22 March ~ Things could hardly be better for Millwall fans with nine wins in 11 games putting their team six points behind second-placed Leeds ahead of tonight’s trip to Elland Road. But while success is not unusual in football – every club has a good spell at one time or another – having it spearheaded by a figure like Neil Harris is something that must be the envy of fans of other clubs.
Harris has already acquired legendary status as Millwall's all-time leading goalscorer with 134 goals. This is even more remarkable when you consider that to set the he had to overcome testicular cancer to beat the record previously held by Teddy Sheringham. However, most extraordinary is that the Neil Harris of today – at 32 and with 400-plus appearances behind him – is performing arguably as well as at any time in his career.
Normally a player’s rank among club legends is judged only after he has retired. Which is what makes the Harris situation so unique. Almost every one of his appearances this season has provoked the realisation among Millwall fans that they are witnessing one of the club’s all-time icons at the top of his game.
With 17 goals so far under his belt, it is by far Harris’s most prolific season since cancer struck in summer 2001, a matter of days after being crowned the third tier’s top scorer with 28 goals for a championship-winning Millwall team. Other statistics are even more convincing, such as the player’s goal-to-minute ratio – one every 95 – making him the country’s third most frequent scorer behind Roman Pavlyuchenko and Lee Trundle (yes, that sentence was not a misprint).
Even this does not tell you the full story. Harris’s vision on the ball, running off it and overall aura seem to inspire all around him to achieve greater things the moment he enters the pitch. Witness the much-improved performance and three goals that followed his arrival as a 64th-minute substitute in last week’s 4-0 win against Charlton.
And it does not tell you just how much Millwall supporters will miss Harris when he finally does hang up his boots. For while seeing Harris in full flow is a true privilege and evokes a real sense of pride, there remains a lingering sadness that this man’s remarkable Millwall story will one day have to come to an end. Stephen Eighteen