IT may have taken Tim Cahill almost 14 years and a career on three continents before he returned to Millwall – but only a couple of days back and he is already part of the Thursday Club.
That’s the latest club tradition initiated by Steve Morison where a group of players go to a local kebab restaurant on a Thursday evening with the bulk of the week’s work done.
Lions midfielder Shaun Williams has added Cahill to the players’ WhatsApp group, and the new addition is already calling team-mates ‘Sav’, ‘Jed’, ‘Hutch’, ‘Coops’ and ‘Thommo’.
Cahill spoke to ‘Moro’ – the club’s new skipper – early this week and promised: “Anything you need, mate, I’m here to help.”
That was one of the themes of his first official press conference. His may be perhaps the most sentimental and emotional signing in the club’s history, but he was eager to stress he wants to be recognised for the energy he will bring, the example he will be to younger players at the club.
His presence at The Den on Thursday brought much higher media numbers than the pre-match press conferences before the FA Cup games against then-Premier League champions Leicester City and Tottenham last season.
Certainly no other signing in Millwall’s history has generated this much interest, but for all the excitement Cahill was relaxed and thoughtful as he did his broadcast interviews before sitting down with a group of newspaper and online journalists.
He spoke at length about what it meant to be “home”, his reception at The Den on Tuesday night, his thinking behind the move, his former team-mates and now-manager Neil Harris and assistant Dave Livermore, how he sees himself fitting into and contributing to the side and much more.
His return and meeting his new team-mates
"You’re just thankful for every opportunity. I played with Rhino – Keith Stevens – I played with all these players that this was their life, this was what they chose. I played with some great players and it’s no coincidence why Dennis Wise and Ray Wilkins wanted to come here.
"I was sitting with Rhino in Queensland just really talking about our time here. Is it the right decision? Should I go to another club? He was like, ‘If I have to go out and put you on the airplane myself, I’ll walk you in’. That’s why it comes down to me now. How fit can I be? I want people not to say, ‘aw, he’s 38’. I want people to focus on energy, fitness levels.
"You’ve got to come up to scratch with the way they play. I was speaking with the club captain Moro today, speaking with the boys and they already know what I’m all about. When you get in the trenches with the boys that’s what you build.
"Willo texted me last night saying you’re in the group chat. These lads already understand why I’m here. It’s awesome. Tonight we’ll go out for dinner together. You infuse yourself quickly, but they know everything about me from what they’ve seen.
"I’m in, I’m already in the group chat. That’s the thing at Millwall, no one’s different. You stay on the level path with the lads. I think that’s why I’m still playing, I’ve never put myself in a different pedigree. At Everton, same thing, there were no egos. Everything was about football, about the team first.
"That’s why I don’t want to talk about a World Cup. It’s unforeseen circumstances, injuries. Touch wood we all get there but no one’s guaranteed. Football is a funny world. Anything can happen at the last minute."
The club he left and the one he has returned to
"If anything, the place hasn’t changed much. A lot of the people, the staff that work here, they’re fans. They are part of the mould, which is tough in some clubs because you can’t get it.
"That’s the similarity with Everton. You know, the masseuse had an Everton tattoo. I’ve got Millwall and Everton on my skin for a reason, it’s part of my life, it’s helped give me what I created. I’ve been loyal to those two football clubs because of what they’ve given me. They’ve helped give me my career, they’ve moulded me. And so have the fans.
"I was the kid that was never going to make it. When you go back you never forget how it started.
"I’m in a professional environment. I’m giving myself every opportunity to help."
When he arrived the first time at Millwall in 1997
"Everyone knows my background. When the young lads see me at the training ground at Millwall, I spoke to half of them, they didn’t have to clean the showers, they didn’t have to clean three pairs of boots at once. It’s changed in a way in that sense.
"We had no choice, me, Mark Bresciano, Vinny Grella, Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka. We had to stay here and fight it out, keep playing, keep playing because there were no other options. Now obviously players can go anywhere, get good contracts.
"It’s very surreal sitting where I’m sitting now and I’m not going to waste a moment. My family have supported me, they’ll go back and base themselves in New Jersey, it’s not too far away, six hours from here to London. But they know that this is right for all of us. There are not many years left in me as a footballer. Maybe in other leagues that are not as competitive as this.
"I just wanted to make sure, I had two or three Championship clubs as options, that I was making the right decision as a footballer. Millwall obviously is my home.
