What happened last season?
Strange, you would think I would wax lyrical about a marvellous season on the pitch where an unfancied team promoted from Division Two was a Nats away from the Playoff Final. Yes, we played great football at times and dug in and pinched points at other times. The 4-1 win at Vicarage Road being an example of the former, the slim 1-0 win over Watford at the Den just a fortnight later an example of the later.
I feel that the players and management just didn’t believe they could win promotion. Man City were in a class of their own, however Wolves were no better than chasing pack and the way they crumbled like a short bread biscuit under pressure which allowed West Brom to catch and pass them was hilarious.
Millwall briefly went into Second place in January, after our win over Watford at the Den and were only three points behind Man City. However the Local press was full of quotes from McGhee and Nethercott that the Man City and Wolves would run away with it and we were playing for a playoff place.
They weren’t playing Alex Ferguson type mind games, so why the inferiority complex? Only one team gave us a caning all season, Birmingham 4-0 at St Andrews in our second game. I can only assume it was a lack of any big name signings over the last four seasons. The current players, not really believing that they had become better than so called big names like Nathan Blake, Alex Rae, David Thompson, Youssef Chippo or Geoff Horsfield.
Millwall fan’s gripes over the last three seasons have been the lack of signings. This may seem odd given that in that time we have brought in 14 players and spent over £1 million. However, six of these have already left the club, three are clearly reserve team players and one, Steve Claridge was a stand in player who did so well we kept him on. Of the remaining four, One has replaced an earlier signing (Ward for Dyche) and the other three have hardly been big money signings, Warner (Free), Lawrence (£200,000) and Livermore (£30,000).
Going in the other direction for just about the same sum, have been 25 players with first team appearances under their belts. These include good players like Paul Shaw (to Gillingham £450,000), Lucas Neill (to Blackburn (£600,000 rising to £1m), Paul Moody (£150,000 to Oxford) and free transfers of Dyche, Fitzgerald, Bowry, Kinet and Bircham.
To an outsider, the squad is much weaker than the one that started the 1999/2000 season where Millwall failed in the Second Division playoffs. That is true in terms of numbers of players with first team games under their belts, but in terms of quality, despite it being mainly the same bunch of the players, it has improved drastically. The team has grown up together and we have a young team with over 100 appearances each under their belts.
The galvanising effect of a ‘Big Name’ arrival, that of Dion Dublin on loan in March, help rescue the season when loss of form saw us dropping like a stone out of the playoff race. One can’t help but think that a ‘Big Name’ arrival earlier in the season or even a couple of good old pros in the Claridge mode would have made the difference confidence wise.
In true revisionist style, the club are saying they played a blinder in not signing any players on big money in the knowledge that ITV Digital were about to go tits up. However the truth is that club just didn’t realise the inflation in wages in Division One after five seasons in Division Two and so failed to land any of their targets.
Before and during the season, Millwall tried to sign Matt Lockwood, Darren Caskey, Bancarel, Opongo, Phil Stamp, Paul Agostino, Stephen McPhail, Juan Sara and a World Cup Striker. For various reason these deals all fell through. We could not agree a fee for Lockwood, Notts County would pay Caskey more, Bancarel and Opongo went back to Bordeaux as the money here wasn’t good enough, Stamp was overweight and overpriced at £12,000 a week, Agostino was coming until Fenerbache dangled a £25,000 a week offer in front of him, McPhail wasn’t as good as we had, couldn’t agree a fee for Sara and the World Cup striker wanted a rest before the World Cup.
The one deal that did come off, the signing of Ward, came out of the blue. No one thought we needed another central defender. The fact that he did not play much either, until the last month of the season didn’t help, when most fans thought we needed a midfielder.
Millwall had more luck with their existing players. The players all got a 25% increase in wages for promotion, but agreed a relegation clause that meant a drop back to the old 2nd Division salary structure if the worst happened. The only player not to sign up was Dyche, who wanted more than a years extension.
Millwall rode high in the division until the loss of form in February and March, which saw us pick up just 11 points in 10 games. During the same period, West Brom picked up 22 points in 10 games and Wolves picked up 24 points in 11 games. This period, where the team went stale proved to be the difference between promotion or the playoffs.
In the end we faced Birmingham in the playoffs, the one team that had given us a caning. However man for man, I still feel we have a better team than them. In fact I wouldn’t have taken any of their players above ours. Yet after a decent draw at St Andrews in a game where we had the better chances, we put on a tepid performance in the second leg and let Birmingham nick it in the very last minute. What hurt more is that they didn’t have to play well to get it.
So Millwall now replace Ipswich as the worst playoff team of all time, failing four times with a record P 8 W 0 D 2 L 6 !
To make the failure all the worse, we then had half the Idiots of London and beyond running riot outside. The close season saw the Police threatening to refuse the Safety Certificate and effectively close the ground down. In the end the ban on the fans of Burnley, Leicester, Notts Forest, Portsmouth, Stoke and Wolves and an all members policy for home fans is accepted as a victory for the Football club over the outrageous demands of the Police.
