Jim McAlister and Chris Millar: A Tribute to Two Morton Legends

The official Greenock Morton programme returned for Saturday’s match against Dunfermline Athletic for the first time in 16 months.

If you can’t make it along to our home matches this season, or miss out on buying one at Cappielow, you’ll be able to order them all here from Curtis Sport.

Saturday’s programme featured this tribute piece from Niall McGilp, looking at Jim McAlister and Chris Millar’s careers at the club.

Last season, our two longest serving players left the club. Sadly, the impact of the pandemic and the resultant absence of spectators at virtually all of our games, meant that the Ton faithful were unable to acknowledge the fantastic contribution both made to Morton, each having completed two spells here at Cappielow. In this article, we summarise their careers and pay tribute to two model professionals.

By any measure, it is difficult to imagine a worse start to the 21st Century than that endured by Greenock Morton. Placed into administration in 2000, the subsequent purchase of the club by the Rae Family was bookended by consecutive relegations, in 2001 and 2002. Our beloved club found itself in the Third Division, the fourth tier of Scottish football.

Investment followed and with the Cowshed re-built and an improved squad recruited, Morton began the long journey back to respectability and a place in the higher echelons of the Scottish League. During the 2002/03 season, two young men, Jim McAlister (aged 17) and Chris Millar (aged 19) joined manager John McCormack’s squad as it strived for an immediate return to the third tier.

Both were local lads, McAlister hailed from a farming family on the Isle of Bute, Millar from Inverclyde. They signed from Linwood Rangers and Celtic respectively. As it happens, I was present when Jim and Chris made their Morton debuts.

Having signed on 27th Dec 2002, young McAlister came off the bench the following day in an important league game against Peterhead. 2,640 supporters saw him replace Marco Maisano, as Morton secured a 1-0 win against their promotion rivals.

And against my better judgement, my younger son, David, persuaded me to take him to Links Park Montrose for a grim midweek 0-0 draw against the Angus club, watched by just 343 hardy souls. Both Chris and Jim featured from the start that night, and although both were later “subbed”, Millar, in particular, left a strong positive impression.

History tells us that Morton won the Third Division Championship on the final day of that season and Chris Millar started every game from his debut until the decider against Peterhead (13 games). Jim, two years younger, finished the season with 2 starts and 7 substitute appearances.

Space does not permit a season-by-season review of their Morton careers. The following rollercoaster season in 2003/4 saw Chris appear in every game, with Jim making his breakthrough a year later in 2004/5, when he was ever-present. Millar chipped in with 13 goals. Promotion back to the First Division was proving elusive, the Ton finishing behind Brechin City and Stranraer that season and going down 1-0 on aggregate to Peterhead the following season, in the newly introduced play-offs. Jim and Chris both made 44 appearances.

At the fourth time of asking, a strong Morton line-up swept through the Second Division in 2006/7 leading the table throughout the season with Millar and McAlister both ever present and scoring 14 goals between them in all games. Their Championship medals were richly deserved. But life back in the second tier was tougher, the club gradually sliding down the table. Manager Jim McInally resigned after a painful home defeat to Clyde, but by that time Chris had signed a pre-contract agreement with St Johnstone and was initially excluded from the team. He left at the end of the season after been restored to the starting lineup and helping the club achieve safety with two fantastic 3-0 victories over Dunfermline and Partick Thistle. Chris made 215 appearances in his first 6 seasons at Cappielow scoring 35 goals and went on to win the First Division championship at Perth the following year, experience European football and lifting the Scottish Cup in 2014.

McAlister remained at Cappielow until 2010, ending his spell in plaster after breaking a bone in his foot in a 3-3 draw with Queen of the South. He left Morton under Freedom-of-Contract having made 272 appearances and scored 19 goals, and joined Hamilton Accies, and subsequently continued his career with Dundee and Blackpool.

Fast forward to summer 2018 and both Jim and Chris rejoined Morton at the beginning of the short-lived Ray McKinnon regime. Chris was 35 and Jim 32, but they gave Morton another three seasons making 64 and 89 further appearances respectively; both notched another 4 goals, with Chris’s 30-yard piledriver against Alloa, and Jim’s last-minute equaliser against today’s opponents Dunfermline the pick of the bunch.

They left Cappielow some 18 years after they first arrived, both seasoned professionals who each played over 600 senior games in fantastic careers. Jim’s 361 Morton appearances places him 10th in the all-time Morton list, alongside other legends like Jimmy Gourlay, George Anderson, Tommy Orr and Rowan Alexander. Millar’s final tally of 279 appearances ranks him 21st in the same list, rubbing shoulders with Andy Ritchie, 1960s stalwart Hugh Strachan and Derek Lilley.

But football is not about numbers, it’s about the skill, commitment and dedication of two fantastic players and the memories they leave for all who saw them wear the blue and white hoops.

To Chris and Jim, a sincere thank you.