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05/06: Preview: Millwall
Opposition opinion
by Gary Miles of The Millwall History Files

What happened last season?
What's going to happen next season?
At the end of the 2003/04, Millwall were basking in the afterglow of a cup final appearance, but it was one of many false dawns. We all thought it was to be a launch pad for club to mount a promotion bid; Dennis Wise had got the team playing after a poor start by the team under Mark McGhee and between December and the 04/04/04 semi final win against Sunderland, we were indeed the best team in the division. The team stopped playing after that day, we were never again to rise to the peak of stuffing West Ham 4-1, which became known at the Mother's Day massacre.

The Cup final was great day out, but the team never showed up for the match, Dennis Wise and Ray Wilkins were exhibiting their extreme perversion for 11 men behind the ball. We never gave it a go at any stage, something very un-Millwall like.

The trouble behind the scenes would take a little while to show, but in the after glow of that day, Theo was talking of going for it next season. To most fans this brought a buzz of excitement, Millwall in Europe, the ability to attract good players and another promotion push. We had fallen just four points short of the playoff spot, after taking just six points from the last eighteen. To most of us, just staying still should see us in contention, but now we were in the position to improve the squad.

What we hadn't counted on was Theo and Wise. Wise was out to bring in some of his mates and Theo's idea of going for it, was to maintain the budget at the current level. Despite getting to the Cup Final Millwall made a grand profit of 10,000. Without the sale of Stephen Reid to Blackburn and the cup run, we would have lost 4m. The hard decisions were to be postponed a year and a share issue used to paper over the cracks.

The first arrival was Jody Morris, who had been let go by Leeds and had been playing at the mighty Rotherham for the latter part of the season. Then Theo managed to piss off nearly everyone at the club off by agreeing to sell Tim Cahill to Crystal Palace for 2m. Only a disagreement between Cahill's agent and Simon Jordan stopped the deal going through and Cahill would go to Everton for 1.5m a move we all felt better about.

Also going was what was left of the backbone of the team that took us up to this division and the playoff semi finals. Tony Warner joined Cardiff, Stuart Nethercott who had been loaned out to Wycombe was released, Robbie Ryan went from marking Ronaldo in the cup final, to playing in the bottom division with Bristol Rovers. Millwall went on a tour to Canada and came back with a couple of locals in Josh Simpson and Adrian Serioux. Goalkeeper Graham Stack signed on a season long loan from Arsenal and Stefan Moore came for three months from Villa.

This was hardly going for it in most Millwall fans' eyes and indeed proved to be not good enough. Stefan Moore proved to be utterly useless, his only effect on the squad was to unsettle Neil Harris. Serioux had probably the best debut performance of a Millwall player ever. Indeed he said he had been waiting ten years to make his debut in English football. The famous long throw was met with a "wtfwt" intake of breath by all and indeed a goal was scored by Morris from one of them. It was to prove to be a one-off. In the words of the late Reg Burr, he was more fitted to the Conference than the Championship.

At the end of the month, Barry Hayles was surprisingly deemed surplus to requirement at Sheffield Utd after just a month and Millwall snapped up the one bright spark of the season. But injury struck right away and he miss the European games against Ferencvaros, the Hungarian Champions. We played far too defensively in the home leg, Wise scored from a free kick, but Stack was prone to the odd bout of weak hands and a poor free kick was just pushed into the net by him. In the away leg, we played better, but conceded three first half goals and missed enough chances to pull it back.

The lack of signings in a season we were supposed to be going for it became the discussion on the message boards. Dennis Wise had gone on record saying the youngsters were not good enough and he was not interested in players from lower division, only those with premiership experience need apply. Dennis Wise made himself even more popular with the signing of Joe Tessem on loan from Southampton, one of the slowest and most useless players I've had the misfortune to see. In November we spent some serious money at long last, but not to solve the left back, left wing or attacking midfielder problem, he bought another striker. Where in the pecking order would 500,000 Scott Dobie fit? We had Hayles, Harris, Dichio, Peeters, McCammon, May, Braniff and Ifill.

