If ever a side spent longer at the top of a division and ended up being relegated in the same season, Millwall fans would like to hear about it. Paul Casella that other clubs may learn a few lesson's from his teams experience
Lesson One – Player Managers
Kenny Dalglish began the trend, and proved it could be done at the highest level, but all he had to do was follow the guidelines set out in the ‘Liverpool Way’ handbook.
There were no such guidelines for Mick McCarthy to follow and, unlike others, he didn’t contribute too much to the ‘player’ side of the dual role. So to enable him to cross the boundary from being one of the lads, to being a boss, he replaced Bruce Rioch’s totalitarian regime with a more cuddly, friendly one, thus immediately gaining the affection of his new charges. But give ’em an inch etc. Last season Millwall players totted up 73 yellow and an astonishing 7 red cards, some of which came in crucial matches. This ill-discipline and the subsequent suspensions were a major factor in the inconsistency of team selection. By the end of the season Millwall had used 32 players – a club record.
Lesson Two – Take Each Game As It Comes
For some reason in recent years Millwall have begun to fancy themselves as a far bigger club than they actually are. Maybe it could be because of the new ground, or because we have all grown used to seeing players like Ruddock, Cooper, Sheringham and Armstrong. However, even though they were running out of star names to sell, the general attitude throughout the club allowed the existing players to think they, too, were stars. (After all, in Division One only Wolves spent more money on players than Millwall last season.) As soon as they topped the table in September the players began to strut. They knew they were good enough to be top, and even though they lost five games on the trot , and were drubbed 6-0 at Sunderland, they were still top. They began to think they were indestructible and the inexperienced McCarthy simply did not know what to do about it.
Lesson Three – Expensive Foreigners
Millwall dragged a couple of Russian internationals out of the Champions League and gave them five grand a week to pose in front of 9,000 people. What the club expected from them is beyond me. Would they really risk promising careers, potential big money movers from Moscow, not to mention Euro ’96 places, by putting all their effort in and failing just to help Millwall gain promotion from the Endsleigh? It was never likely; they put no effort in and failed.
Lesson Four – Don’t Believe The Hype
Many think the speculation about Mick McCarthy and the Eire job was the key reason behind Millwall’s decline at the turn of the year. (This, we imagine, is how Jimmy Nicholl was sold the job.) Sure the uncertainty took its toll, but the rot had already set in, and the speculation merely gave the players, and the club, a much needed excuse for the decline in form. No-one blames Nicholl for Millwall’s relegation – how could he have known he was taking over a team whose attitudes were akin to lottery winners rolling up to the factory to hand in their notice?
Lesson Five – What’s A Hero Anyway?
Ben Thatcher is Millwall’s best player and rightly won the supporters’ Player of the Year award. Yet he received one five star rating in the local newspaper all season – in the last game. The Millwall players, to a man, never even considered relegation until that last game, which in many seasons would have been understandable when you consider that although though they had scored only 43 goals, they had gathered 52 points. The performance was good enough to deny Ipswich a play-off place, but not to save the Lions from the most easily avoidable relegation in history.
Lesson Six – You Get What You Pay For
We often read of 1970s football heroes who have hit hard times. These days, however, even average First Division players can earn enough in five years to set themselves up for life. This fact that was at the core of Millwall’s problems last season. Other big paying clubs like Wolves and Norwich only narrowly avoided relegation themselves, whilst relatively poor paying clubs like Charlton and Stoke reached the play-offs. It was an amazingly even division in which anyone could have gone up or down, depending on attitude. Maybe it would be better if all this money everyone keeps talking about didn’t filter down from the Premiership. Then players would have to play well, to earn the life-styles they’re all beginning to get so easily accustomed to.
From WSC 113 July 1996. What was happening this month