DAVID HILLIER was climbing a ladder to success when he won a top-flight league winners medal with Arsenal in 1990-91, and made one appearance for the England Under-21s.
Now over a quarter of a century later the 49-year old is climbing different ladders – as one of our brave firefighters based at Avon Fire & Rescue in Bristol.
A boyhood Arsenal fan, the aspiring midfielder was fulfilling his dreams by helping his beloved Gunners to glory in the early 90s.
Sadly, his career was blighted by injury that forced him out of the club’s FA and League Cup successes in 1993 and the Cup Winners’ Cup victory over Parma the following year.
He later joined Portsmouth (1996-99) and Bristol Rovers (1999-2002) before ending his career at Barnet with just six appearances in 2003.
Hiller told SunSport: “I never set targets when I was playing. I now look back at my 15 years in the game and I am very proud that I played for some great clubs at some of the world’s great stadiums alongside some of the great players.
“What is so wonderful is I still enjoy media work with Arsenal and go back and have a wonderful rapport with the club and the supporters. The football ‘family’ is brilliant for that.”
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He revealed that it was his wife, Zoe, who suggested a new life in the fire brigade a couple of years after he quit playing 15 years ago.
He said: “We were out shopping one day and we passed a fire station and she said that it would be the perfect job for me.
“Ian Holloway – who I played alongside at Bristol Rovers – also has something to do with it. Olly’s brother-in-law was a fireman and we had met and talked about the fire brigade. Now he is one of the bosses in the service.
“Because of my football career I joined the brigade late and when I started it was a bit like students tutoring the teaching because everyone seemed younger than me.
“But I have never had a problem with that. I was aware of what I needed to do to progress.
“The fire brigade suits me because I’m on a two or more pump station which means 8-12 of us are involved and we spend two days and two nights away – which is like a football team staying in a hotel before a game.”
The down-to-earth London-born ex-midfield ace says the adrenaline-rush of a big job is on a completely different scale to playing football.
“It can be incredibly difficult at times and it’s a job where you have to deal with tricky and horrific scenarios.
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“We are confronted with all sorts of scenes and the most frustrating part is not being able to do more.
“Being forced back by smoke and not knowing where you are going can be very claustrophobic . But, yes, I have also rescued cats out of trees too!”
Yet even after 15 years in the service, the ex-Gunner says: “It’s strange but when it comes to footballer or fireman I always think of myself as a footballer.”