In the event, Wise would end up playing Dobie on the left wing.

The one performance that stood out that season was a 3-0 win up at Derby between Christmas and new year. Millwall had crept up to the edge of the playoff zone and Wise was back knocking on the chairman's door for more money. With wages out of control, he was told to lighten the wage bill first, so out went Neill Harris, first on loan to Cardiff then to Forest for a nominal sum. Half a dozen fringe players and youngsters followed on loan moves. The inevitable injury crisis struck and a squad depleted of any cover bowed out tamely in the FA Cup, meaning no income bonus this season.

Time for Theo to make a quick exit. He had been saying he wanted to step down since before we struck it lucky in the FA Cup draws, now the financial chickens were coming home to roost at Millwall and in his other businesses, he looking for a successor. In a plot that would have done credit to Niccolo Machiavelli, he was looking for someone to come in a swing the axe then come back later as the hero to save the day.

Former chairmen and current directors Reg Burr and Peter Mead both introduced candidates, but Theo decided he wanted to pull the strings in the background and director Jeff Burnige was announced as his successor. The first step was for Burnige to announce austerity was the on the menu next season. The Share issue well was well and truly dry and Millwall would live within its means.

Wise was unhappy, he had a list of three players he wanted, Rob Hulse, Shaun Derry and Michael Gray. In his fantasy world, these three were all that stood between us and promotion. He was told to sell first, to generate the money to bring them in.

Wise had the dilemma, who to sell? Obvious really, the striker you just blew the transfer kitty on, who you were playing on the left wing. Dobie was off to Forest to rejoin old boss Garry Megson and Millwall got their money back. Then, in a twist, Wise was not allowed to spend the money and all three targets joined Ken Bates at Leeds, leading to speculation that Wise was to follow. This was helped by Wise briefing the press about broken promises and how unhappy he was with the incoming chairman. Burnige kept a diplomatic silence. The season petered out in a nondescript fashion, with Millwall playing the kind of football all Watford fans would recognise as coach Ray Wilkins' trademark. The youngsters that Wise had said were not good enough were given games. It was rumoured that Burnige had ordered that they be played, but in truth injuries meant there was little choice.

Reg Burr, the old chairman, made one last statement to perhaps clear his own reputation but also to challenge Theo to inject some cash into the club to give Burnige a clean slate to start with. It was the words of a man who knew he had not much longer to live. Theo's response was to ban the life president of the club from the directors box.

On final "up yours" from Dennis Wise was signing his old mate Andrew Impey, a player with a bigger beer gut than most fans. There was a month of the season left and wise said it would take him a month to get fit. Go figure! A final day 0-0 bore draw, saw fireworks at the press conference as Wise resigned with a flurry of accusations of betrayal.

In the absence of a manager, Jeff Burnige, who had been head of Millwall's FA academy, was left to shape the squad. Kevin Muscat was off to go back to Australia, Roberts and Dolan were given free transfers and a host of youngsters were signed up on new deals. The impression was that the chairman would make the unpopular decisions to generate money, before the new manager was appointed. Burnige is alleged to have told all the senior players that if they wanted to go they could if the fee matched his valuation. Millwall's expenses exceeded the income by 4m, so something had to be done or administration would follow next year.

Paul Ifill was sold to Sheff Utd for decent fee of 800,000 for a player that missed most of the previous season with injury. Player of the Year for two seasons running Darren Ward was next on the list. Fees were agreed with two clubs, then Theo tipped off his mate Simon Jordan and Crystal Palace came in with a matching offer of 1.1m and Ward signed for them. Burnige was left to look the villain selling a popular player to our local rivals.

