TOM King admitted he understood Neil Harris’ decision to release him this summer – and he insisted he had no regrets about his time at Millwall.
Harris was the first manager King played for after joining the Lions having left Crystal Palace in 2014. Harris was the under-21 boss and handed King his senior professional debut in a 2-1 League Cup defeat to Nottingham Forest in August 2016.
King had several loan spells, the last at AFC Wimbledon last season, where by his own admission, it didn’t go to plan and he was recalled in January.
The 24-year-old goalkeeper is out of contract at the end of this month, and he was told by Harris he was being released.
King admitted the news wasn’t a great surprise.
“Football is a strange game in the sense that you’re getting told different things and I kind of had a feeling the goalkeeping department at Millwall would have quite a shake-up in the summer,” King told NewsAtDen. “Whether it included me or not I wasn’t really sure at the time.
“Nobody was particularly pleased with the way it ended up at Wimbledon, the game time was cut short which was not what anyone wanted.
“I understood. I had a good chat with [Harris]. He explained to me his thoughts. He explained that he couldn’t see me playing in his first team in the next season or so. For lack of a better way to put it it was almost like wasting time by offering me a new contract.
“I completely understood. I’m quite a mature boy for my age and I try to understand people’s views and opinions quite respectfully and in quite a calm manner. I knew that if I was going to be honest with myself then not playing a major part in League One team I was never going to find myself as the No. 1 in a Championship team.
“There are obviously always ifs and buts and things that we could have done differently, but I don’t regret my time at Millwall. No chance.”
King made all of his 11 first-team league appearances in that 2016-17 season he was given his first-team debut.
An injury to Jordan Archer had given him his chance, and though he performed impressively, Harris recalled Archer once he had regained his fitness. King was on the bench at Wembley in the League One play-off final in May, when Archer made a crucial save against Bradford before Steve Morison scored a late winner.
King accepted Harris’ decision to put Archer back in the side.
“From a professional footballer’s standpoint, you always want to feel you can play a part in the team,” King continued. “There were so many question marks around my name at the time, I’d only played bits of Conference football.
“At that point I was just very happy to be considered to be in the team when Jordan had his injury. I grew into the role. I was excited to be in the team, the adrenaline was there for me.
“Then being taken out when Jordan was fit again was kind of my first real taste of heartbreak in professional football. That was a new learning experience for me, but one that I don’t regret. The manager had to make a decision for what he thought was right at the time. I had a conversation with him many, many a time when he made that decision.
“It paid off in the end [with Archer in goal when Millwall won promotion in 2017]. I wish I had played a bigger role in that but sometimes you have to sacrifice yourself for the needs of the time and that’s exactly how it turned out. It turned out to be the correct decision and a memorable day for all of us.”
Millwall finished eighth in the Championship the following season, which King spent the second half of at Stevenage.
Last season the side struggled, with Harris admitting after the last home game that he felt he had been let down by some members of his squad.
“I’m obviously only going to speak on behalf of myself being in that dressing room,” King stressed. “I think there might have been lads that were frustrated with the amount of opportunities they had. But that is widespread across football, that’s not just Millwall.
“That’s just lads who don’t get opportunities who feel like they deserve opportunities and normally they can become quite lethargic, let their training standards drop. It’s kind of similar to when I came out of the team, you do as much as you can when you’re on the pitch to earn your place for the next week and the next week, but football sometimes doesn’t work like that.
“We had quite a good mix the year we got promoted and the following year, with the older pros and the younger pros coming through as well.”
King will join Newport County officially from July 1. Mike Flynn’s side reached the League Two play-off final last season where they lost 1-0 to Sid Nelson’s Tranmere at Wembley.
King explained why he chose to join the Welsh side.
“I had a couple of options in League One to go and challenge No. 1 goalies. And there were a couple of options in League Two to go and be the No. 1 and go and play some football. I thought that going and playing was vital, I’m at such an important stage in my career now where I have to prioritise games over everything.
“That automatically ruled out the League One options for me. After speaking with [Flynn], and knowing some of the players, I got some of their opinions and I thought it would be a really good fit for me.
“The manager wants a personality like me and I’m a similar build and size to the [goalkeeper] that looks like he’s going to be departing. Hopefully I can fit straight in.”
Image: Millwall FC