The year 2004 was a historic one in Millwall’s history – not only did the Lions make their first ever FA Cup Final, but they also appeared in the UEFA Cup for the first time in their history.
The run to the FA Cup final began on Saturday, January 4, as fellow Division One side Walsall visited The Den in round three.
Jorge Leitao gave the Saddlers the lead in the 12th minute, but goals from Kevin Braniff and Tim Cahill shortly before half-time meant that the Lions advanced to round four.
After two weather-related postponements, Millwall’s clash with Telford United finally went ahead at the third attempt. Burnley – the winner’s fifth-round opponents – would only have three days to prepare for the winners due to the rescheduling. It turned out to be Dennis Wise's men, as goals from the manager himself and Paul Ifill ensured a safe passage through on a potentially tricky night in Telford.
A Valentine’s Day clash at The Den against the Turf Moor outfit was decided by a 70th-minute Danny Dichio header as the Lions made the FA Cup quarter-final for the first time since 1985. They would meet Tranmere Rovers of Division Two for a place in the last four.
16,404 fans witnessed a goalless draw at The Den in the initial tie, as Kevin Muscat's missed penalty meant that it would all be back up to Birkenhead for a tense replay nine days later.
This time, the Lions successfully completed the job, as they raced into a two-goal lead in 16 minutes, thanks to Tim Cahill and a delightful team goal, finished off by Neil Harris. Gary Jones' 41st-minute header was only a consolation for Tranmere, as Millwall advanced to the semi-finals for the first time since 1937. There, they would meet fellow second-tier side Sunderland, for a place in the FA Cup final.
On a day when the number four came to the fore, Cahill's 25th-minute strike sent the Lions into their first ever FA Cup final.
For fans of omens, Millwall's number four scored the winner, while Jason McAteer, Sunderland's number four, received his marching orders in the second half. There was four minutes of stoppage time given at the end of the game, also. The date? 04-04-04.
And so to the grandest stage of them all – the FA Cup final. The game was its predictably anti-climactic self, as Manchester United's class and power took over. They secured the trophy with a 3-0 win, thanks to a Ruud van Nistelrooy double (one offside, one a debatable penalty) and a Cristiano Ronaldo header right on half time. But the day belonged to the Lions.
Even after the second and third goals, the Millwall roar could be heard over United's celebrations. At the end of the game, the Red Devils may have been celebrating with the trophy, but the real adulation and applause came from the blue end of the Millennium Stadium – this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and everyone was going make the day unforgettable.
It'd be nice to get there again, though, wouldn't it?