Entering the Lions’ Den

Steve working on the training ground with Josh Wright and James Henry. Picture courtesy of Brian Tonks at Millwall FC

By David Hennessy

“It just seems that every time Millwall is mentioned, that negativity comes up,” says new Millwall manager Steve Lomas when asked if there is a sense around the club of needing to repair a tattered reputation following ugly scenes involving their fans at Wembley in April. “I think what I would say is the club behind the scenes have gone to extraordinary lengths to bring football to the community, to diverse cultures, to kick racism out: All these initiatives that the club are trying to do and implement and I just think sometimes it’s a little bit of lazy journalism where people just jump on the negative. Of course the scenes at Wembley nobody wants to see but Millwall seems to be the only club that it’s ever labelled against. I think once you get a minority that want to cause trouble no matter what, it’s very hard for the club to do anything about that but I think I’d like to focus on the positive and what was a good cup run.”

Millwall did excellently to reach the FA Cup semi-final last season where their cup exploits ended at the hands of Wigan. This was their best performance in the cup since Dennis Wise led them to the 2004 final. However their big day out in Wembley would be another black day in their history when fans of the Lions turned on each other, undoing much of the good work the club has done to rid themselves of their image for hooliganism. The cup run also came at the expense of league form with the club falling into danger of relegation and only confirming their safety at the death: “The cup run was great for the club but obviously the main focus for me is that league. That’s got to be the bread and butter. To stay up on the last day of the season, I think at one stage we were down so we don’t want a repeat of that.”

Lomas, who played 45 times for Northern Ireland, spent eight seasons with Millwall’s bitter rivals West Ham during his playing career, even captaining The Hammers, and has already tasted the displeasure of some Millwall fans following his appointment, seeing a banner reading ‘f**k off Lomas’ draped across the gates at The Den. However, the new leader of the pride is unconcerned. Focused on the job in hand, Steve aims to win the Millwall faithful over with results and turn The Den into the fortress it used to be: “The welcome’s been fine. People at the club have been fantastic. Obviously the West Ham connections are an issue for some people but the majority has been positive. I think it’s like anything, they just want to see their team do well and obviously I’m delighted and feel very privileged to be their manager. It’s something I’m very focused on doing well in.

“I played at The New Den a couple of times. It was an intimidating place for the away team. Hopefully we can recreate that and we can get the fans fully onside by the manner in which we play. I think that’s one thing Millwall fans are renowned for. If the team give it everything: win, lose or draw, they back their team and they get behind it and one thing we would like to do is improve the home from this year and obviously give our home crowd something to shout about.”

Steve gives the instructions during one of his first games at The Den. Picture courtesy of Brian Tonks at Millwall FC

Lomas has strengthened his squad for the new campaign with signings such as Lee Martin, Scott McDonald and Stephen Bywater: “I think the group’s a very welcoming group and I think that’s gonna be important: Our spirit this year has got to good. We’ve got to stick together. There will be times when we won’t win and it’s how we bounce back from that then, that we don’t let it go into a bad run of form. I think that’s always a mark of a good team’s spirit: How you bounce back from adversity and in the Championship where it’s relentless, you’re going to have to do that at stages of the season.”

Another new addition is Steve Morison who has come to The Den on a season long loan from Leeds United. Steve is a familiar face at The Den where he played from 2009 to 2011: “He knows the club and we’re delighted to have Steve. He had a very successful period here and got a really good move to Norwich and did really well. It didn’t work out at Leeds for whatever reason which sometimes happens. He’s come back to a place that he’s familiar with and hopefully he hits that same run of form that he was in before he left.”

Steve sees this as a big year for his Irish international striker Andy Keogh

Morison has already linked up well with Republic of Ireland international forward Andy Keogh: “Andy’s a very good professional and supremely fit guy. It’s a big season for Andy. I believe he could be a starter with Republic. He’s got that in his locker and you look at his record and he’s probably been a bit unselfish in how he’s played. He’s probably in the past made other strikers look good. He’s a very good foil for other strikers. I hope he still continues in that same unselfish vein but that he starts getting a few goals himself because I think he’s more than capable.”

Another Irish international in Steve’s squad is the current Republic of Ireland number one David Forde who, now 33, has come to the fore only in recent years: “David’s a prime example of a tough mentality and suffering a knockback early in his career and bouncing back. He came across from Ireland, had to go back across, fought his way back again and it’s been a tremendous climb in the last five or six years that David’s had. He’s obviously now got the number one jersey for the Republic and it’s thoroughly deserved after last season.”

For the full interview, see the August 10 print edition of The Irish World.


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