McAvennie and Miller fully enjoyed their Celtic heyday

By Richard WilsonBBC Scotland
Frank McAvennie and Joe Miller
McAvennie and Miller remain close friends

When Frank McAvennie and Joe Miller reminisce, the lurch into mockery is almost immediate.

They only spent two years together at Celtic, but the store of one-liners and anecdotes never seems to run dry.

McAvennie delights in recalling a moment on the team coach after Miller's second game for Celtic. The team had defeated Motherwell and a director, Jimmy Farrell, said to Miller: "Well done, good game."

McAvennie was standing nearby, so heard the rest of the conversation. Farrell asked Miller if he liked "playing in that position? Do you not think you were too far forward?" It took a moment for the two players to realise that Farrell thought he was speaking to Willie Miller, the renowned Aberdeen defender.

Quick as a flash, McAvennie said: "Do you not prefer him without that moustache." The camaraderie between the pair was immediate, but it also underpinned the most satisfying spell of either of their careers.

McAvennie arrived at Celtic in October 1987 from West Ham in a deal worth £750,000. He was already a brash, prolific striker - blonde, cocky and brazen.

Joe Miller
Miller was brought to Celtic to provide ammunition for the strikers

The plan was for him to strike up a partnership with Andy Walker, but it was not until winger Miller's arrival from Aberdeen the following month in a £600,000 transfer that the goals began arriving regularly.

"Every time I got to a club, it seemed to be that they brought a winger in," McAvennie explains.

"When I signed for Celtic, they brought Joe in and from day one it clicked. We used to have some good laughs off the park, which makes a difference. It just worked."

Click here to listen to the BBC Scottish football podcast featuring the McAvennie and Miller interview

Walker was the third part of the equation, but McAvennie and Miller clicked in every way. They understood each other, and their humour. When the diminutive Miller walked into the dressing room on his first day, he found a baby-sized Celtic strip hanging from his peg.

"We used to get baby chairs for him when we went away on trips," McAvennie chuckles.

By chance or by design, then Celtic manager Billy McNeill encouraged what turned out to be an essential relationship.

When Miller arrived at the club, McNeill asked him to pair up with McAvennie in training, because he felt the striker was "as slow as a week in the jail".

They became a partnership that operated on and off the field.

Celtic's league-winning side of season 1987-88
Celtic secured a memorable league triumph to mark their centenary year

"A lot of people were saying it was the final piece of the jigsaw," Miller says.

"Frank and Andy tried to strike up a partnership and the goals weren't flying in. I was asked to provide the service. The three of us just clicked and bang, he's scoring hat-tricks and braces, Andy's banging in goals."

There was a unique pressure on that Celtic team. Rangers had embarked upon an ambitious recruitment campaign the season before under Graeme Souness, signing the likes of Terry Butcher, Chris Woods, Graeme Roberts and Ray Wilkins, and it was also Celtic's centenary year.

As Celtic supporters, McAvennie and Miller understood the significance of the campaign, but neither was burdened by it. They were sharing a dressing room with strong characters, like Mick McCarthy, Tommy Burns, Roy Aitken and Paul McStay.

"That's why we scored so many goals in the 93rd minute, we kept going and never gave up," McAvennie says. "It was a desire for the team to do well.

"Most of us were Celtic supporters anyway. We had to beat [Rangers]."

McAvennie and Miller joke that the most difficult partnership they came up against that season was "the two bouncers at the Cotton Club". In truth, though, that Celtic team was deeply self-assured.

Frank McAvennie
McAvennie was a prolific scorer in his first spell at Celtic and returned to Glasgow in the 1990s

"We knew when we were going out on the park that we were going to win," Miller says. "The question was how many we were going to win by."

McAvennie scored 15 times that season, culminating in the two goals that won the 1988 Scottish Cup final and secured Celtic a historic double. Miller says "the only worry big Billy had was what time we were coming home from the nightclubs", but McAvennie was given leeway by the manager.

"He heard a lot of stories about me, and God they weren't true," McAvennie says. "I wish I'd done half of the things I'm supposed to have done."

Yet he was straight out of Celtic Park on Saturdays for the flight to London, where he spent his time partying.

On occasion, McAvennie missed the start of the following week's training, but several of the players urged McNeill not to drop him, even on one occasion when he was very late, and Miller had been trying to cover for him.

"I was always first to get asked, 'where is he'?" Miller recalls. "[McNeill] said, 'tell him he's finished'.

"So the Wednesday night comes and I get a phone call. It's the bold boy here. He said, 'aw wee man, what a night out I've had. Tell the gaffer I'll be in on Tuesday'. I said, 'Frank, this is Wednesday'."

The pair dissolve into laughter.

Their playing partnership was short, but pivotal and memorable, because on the pitch they could count on each other. Their closeness off the pitch remains, for the same reason.