As a young non-league player, everybody wanted me to succeed. Everyone wants to find a non-league gem, don’t they, but it means I probably got more time than most. The club were in League One and going the young route, so it wasn’t just me. Tim Cahill (above), Steven Reid, Richard Sadlier, Paul Ifill, Marc Bircham. I was very fortunate to come through with some really good players and really good lads.
One night stands out from that time. I had just broken into the first team and we played Manchester City at home on a Tuesday night. We drew 1-1, I scored the goal, and the atmosphere at The Den was electric. I remember it as if it was yesterday – scoring the goal, feeling the atmosphere, the sense that washed over me. This is it. This is me. This is home. Where I want to be.
I believed I would always end up back at Millwall. As a player, I came back in the first place because it felt like I had unfinished business. I wanted to be the club’s record goalscorer. I’d been away for a couple of years, and it dawned on me while I was away that I had never really played very well anywhere other than here.
“Ian Holloway then left, and the club asked me to take over”
Don’t get me wrong – the location was first-class for me. But it felt like home, and I had missed it. Really missed that connection with the fans. They got the best out of me – the club got the best out of me – and I wanted to come back.
I had that desire. You can’t make it up, and you certainly can’t make it up at this club. There’s having the winning mentality, the desire to win, and then there’s doing it in a Millwall shirt. You will lose games, and you will get criticised, but you’ve got to be able to take it. To have that extra edge, that hardness about your shell. That’s what David Livermore (below) and I looked for in our players. We wanted them to be stubborn, resilient, nasty – but top lads too.
Kenny Jackett was the manager when I came back to the club. I’d just started doing my coaching badges, so was getting to a stage where I was really interested in what was being said. As coaches, Kenny and the late, great Ray Harford were the best I worked under when it came to delivering a message. They both kept things so simple. Was it because they weren’t going into much depth, or was it because they didn’t want to overcomplicate things? Was it just their style? Whatever it was, it worked, and the players reacted to it.