it again, another collectors’ item on the same ground, in the same goal. As the corner was flicked on in the box, Miller opened up his body, swiveled on his standing right foot and unleashed a powerful volley which left the laces on his left boot and flew with pace into the far top corner.
On that occasion Boston defeated Solihull Moors 4-1, and Miller left with the match ball.
Those goals were just two of the 28 the young striker scored for Boston United last season as the fans voted him the club’s Player of the Year. That hat-trick was one of three trebles Miller recorded for the Pilgrims last season as the Conference League named him the North Division’s Player of the Year.
There’s no denying it, last season belonged to Ricky Miller, the returning striker who raised more eyebrows than a particularly tight swimming cap, when it was announced that Dennis Greene had opted to bring him to York Street.
A year ago Miller was a distant memory, the talented-yet-fiery kid who scored six times in 12 appearances - including a hat-trick at the expense of Prescot Cables - at the tail end of the 2008-09 season. His half-dozen goals may have saved Steve Welsh’s Pilgrims from a humiliating drop (what would have been their fourth relegation/demotion in as many years) but they weren’t enough to persuade incoming managers Rob Scott and Paul Hurst to keep him at the club.
The new gaffers had their own ideas, and as Marc Newsham, Spencer Weir-Daley et al were tucking away the goals which saw the Pilgrims earn promotion back to the Conference North, Miller soon became of little concern to United fans, even the ones originally so eager to retain his services that they turned the fans’ forum where Scott and Hurst were unveiled as club managers into something of a scouting report.
Sometimes in the York Street press box we would hear stories of the forward scoring a decent goal or losing his head and adding another red card to his needless collection, but we would shrug and move on to more important debates closer to home. Even when that YouTube video of Miller scoring the winner for Stamford in their play-off final and promptly whipping of his shirt in celebration was passed around, it barely registered beyond a passing comment that he needed a good holiday in the sun.
But last summer Miller became relevant again as Dennis Greene announced the striker would be rejoining United. Miller told us he was a settled, changed man after becoming gripped by fatherhood. Greene described him as a rough diamond who, with a bit of spit and polish, could shine brightly. Many, including myself, weren’t quite so sure, but that solo effort against Mansfield Town in pre-season and a first Conference North goal for Boston in the memorable opening day demolition of Stockport County proved that this was Ricky Miller MK2 - a newer, faster, more exciting model.
The forward hit the ground running and United moved just as quickly, changing his non-contract deal to a permanent one (although somebody should have told St Neots Town, who made a seven-day approach for the under-contract player last season).
But as the goals flew in, other clubs began taking notice. FC Halifax Town were rumoured to have shown an interest in the pacy frontman, and this summer always seemed like the time that Miller was set to fulfil his dreams of earning a professional contract with a full-time club. Grimsby Town, we heard... wrongly.
And this morning those nagging doubts became reality - news of the forward joining Luton Town greeted the Pilgrims supporters as they tucked into their cereal. It must have felt like a hammer blow to those fans, especially coming the day after the club resumed training, when it appeared that there was some glimmer of hope that Boston may actually be his best bet.
So far the majority of United’s followers have been supportive of their former favourite, wishing him well with the manner of resignation in which they accepted the likes of David Norris had to move away to reach maximum potential. Some cheekily hinted, in case things didn’t work out, at a return on loan sometime soon.
There is, of course, always the counter argument. Some will state that Miller owes the Pilgrims at least another season as they were the club which put him on the footballing map. Others will fume that one of United’s most prized assets will be moving on with no transfer fee returning in the opposite direction.
Indeed, a lot of credit should be directed to Greene for spotting Miller’s talent, planting the seed, nurturing it and allowing it to blossom. But while Miller’s succes may be one part down to the manager, three parts are down to the striker’s hard work and desire. Those lonely hours in the gym and in the park, lifting weights or running alone come from Miller choosing self-improvement over the sofa. He’s still in his early 20s, on the back of his best-ever season, but still aware that this could be his only chance to play in the Football League - so when opportunity knocked, he was always going to open the door.
And as for Miller leaving without a fee? Yes, it is certainly frustrating, especially for a club that aren’t exactly at Scrooge McDuck’s moneypool-diving levels of wealth, but the forward is now out of contract and there is no way you could ever argue the players did not fulfil his obligations or earn every penny which came his way.
While Luton Town fans discus the excitement of their impending Ricky Miller experience, Boston’s faithful are left wondering ‘what now?’ They have every right to feel aggrieved their star striker has moved on, but they should not fear that the upcoming season is effectively over so soon.
Greene is a manager with an eye for a player, someone who will always look to evolve his squad. Since his arrival at Boston, he has brought in Miller, plus the likes of Carl Piergianni, Scott Garner, Rene Steer, Jake Hall, Jamie McGhee, Liam Agnew, Liam Marrs and Jay Dowie, to name a few, all of whom have - during their time - improved the team. It would be premature to expect Greene, whose good signings easily outweigh the ones which didn’t work out so well, has now mined all his rough diamonds.
Miller’s departure has already overshadowed the exciting news of Scott Garner’s permanent arrival on a year-long contract, but his move to Luton opens up a gap. New signing Dayle Southwell - likened to Miller by Greene as raw talent who just needs regular football to prove his worth - will be eager to show near-neighbours Grimsby Town they made a mistake in releasing him, while the ever-reliable Marc Newsham, with more than 100 Pilgrims goals to his name, may also thrive on the opportunity to be the main man down the middle once more.
Perhaps it’s best to view Miller in the same way we would a holiday romance. It was something fun, something special, something exciting and maybe also something which actually feels better through misty flashbacks. But, deep down, it was probably something we knew could never last.