Exclusive: Paphitis craving repeat of Millwall's 2004 heroics

© Daniel Heywood
© Daniel Heywood

THEO Paphitis says he is desperate to see Millwall achieve more FA Cup success – and admits he "terribly" misses being chairman of the club.

Paphitis was in charge at The Den between 1997 and 2005 and oversaw the Lions' run to the final of the competition against Manchester United nine years ago.

In a rare interview, the Cypriot retail magnate reveals how he continues to be obsessed with Millwall – to the extent that he fears he will "get sucked back in" to football in the future.

And, ahead of the Lions' last-four tie against Wigan at Wembley, Paphitis has sent his best wishes to the Lions' current set-up as they attempt to repeat the heroics of 2004.

He told NewsAtDen:  "I take great pleasure in watching the club's success and long may it continue. But the people involved in Millwall today have earned this – it's not for us oldies of the past.

"Getting to the semi-final again is a great achievement. The chairman, the manager and the players should be incredibly proud of themselves because I know how difficult it is.

"I'm sure they would have loved to be in the play-offs this season but this is going to be such a great day. We've had some kicks in the teeth recently so it's fantastic.

"I have never met the chairman, John Berylson, but he has made a massive commitment to Millwall, financially and personally, and for that he gets my utmost respect.

"I applaud him and want to wish him all the luck in the world. I want him to be successful so that he can take the club on to greater heights and show everybody what a fantastic club this is."

Millwall beat Sunderland 1-0 at the semi-final stage in 2004 and Paphitis firmly believes that match, and not the 3-0 defeat in the final, was a crucial turning point in the club's history.

"I don't remember too much about the final," he said. "The semi-final at Old Trafford was the game – until that day, Millwall were always a nearly club. We would nearly win something or get to a final.

"We were always nearly there – and then the rug would get pulled out from under our feet. In some ways, most of us at the Sunderland game thought it was going to be another nearly day.

"But it needed to happen for a change – it needed to be real. I've never felt so nervous or afraid. We were so close to the final and I couldn't help but think our destiny was to be a nearly club.

"So the semi-final was the biggest pressure. The final wasn't because, to beat Manchester United in Cardiff with half a team as we ended up playing with, was never going to be realistic."

Paphitis is unsure whether he will be at Wembley on Saturday as he is due to be out of the country, but the 53-year-old is adamant that Millwall have "every chance" of beating the Latics.

He said: "In 2004, people kept complaining about how we never got a big team in the draw so we could make some money – and then we got through to the next round every time.

"When this run started, I could just sense the same thing again. It does not matter who you draw in the cup, as long as you win. Honestly? I was ecstatic when we got Wigan.

"They are a good team and, if they're on form, of course they should beat us. But this is a cup game at Wembley and different things happen there. We're not chasms away from them at all.

"They are very beatable. I don't want to tempt fate but Europe could be beckoning again."

Paphitis saved the club from financial meltdown in May 1997 after the administrators were called in but he admits he initially turned down the opportunity to front a rescue package.

"At first I said: 'don't be so stupid, anybody who wants to get involved in a professional football club needs their head examined'," he recalled.

"So they went away but they came back a few weeks later. They thought they had so-and-so to take over, but they didn't. Somehow I lost my sense and became a madman.

"But I would not change it for the world. It was incredible. I miss it terribly because Millwall became everything. If you're going to do something and have success, you need to throw yourself into it.

"Bill Shankly said football is not about life and death, it's far more important than that. I understood for the first time what he meant when I got involved at Millwall and we started achieving things.

"It's only when you start achieving things that you realise what you haven't been achieving. It makes you want more. So for me, 2004 was just awesome. It's probably the best achievement of my life."

It has been eight years since Paphitis resigned as Lions chairman but he feels very little has changed in South Bermondsey since his departure.

"I look at the club now and I do not see many differences from ten years ago – there are some great things but the frustrations for the present board must be the same frustrations I had," he said.

"Deep down, a lot of people have got a soft spot for us – but it's quite deep and it's historic in many ways. People try to rebuild their links with Millwall when they get to Wembley or a final.

"Unfortunately, it stops there. It stops after that and it doesn't follow through. That's the frustrating thing – it's been the same for a very, very long time. And then there's the financial side of things.

"You've got to start with a negative budget every year and if you don't get success, you've got a hole to fill. As soon as you get success, people ask where the money is – but it's paying for that loss.

"But making money was never my rationale or motivation. My aim was clearly to save the club and it was enjoyable, which it certainly was."

Paphitis remains a keen observer of events in SE16, albeit from afar, and believes maintaining that distance between himself and the club is essential – for his own sanity.

"I am a terrible backseat driver," he said. "Once you've driven the train set it's difficult to let go. I am not an alcoholic, I'm a Millwall-holic. I'm worried that I'll get sucked back in further down the line.

"I've had my experience and it's time for somebody else. I don't want to go back to the stage where football takes over my life. I'm an all-consuming type of character so I do worry myself.

"I always tell people who take drugs: do not waste your money or time – go and watch Millwall play. It's far better than drugs. You get the highs and you get the lows.

"There are a lot of lows at Millwall but when the highs come, you can't beat them."

Alex Aldridge

(@accordingtoaldo)

5 thoughts on “Exclusive: Paphitis craving repeat of Millwall's 2004 heroics

  • April 12, 2013 at 14:16
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    I know he's not liked really but Theo done loads for our club and dug us out of a massive hole! Will always like the man for that. And you can see his Millwall even now.

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  • April 12, 2013 at 14:35
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    The people that don't like him haven't got a clue mate! Fact is we would have gone under without him. Same as the people that have a pop at wise, clueless. Don't remember ANYONE NOT singing his name at old Trafford or Cardiff? Short memories

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    • April 12, 2013 at 17:31
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      I fully agree with you both there.

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  • April 12, 2013 at 19:06
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    Oi Theo lend me £200,000 please I'm skint

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