By David Hennessy
A lot has changed at Millwall FC in the last year. While Steve Lomas, who was in charge at the start of the last campaign felt talk of promotion was getting ‘ahead of ourselves’, current boss Ian Holloway has no doubt where he is taking the club and is not shy to say so either. “We will be in the premier league,” he told The Irish World during a recent media day at The Den where the first team squad were available for interview as well to pose for photos with fans and sign autographs.
Lomas was sacked after his second 0-4 defeat of the season. The team regularly conceded up to five in his short tenure but when Holloway, who has taken Blackpool and Crystal Palace up to the Premiership, assumed control in January, Millwall were immediately harder to beat.
Although they were looking at relegation, his team came up with an incredible finish to the season to ensure the Championship survival. Millwall stayed unbeaten for their final eight matches of the season. That’s championship form. If that’s what they are capable of, Holloway wants to see his team challenging at the other end of the table in this, his first full campaign.
Holloway has also improved training and match facilities at Millwall, allowing him to focus on the job in hand: “Hopefully this is just the start. I want to end and I know where we want to be, and we’re going to be there one day and I don’t know what day that is but, we will be in the premier league.
Holloway told us: “When you look at it, the boys have done so well. They really have. It’s a bit unfair because you (the press) haven’t seen it. It’s typical unfairness about what happens when people have got blinkers on, when people have got shortsightedness because of some things that have happened in the past, albeit a couple of years ago. What happened at Wembley didn’t help. In reality, we have got a wonderful reputation of being an honest, hard working club who no one likes and we don’t really care. I want to try and take that, embrace that and make it better.”
“We’re one step away from where everybody thinks is the promised land. That’s why we’re all excited and there’s a buzz about the place.”
The Irish World was at The Den this week to talk to Ian Holloway and his three Irish charges Republic of Ireland goalkeeper, Shaun Williams and ALan Dunne who has just been named captain for the new campaign.
Although there was reported interest from Celtic and QPR during the summer, Republic of Ireland goalkeeper chose to remain at Millwall. Forde’s career did not take off like it should have until relatively late. After starting with Galway United, he moved to Barry Town in Wales before earning a contract at West Ham United. But with chances limited, he went back to Galway, then on to Derry City before travelling across the water again to Cardiff City.
But it was not until he joined the South East London outfit in 2008 that Forde could finally settle and show what he was made of. He has seldom been out of the team since, has played in successful and unsuccessful play-off finals at Wembley, graced an FA Cup semi-final and of course, earned international recognition. The six years in SE16 have been the best of Forde’s career and that is why the goalkeeper decided to turn down the chance to play in the top flights of both England and Scotland to stay with The Lions.
Forde tells The Irish World: “It’s nearly like a fate thing with me where I feel there’s unfinished work here to be done. I’ve always said it, I would love to get Millwall into the premier league. I think it would be a fantastic addition to the premier league because I think the premier league sometimes needs a bit of spice and Millwall certainly add a bit of that with their raw passion and power.
“I’ve unfinished work here and I love playing at this club and the club suits me. There were a couple of opportunities that involved me moving away but from the top down, everyone’s pulling towards the bigger thing which is that one day hopefully we get promoted.
“You can see in the championship the last few years, anything is possible, with your Blackpools, Burnleys and other unfancied sides going up. There’s no guarantee, just because you have a bigger budget doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to get promoted. I think we could be very competitive this year. You get off to a good start and maintain it, you never know. It’s very optimistic around here and you can see this morning, there’s a real energy about the place and I think it could be a good year.
“Get this place rocking, it’s a difficult place to come and play your football for an away side so we’re hoping we can achieve that more often than not. If we get the crowds in, it can be a very intimidating place to come.”
The last time The Irish World spoke to David Forde, it was St Patrick’s Day 2011 when the Millwall goalkeeper was first included in one of Giovanni Trapattoni’s Republic of Ireland squads. Although he was the oldest player to make his Irish debut at the age of 31, he has featured prominently since and was Trapattoni’s favoured stopper after the international retirement of Shay Given. Had he known then, he would now have 20 caps to his name, he would surely have been delighted: “That’s very true, got first called up for Macedonia and Uruguay and it’s been phenomenal. It was a great year. To be sitting here with twenty caps is a great personal achievement and one that makes me so proud.”
How has Forde enjoyed his work so far with the new international management combination of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane? “It’s been great, we had a good three and a half weeks in the summer. We had a great performance against Italy and we probably should have won that one and it’s just that bit of luck is evading us at the moment. It’s still relatively new and their ideas are relatively new so I’m sure once September comes around, we’ll be firing on all cylinders. When the qualifiers come around, the whole mentality changes from friendlies.”