The Highlights of the season, the double over palace and seeing half their support leave the ground with half an hour to go and the rest singing your not fit to wear our shirt, Neil Harris comeback goal at Vicarage Road and Claridge Penalty against the Wolves.
What's going to happen next season?
So for the coming season Millwall have a first team squad of 17 players, plus the back up of a group of promising but untried youngsters. However most first division clubs are in the same boat.
The days of 20 plus experienced players have gone, in fact it wasn’t here for that long. It seems we are going back to proper football days when you read the team sheet, saw the ‘utility’ (euphemism for shit) player or even worse the unheard of 16 year old full back was playing and knew you were going to lose. Expect the odd tonking of weakened teams every other weekend in our division.
The one big plus for Millwall is that Neil Harris seems to be over his health problems, notching a Hatrick against Steaua Bucharest in the 4-1 win to show how sharp he is after a proper pre-season. Another big plus is that no ‘offer of a lunchtime’ as our Chairman puts it has come in for Cahill, Reid or Sadlier, despite the constant rumours in the papers.
On the minus front, are the lack of any signings with Brentford’s Owusu preferring a regular first team spot at Sheffield Wednesday to fighting for a place at Millwall. That’s three summers now with no signings.
The release of three first team squad players in the shape of Bircham, Dyche and Kinet is a big blow. The manager has said if he had any money, these three would have been kept. Dyche will be missed the most as he was superb last season, ironically making the opposite journey to Darren Ward. Dyche was certainly a victim of ITV Digitial Debacle, holding out for a two year deal, in the end the 1 year deal offer was withdrawn as Millwall were unable to off load Tuttle to Wycombe, who still had a year left on his deal.
Maybe the players will have shaken off the inferiority complex they were suffering from last season. I’m sure that manager, Mark McGhee, feels that anything less than the playoffs next season with the players we have will be a failure, but he must be worried that a bad run of injuries could ruin the season.
I do feel that of the relegated clubs, Derby and Leicester are in free fall and Ipswich confidence is so shot they will all finish mid-table at best. Wolves should win the division, but are always liable to mess up. Therefore the promotion race is wide open and whatever club gets the best out of it smaller squads will grab the prize.
If the players of Millwall believe they can win it, they can win it. However I feel that certain players will only believe they are good when a club pays big money for them.
Prediction: Top Six, more likely Sixth than First.
Can you recommend a pub for away fans?
Like Dr Christain Szell (played by Laurence Olivier) asking Tom Babington (played by Dustin Hoffman) in the film Marathon Man, “Is It Safe?” You’re just not going to believe me when I say “Yes, It's safe!”
There normally isn’t a howling mob outside the Den and certainly not when we are playing Watford.
The New Den is situated in a bit of backwater of South East London where there is a distinct lack of nearby pubs. The Police have closed the down the two nearest on Matchdays, The Bramcote and the Golden Lion. This makes the few other Pubs within walking distance rather no go areas for away fans, partly from the trouble point of view, but mainly because they will be rammed full. Best to drink in central London before catching the train to the ground.
What's the nearest railway station?
The Nearest British Rail Station is South Bermondsey Station which is one
stop out of London Bridge (about 4 minutes ride) with frequent trains on
Saturdays and Sundays. For Midweek games the trains can be packed with rush
hour commuters. The Station is almost on top of the ground, but the
entrance to the station makes for a frustrating five minute walk. However a Walkway
for away fans is due to be constructed soon, the project being held up by
environmentalists concerned for nesting Birds.
Alternative Station is New Cross Gate with a 15 minute walk which takes you
past the site of the old ground and along the hollowed Cold Blow Lane. The
Nearest Tube Stations are New Cross Gate or Bermondsey, Canada Water or
Surrey Quays, all around 15 Mins Walk.
Where is the best place to park?
The Car Park that was used for the first few seasons at the New Den on Jumo
way (Capacity 2,000 odd) is now a car pound full of the clamped cars of South
East london. The Club have been unable to lease any land for a new car park
due to the sky high prices. There is Street parking available on Verney
Road and the back streets of New Cross.
Soundbites (from assorted Census correspondents)
"I couldn’t do the above, if it wears a blue shirt with the Lion on it, that’s good enough for me"
"Sadly, despite the fantastic achievements on the pitch last season, the only thing that will be remembered is the trouble after the Brum playoff game & this season we'll still be feeling the effects. Away fan bans (both home & away) & a members only ticket scheme will hit the club hard both financially and in terms of the match atmosphere & with no signings on the horizon, but several departures on the cards, we'll have to hope that the promising kids we've been hearing about from the youth team can live up to the hype"
"Millwall really is a good football team with a lot of up and coming talent"
"we have a good team, but we need an experienced midfielder to hold it all together. but they wont spend £20k a week to get us premiership football. sort of understand the policy, but business head says we should spend on the missing part of the puzzle"
"WE WANT DYCHEY BACK!"
"We're the best team in London, no the best team of all, everybody knows us, we're called Millwall"