"I’ve always been realistic in my career, I’ve always wanted to be as competitive as possible. I want to train every day and the lads will be able to see what they are dealing with.
"As you get older you become wiser, when you play with better players, when you speak to managers. You want to keep up with them and if not you want to try and do better."
His role models during his first spell
"Keith Stevens. Still my best mate now, one of my closest mates. He taught me a lot about Millwall. He was probably the one that kicked me first when I first came here. He’s the manager that first played me, even when I was playing badly.
"And he gave me my first decent contract, where I could help my family put a deposit on a house in Australia. He’s been in Australia for a long time and he’s someone I trust.
"But there are so many legends and players I still speak to: Paul Ifill, Joe Dolan, I saw Dunney [Alan Dunne] the other night. It’s part of a family, everyone always comes back in some shape or form.
"Livers, me and him were midfield partners and now he’s my coach. It’s just amazing, the people the gaffer has kept at this club. The staff, the people around him, the kitman. All those sorts of things help with what the club is, it’ll never change. That’s what’s made it so special."
His reintroduction at The Den on Tuesday night
"The other night was incredible. I’ve always appreciated it. It’s always going to be here, no one is going to be able to move this football club and the fans. It’s generations. It’s kids. There are photos being sent to me on social media of kids being like this (lowers hand) and now they’re men. It’s a nice feeling and it’s amazing.
"But now it’s about me trying to contribute. I’m thankful to the gaffer and the club for giving me this opportunity. I’m excited, but I’m relaxed and content with the way everything is going. Every day all I’ve got to think about is getting up, going to training, finishing, recovering and then the Thursday Club with the lads."
The reaction of Lions fans on social media
"It’s crazy, but that’s good because a lot of attention is on the football club that it deserves. The lads like social media, so I will fit right in. I had to go off it for a couple of days because I was here.
"It’s just been amazing to be around the lads, the youngsters, local boys playing for the club. I know I can do so much in training, I know I can help them.
"My phone has been going crazy, but it’s a compliment at my age to have that."
Neil Harris the team-mate and Neil Harris the manager
"The good thing about me and Neil is that there is a line. He is still the manager, I’m still a player. I’ve chosen not to go on the other side. I want to stay on this side. When you want to go on the other side, take your boots off. But I’m not ready for that. It’s simple.
"My thing is to train. Neil is honest, and that’s the key for any player.
"It’s takes someone to know the club and understand the club to run a club and bring the stability that he has done. That’s one of the things I admire about him. We’ve matured as players, the gaffer as the manager. It’s unbelievable really.
"Just spending the four days with the lads, there’s a great chemistry amongst them. It’s all infused with the way the gaffer treats them, before the game with his team-talks and afterwards. It’s just amazing."
The prospect of a playing with Steve Morison
"I’ve spoken to Moro, he’s the club captain. The first thing I said was: ‘Anything you need, mate, I’m here to help.’ The biggest key is getting infused straightway with the lads. He’s been amazing, 13 assists, two goals. I know Morison, I know everything about him. I’ve watched videos.
"I know about the players: Sav, Jed, Fergie, Mezza, Coops, Hutch, Conor… I know everything about every single player because I love football."
Meeting Ben Thompson – who calls Cahill his “boyhood hero”
"I said today if Thommo’s not going to the Thursday club I’m not going. He’ll be one of my best mates here now. I was that kid, too. I was that kid when I came here as a 16-year-old looking up to the older players. Even when Wisey signed here it was ‘wow’.
"I was that kid when I went to Everton. Tommy Gravesen went to Real Madrid. There is so much. When I went to New York Red Bulls playing with Thierry Henry, I was that kid, even though I was older.
"I know how it is for him, and now we’re mates, now we’re hanging out and that is one of the beautiful stories that has come out of this already."
The offers from other Championship clubs
"It’s not really to talk about because I’m here. As a professional footballer it’s all about making the right decision. It was awesome to speak to other managers and understand the way they play and things like that. But you know you’re not coming back just as a 38-year-old that’s not wanted.
"You look at the squads, you look at who needs a striker. In the end it was a massive compliment to me at my age.
"Millwall is pretty much who I am. You’ve just got to wait, the whole package of it. You have to be realistic with every single thing. For me as a player and the gaffer, yeah we played together but it’s all about football. When you make decisions on football alone and everyone wants to do it for the right reasons, then it’s a no-brainer.