The Dunne thing
Although he is at Millwall FC since he was a very young child, there is something different about the forthcoming campaign for Alan Dunne from Dublin. This year, he will be leader of the pride as Ian Holloway has named him as his captain. After coming up through the youth ranks, Dunne made his debut for The Lions in 2001 and at the age of 31, has played for no other team. He is a firm fans’ favourite (fans voted him Player of the Year in 2010) and the man who has always been committed to Millwall FC is determined to skipper them to their ultimate goal which is promotion the Premiership. This is a goal everyone at Millwall believes is possible.
The team went eight games unbeaten to escape relegation last year. If they can start this campaign in such form, it will be good enough to mount a serious challenge: “We’re not looking to stay in the division, we’re aiming to get out of the division and into the top flight. The last couple of years, we’ve looked at it and thought, ‘right we’re working towards staying in the division’ but we’ve set our sights a lot higher this year. Finishing the end of last year, we’ve set the standards higher and we’ve got to live up to that now. It’s all about your mindset and the manager wants our mindset to aim for promotion and the top two and nothing else. I think it is a major factor. If we set your mindset to go out like that, who knows what we can achieve and where we can go with it.
“We finished with eight games unbeaten against some of the best sides. We know it’s going to be a tough season but we know if we stick to what we believe in and the manager’s way of tactics and stuff, we can start this season as we finished last season.”
“I’m very privileged to have been here since the age of ten, it’s a fantastic club and to play at one club and be trusted by a lot of different managers to keep me here and chairmen means a lot. I’m hoping to have another ten years here still and if I can finish my career here, it will be some worthwhile achievement and that’s my goal.”
Ian Holloway has an impressive record of managing promotion-winning teams and his arrival at Millwall brought about a turnaround in fortunes that saved them from relegation. What is it about the man that inspires such performances? “No disrespect to Kenny, I think Kenny’s one of the best I’ve worked with, but Holloway’s a step above him. He’s been there, done it, he’s very experienced, he’s managed over 800 games, he’s not someone who can be kidded. He’s as honest as the day is long. He speaks the truth and his enthusiasm is infectious. He does a lot of meetings and a lot of talking but it is effective and he’s helping the team and the young players come through and teaching them the way we play and every player’s getting the chance. I think since he’s come in, he’s been a breath of fresh air and he wants hard work, he knows what’s expected and he’s been there, done it before in this division so he knows what’s needed.”
If Millwall are flying high in the championship, Alan could get a call from the Republic of Ireland set up: “I’d like to get a chance or at least have a chance to go and train and show what I can do there. Why it hasn’t happened, I’m not too sure but maybe at centre half I can offer something different. I feel I’m good enough and experienced enough to offer something at that level and who knows, if we’re having a good season here and we’re challenging in the top six, top ten, I might get a call up, I wouldn’t rule it out. I’m still only young, 31, especially at centre half and I feel I could offer a lot at that level.”
Shaun of the Den
27-year-old Shaun Williams was one of manager Ian Holloway’s first signings when he took over the reigns at Millwall. After impressing at Milton Keynes Dons, Williams wasted no time in establishing himself in the Millwall midfield as the team battled to secure their survival.
Is a championship charge from Millwall out of the question? “No I think that’s the mentality of the manager. He’s not settling for second best, we’re pushing for the top two and if that wasn’t the case, we’ll be hunting the play-offs down and I think it’s every bit as doable.
“From the manager’s perspective, he wants to keep the ball rolling and take the end of last season into this one. I think it looks sharp in pre-season, everyone’s hungry from the way the season finished.”
Shaun began his career with Drogheda United. He would have loan spells with Dundalk and Finn Harps. It was with Sporting Fingal that he was on the FAI Cup-winning team of 2009. He captained Sporting Fingal to Europa Cup qualification and was voted PFAI Young Player of the Year 2010. He signed for Milton Keynes Dons in 2011.
What can Shaun tell us of what it is like to work with a boss like Holloway? “I think he’s got a bit of both: Man management and football knowledge. His man management is fantastic. You can bring any problem to him and he’ll help you any way he possibly can and then again with football, his record speaks for itself with promotions and how well he’s done and the style of football is what has taken me to Millwalland that’s everything about him. Everybody wants to know him, great personality and good coach.”
Shaun has represented Republic of Ireland at Under 21 and Under 23 levels. If the club start competing at the top end of the division, he could force his way into the senior manager’s thoughts: “Obviously I would love to play for my country, that would make my career but I’m not just fixed on that. I want to stay stable in the team here and do as well as I can for the team and if we’re doing well and I’m doing well myself, hopefully things will fall into place after that.
“Before I came to England, I never thought I would be in the same team as the Irish number one. It’s brilliant. There’s some really good players here and Fordey’s definitely one of them.”
For a feature on Millwall, see the August 16 Irish World.