The search for a manager wasn't going too well. The initial interviews failed to turn up a suitable candidate and a couple months had gone by. Then George Burley was sacked by Derby and was invited to an interview at Millwall. This raised hopes amongst the fans of a good appointment. It was no surprise that he did not fancy the job. In the end Steve Claridge's name cropped up and he popped back from his Radio commentary job with Radio 5 live in Germany at the Confederation Cup for an interview and was appointed the next day.

It came out that he was interested from the first, but was advised by someone that he stood no chance. That party has not been named, but the dagger in Claridge back seems to have Theo's fingerprints all over it. Claridge's first decision was to cancel the tour of Australia in favour of a boot camp week for fitness training. Sammy Igoe was brought in on a free transfer and Sweeney finally joined Stoke, something that he had be set on all along unless Millwall made him an offer he could not refuse.

The selling continued with fees agreed for Danny Dichio with Preston of 160,000 and Matt Lawrence with Hull for 250,000. This set alarm bells ringing with Theo and the rest of the board and Burnige was forced out. Dichio insisted on completing his move, but Lawrence signed a new three year deal.

A series of poor pre-season results followed. The upheaval had probably meant Millwall were a couple weeks behind everyone else in their pre-season preparations. A home defeat to Orient (0-1) was bad, the bright spark was that Igoe looked a decent signing. Claridge still had not appointed a No 2 so he invited Colin Lee along on a temporary basis. The Tuesday night game against Gillingham, saw trialist Don Hutchinson get another run out, but Millwall went 2-0 down in the first half, before fighting back to 2-2 at half time. It was a better performance, but still not great. Claridge playing himself for 75 mins meant that the chance to look at John Sutton was missed, a striker that's been farmed out on loan all of last season. John Oster was also left kicking his heels for 70 minutes.

At the end of the match, Claridge went to see Theo, who although not officially Chairman was running the show again. He wanted to be able to bring in Colin Lee as his No 2 and sign three players, Jason Brown and Don Hutchinson, were two, the third was unnamed. Instead, Theo sacked Claridge, because he was not up to the job and because David Livermore had handed in a transfer request earlier that day.

Colin Lee, already on the way home, was told he was to be the new manager. To cap an eventful day, it was revealed that our final pre-season friendly was off, as police were not to pleased to police a match that was potential riot-fest in the current climate.

All in all, Millwall has been an absolute shambles this seasons. Theo has made some noises that three signings would be allowed in the next few weeks. Expectations are now of a relegation struggle, staying up will be success. Maybe we are being too pessimistic, but frankly when you hope that as poor a player as David Livermore stays, it speaks volumes as to your ambitions.

Soundbites(from assorted census correspondents)

"As usual the Millwall optimism is blasted out of sight by background shite and previous mismanagement by the board of so called senior professionals and managers/spoilt brats."

"Watch out for Josh Simpson this season. He could be one of the best wide players in the league."

"The fan on my desk is broken"

"You can't send stamps into HMP Belmarsh. What's that about?"

"There are no hedgehogs in Australia at all but more of them in NZ than in Britain."

"Despite my all-round pessimism about the upcoming season, I still hold out a tiny, foolish glimmer of hope that we'll sign some players and avoid the drop. The GP is probably filling out the forms to have me sectioned as I type"

"Free the Calais Six"

"Tennis is shit"

"A Chairman came, oversaw a fire sale, appointed Claridge in a cheap attempt at winning popular support and went when he realised that his twin policies had revealed his utter incompetence. We currently are a rudderless ship. No chairman, and Jody Morris is expected to set an example to our youngsters next season. The words 'Oh' and 'Dear' cover most of it... "

"Tennis is gay!"

"Millwall need players, come down and bring yer boots!"

"We're in for a long, hard and ultimately dull season. Unless we really are fit for relegation"

"Thanks for all the great afternoons on the Rookery in the days of Furphy, Scullion, Endean and Sir Thomas Whalley. Ex Royal Masonic school boy"