Millwall player profile – Tony Craig (03-07; 08-12; 15-present)

© Millwall FC
© Millwall FC

If you're looking for the true definition of 'Real 'Wall', then look no further than Tony Craig.

From his ascension through the youth ranks to the current season, 'TC' has made over 250 appearances for Millwall, scoring eight goals.

Those games have been spread over three permanent spells and one loan. After his initial arrival on the scene in 2003, he was sold to local rivals Crystal Palace (a place Craig didn't enjoy his time at, by his own admission) in 2007, before re-joining less than a year later. After a four-year spell back at The Den, the defender moved across London to Brentford, but found himself plying his trade in SE16 once more from July 2015.

Craig epitomises what Millwall is all about; he wears his heart on his sleeve during every single game, puts his body on the line with every challenge and possesses the same kind of passion, energy and commitment that the Den faithful have – and demand – in abundance.

The defender was handed his professional debut by Mark McGhee in April 2003, as the Lions took on Nottingham Forest in the penultimate game of the season. Craig lasted 67 minutes before being replaced by Robbie Ryan in a 3-3 draw, but he returned to the side a week later for his first Den start in the final game of the campaign against Coventry City.

TC was replaced once more by Ryan, this time in the 70th minute, but not before he had scored his first professional goal 19 minutes previously, as he fired home a left-footed shot from Andy Roberts' through ball.

The following campaign saw Craig make eight appearances under McGhee, but after his sacking in the October, new manager Dennis Wise completely froze the youngster out of the picture. He did not feature for the remainder of the season, which sparked rumours of an early exit from The Den.

In fact, the defender had to wait nearly 18 months for his next start, which came in a 1-0 defeat at Stoke City on February 19, 2005. After such a lengthy absence, Craig found himself occupying the left-back slot for the next 10 games, before losing out to Kevin Muscat before the 1-1 draw with West Ham United on April 16.

Wise's departure in the summer of 2005 allowed the left-back to force his way into first-team matters more regularly and despite the disastrous 2005-06 campaign ending in relegation to League One, Craig made 26 league starts. Although nine yellow cards and two reds stopped him from making more!

Thirty appearances (which included a fourth-minute red card at Leyton Orient – one of the fastest in Lions history) in the 2006-07 season cemented Craig as a first-team regular – he finished the year by doubling his goal total with a strike in the final-day 2-2 draw with Bradford City.

Craig missed nearly all of 2007-08 after making an ill-fated £150,000 move to Selhurst Park in the summer, but he returned on loan at the end of March and played at left-back in a 2-0 defeat at AFC Bournemouth. From there, the defender completed four of the final five games of the campaign as a centre-back, notching the third goal of his Millwall career in a 3-0 victory over Carlisle United in the last home game.

After re-signing in the summer of 2008, TC only missed four games (all due to suspension!) in a season that saw the club lose out in the League One play-off final to Scunthorpe United.

In a year that saw the defender play in every position across the back four, as well as in central midfield and on the left wing (yes, really), Craig scored twice, in a 3-2 defeat at Scunthorpe and once in a 2-0 win at struggling Hereford United.

The following season was eventful, as the Lions went one better, winning promotion via a 1-0 play-off final win over Swindon Town, but Craig's year did not get off to the best of starts. After only making two appearances in the first 13 games, November 21 saw bottom-placed Wycombe Wanderers visit The Den.

The Lions lost 2-0 in a freak result, but the defender's afternoon was ended in the 12 minute thanks to a boot to the face from Gareth Ainsworth. Craig required surgery, but would not let the injury deter him. He returned, complete with face mask, for the stunning 4-4 draw at Charlton Athletic on December 19 and only missed three games on the club's march to glory.

Despite the club's success, the defender's year ended on a slightly sour note as he was forced off the field at Wembley shortly before half-time through injury – not that that stopped him from joining in the celebrations on his crutches, though!

That injury kept Craig out until late September in Millwall's first season back in the Championship. He made his return at centre-back in a 2-1 Capital One Cup defeat against Ipswich Town.

The Lions would go on to finish ninth that term, before only a seven-game unbeaten run towards the end of 2011-12 saved the club from relegation the following campaign. TC was reduced to just 21 starts in a season that saw the strike partnership of Harry Kane and Andy Keogh lift the Lions away from the drop zone just at the right time.

After the final game of the season (a 2-2 draw with Blackpool), Craig moved away from south London once more, this time joining Brentford for an undisclosed fee. The defender would go on to enjoy a relatively successful spell at Griffin Park, captaining the side to a play-off final, but he was released in the summer of 2015. Neil Harris, recently appointed as the Lions' permanent boss, snapped up Craig on a free transfer, bringing him back to his spiritual home for a third time and making him club captain.

His third debut came at Shrewsbury Town on the opening day of this season, but after not missing a minute of the first 19 games, a heroic tackle to a block a James Hanson shot in a game against Bradford City on October 31 ruled Craig out for the majority of the season.

The defender returned to the match-day squad for the trip to Coventry City on April 16 and made his on-field comeback in the final moments of the 3-1 win at Bury a week later.

 Tony Craig – real 'Wall.

Mark Litchfield