By Hugo Greehalgh
THERE are few things in football more special than a player making his debut for his boyhood club. Billy Mitchell got to do that last season for Millwall, and even better, he did it alongside his best mate.
“It was an unbelievable experience. I had an inkling I might get on and it finally came true,” the young midfielder recalls. With 12 minutes to go and Millwall’s Championship safety assured, Neil Harris threw him on against Wigan Athletic in the final game of last season, along with George Alexander.
“Running out onto the pitch in front of all the Millwall fans, hearing them singing – and to do it alongside my mate George was an unbelievable experience,” he tells NewsAtDen. “Hopefully there’s a few more to come.”
George and Billy were among eight youngsters to sign professional terms with the club this year and as far as Mitchell is concerned, joining Millwall was a no-brainer and a natural step in his footballing progression.
“I grew up in Orpington but my dad’s family’s all from Bermondsey way, so Millwall’s always been in our blood and the team I grew up supporting,” he says. “It’s a pleasure to play for them and logistically it works great for me, being a local boy.
“I’ve watched many Millwall games, the atmosphere’s always great and that’s one of the things that enticed me to play for them, really. It’s a pleasure now being on that pitch.”
Some of the players who he used to cheer on from the stands he can now call his team-mates and Mitchell picks out a couple of figures who have helped in his development. “Shaun Williams, who’s been at the club for a few years,” he says. “Ben Thompson’s obviously come into the fold recently and he’s someone I look to model myself on.”
Having that exposure to the first team has been an important part of Mitchell’s education and he recognises how useful it will be for his game in the long-term. “It’s great experience and, to be fair, all the first-team guys have been really welcoming. They’ve really helped develop me into the player I am today.
“The tempo’s considerably higher and the physicality is much stronger compared to [under]-23s football but that’s something I look to embrace and it’ll help me become a better player, for sure.”
This is Mitchell’s first media interview but you wouldn’t know it. He is confident and assured, both in his manner and playing ability. “How many takes do I get?” he jokes, taking a seat in the stand at the Den – a place he is so familiar with.
He played his first competitive match of the new season last week, a 1-1 draw with Burnley under-23s at The Den. It was a decent run-out against physically tough opposition but Millwall grew into the game and Alexander was in the right place at the right time to net the equaliser.
“Classic George Alexander goal, in at the back post!” Mitchell smiles. “That’s what he does for our team, scores goals and helps us stay in games, so I’m pleased for him.”
Mitchell also got to line up alongside new loan signing Jayson Molumby, the Irish midfielder who joined from Brighton in the summer transfer window. Fresh from impressive performances captaining the Ireland under-21s at the Toulon Tournament, there is hope that he can have an impact on the first team this season.
“Since Jayson’s come in I’ve had quite a good relationship with him,” Mitchell says. “It’s nice to play with a lad with some international experience and I feel I can learn a bit off him. I get on with him really well.”
As for Mitchell’s own ambitions, he is getting his head down and just concentrating on the task at hand, as he sets some goals for this season. “I hope to have established myself in the 23s as a mainstay, performing well regularly and hopefully giving the gaffer [Neil Harris] something to think about in terms of breaking into his first team.”
“Obviously still being young, there’s still plenty of time to improve,” he adds. “I’ve had a talk with the gaffer, he’s been really good to me and really supportive. Hopefully if things go well and I can continue to perform in the 23s, then I can be in and around the first team.”
With that kind of attitude, Mitchell could well be on course for a memorable career at his boyhood club.
Image: Millwall FC