"I was in such a professional environment in camp with the conditioning coach in Australia, the physio, the staff of Australia [national side] gave me anything I needed for me to stay fit. I’d sat down with them and I said I was going for the Championship. It’s a difficult league and everyone thinks 'why he is doing it?'. I’m not scared of failing, I want to try as hard as I possibly can for as long as possible."
Striker or midfielder?
"For the Socceroos I have only ever been a striker. Everton, back when they couldn’t afford a striker, moved me up top. I scored a few goals and that was it. We did really well.
"The key is understanding the players around you. This team here is something like the third in the league in creating chances. Don’t think I haven’t done my homework across the board. Two out-and-out strikers. It’s exciting.
"I want to be in the final third, I only want to be around that 18-yard box and I want to be a nuisance. I see it as just a good opportunity. There are no expectations on me from the gaffer, from me to the gaffer. When that’s clear, just play, train."
His legendary jumping ability
"The thing is if there is a ball there it always helps. I said with vertical leap testing, you can do this testing all you want but there is nothing to jump for. For me, if there is something there and an end product you always find an extra inch here and there.
"It’s timing as well, and as you get older it’s experience and understanding your team-mates."
Another potential FA Cup run
"I hadn’t signed yet and I was watching the game against Rochdale and when Thommo scored I was doing cartwheels. I was going to do the medical the next day and I was buzzing. A cup run is everything. You walk around here it’s everywhere, what we created, what we did [in 2004].
"The gaffer has built that same sort of team but with a lot more cultured footballers, better footballers and with the intensity at the same time."
Cahill mentioned potentially 30 more games in his playing career, could it be more?
"You can always change that number, you can change the ‘3’ to an ‘8’ if you want. I just think the project now is Millwall. It’s how can I give something back to the club that made me. That’s been the case the whole time. There were no negotiations with Neil, it was just making sure everyone was comfortable and if this wasn’t the club then I would be with another Championship club, playing.
"If it means me sitting on the bench, no problems. There are four new signings, really good signings. The squad looks like we’re building well. They’ve all bought into the team.
"I’m ambitious. I’m not scared of failing, don’t get me wrong. It’s the reality. I started with nothing. That mentality has always guided me through the right way.
"I was managed well and I’m still being managed well. They get all my data every day. Today I finished training and they say you’ve done six [kilometres]. I’m lucky that my family have allowed me to have this five months, to say, ‘okay, we know the bigger picture, soon dad’s not going to be that robot no more’.
"I had a great time in Australia, 18 months living in Australia, chilled out, one game a week, no pressure. Now I’m saying okay let’s go, let’s kick it on a bit. Even training in this environment, it’s on a whole different level and I can see it, feel it already, in four days.
"The key thing here is how do you want to go if selected for a World Cup? The most competitive, demanding league, training with these sorts of players. Just being at the training ground today, 10 v 11, I’m the number 10 up front by myself, running, getting a touch on the ball, it’s physical. That is what I wanted, that training is priceless at my age with that sort of group.
"Every single player I’ve played with professionally who now manages will say don’t retire if you can still run, don’t do it. Some of them backed up a bit early and they miss it. You’ve got to be realistic as your body ages, preserving the body if you still want to play for the national team."
Biding time for a second debut
"Whenever they want to throw you in you never say no. I know as well as anything being in a team environment it’s about getting up the kilometres, the runs one after the other, closing down.
"We can all get excited and want to play tomorrow but there are 18, 20 games. I’m patient. I’m more patient than I have ever been as a footballer. I’m not focusing on game time, I’m focusing on what comes with being with a Championship club, to get in the squad to play a game.
"I think all the right things are there, it’s about biding my time."
Any finally, will it be a happy ending?
"It’s always going to be a happy ending because I have come home. All I can do is help on and off the pitch. I think the beauty of this is you’re not coming back and demanding anything of the club that gave you the opportunity. That showed with how quickly everything was done.
"I didn’t even need to read the contract, I just signed it and it was done. I had to get over a lot of hurdles to get to where I am and to get free. It’s just the opportunity to play in this league, it’s hard to turn down. It’s very easy not to come here and some people might think, 'what’s he doing, it’s too tough, take the easy route'. But I don’t think in any part of my career I have taken the easy route.
"I’ve been there and done it, but this is an amazing achievement to be sitting where I am right now."
Image: Millwall FC