LAST season was, in large parts, one to forget for Millwall fans, as we found things difficult in our second season in the Championship.
The sale of Steve Morison last July for a reported £2.7million had been expected and with the board suggesting we could possibly “break our transfer record” and that Kenny Jackett had “the biggest budget in the history of the club”, fans became excited at the prospect of another attempt at a play-off charge.
The summer came and we waited for the news that we’d gone out and replaced Morison and added to the squad. Before the sale of Morison came the news that Neil Harris, Andy Frampton and Danny Schofield had departed, as well as fringe players such as Ashley Grimes, John Sullivan and Marc Laird.
By mid-June not a single player had been announced as signing for Millwall. Discontent was beginning to grow on Millwall forums and supporters were beginning to question whether this was “Millwall all over” once again.
Eventually we signed Therry Racon from Charlton Athletic and Darius Henderson from relegated Sheffield United. Two decent signings but we were still immensely thin on the ground and many wondered where the money had gone from the sale of Morison. Both Racon and Henderson arrived on free transfers, albeit the latter allegedly had a large signing-on fee.
Jordan Stewart, who had been in decline for many years, arrived from some club in Cyprus and Danny N’Guesson arrived from Leicester, having spent the past few years on loan at lower-league clubs.
The season started well enough, with a draw away at eventual-Champions Reading and a 2-0 victory over Nottingham Forest. Gradually, however, the wheels began to fall off and holes appeared in the side. We’d take one step forward and two steps backward as we couldn’t find any sort of form to get ourselves going.
Injuries and certain refereeing decisions never helped our cause, but the facts were that we got things wrong in the summer. It appeared that we had no sort of plan or we weren’t prepared to stump up the wages that were expected and required from a Championship club. It seemed that although we were more than happy to be in the second tier of English football, we were still only prepared to pay League One transfer fees and wages.
We missed out on a number of targets over the summer which Jackett was interested in, leading us to believe that perhaps the money promised as being there was in fact not. As the season drew nearer to Christmas we saw the arrival of a number of loan players which struck us all as a sign of desperation – especially as, in the past, both chairman John Berylson and Jackett had said the loan market is a last resort.
The side looked disjointed and the players seemed alien to one another, which we'd never seen before at The Den during Jackett’s reign. It seemed all of the progress that had been documented in Michael Calvin’s excellent book Family had been in vain. We slumped to hapless home defeats whilst looking like we could spend a month of Sundays on the pitch without scoring.
Despite all of this, and the rumoured player fallouts, supporters by and large kept with it. Concerns were raised on forums but the backing of the players and management at the games was astounding considering how quickly we usually are to get on the backs of our players when things don’t go our way.
The Dagenham away game was probably the only time fans and players collided head-on, and from there we slowly turned the corner. Incredibly, it was the 6-0 home defeat to Birmingham which really got everyone back on side. As the nine men of Millwall trudged off the pitch, “No One Likes Us” echoed around the ground. Those players had shown more teeth and spirit in that game than they had in many prior games put together.
It seemed many of the players suddenly realised that this is what we want and demand from them – if you fight and give everything, you are halfway there with our fans. No greater example of this was winger James Henry, who became a man possessed in the second half of the season. The arrivals of Shane Lowry, Harry Kane and most important of all Andy Keogh, raised spirits and we began to show signs of the side we’d seen over the past couple of seasons.
Things began to click, the fans and players were back in harmony and we ended the season a respectable 16th, above the guvnors of South London (apparently?) Crystal Palace.
With the season over, we turned our attentions to how we’d handle pre-season this time around and, personally, I could not be happier with our dealings so far. Jackett has captured a long-term target of his in Chris Taylor from Oldham, who has terrorised us in the past, and we have managed to sign the Gareth Bale of lower-league football in Scott Malone. Two talented left-sided players in positions we desperately needed bodies.
Ultimately, Millwall are a small club. We all get frustrated and want more but we have to remember that we get an average gate of around 11,000, which comfortably puts us in the bottom five of the Championship in that regard. No one should expect us to go out and sign players for £1m and splash cash around, as many people have worked hard to get the club back on an even keel financially.
However, what we must do is maintain our Championship status and look to push on. In Jackett we have a manager who has built a side at Millwall out of a number of players who, for whatever reason, didn’t make it at their last club. He has a knack for polishing players up and turning them into gems. The likes of Taylor, at the age of 25, are exactly the kind of player we should be queueing up to sign and I am over the moon that we have concluded our business early in this regard.
Are we there yet? Certainly not, but this is already a happier start to the summer than last year. We need one striker, possibly even two, with a question mark hanging over Darius Henderson and the departure of Josh McQuoid.
Bring in the right players and next season could possibly see the Lions mount a serious promotion challenge.