They’ve tackled their hooligan problem and now they’re in an FA cup final – these are good times for my old club Millwall. Words Tony Cascarino
Meaningless friendly? I don’t think Ireland versus the Czech Republic was meaningless to Robbie Keane and Damien Duff who showed again last Wednesday that they’re world class players. I’m not saying that David Beckham and Michael Owen weren’t injured, but it says a lot about the respective team spirits that England always have more high profile withdrawals than Ireland. Damien was just six days away from the biggest club game of his career against Arsenal, yet there he was running his socks off. It’s the same mentality as Liam Brady who, even when he was at Juventus, was desperate to play in every game no matter how Mickey Mouse it might’ve seemed. He bothered because it meant a lot to him, and I’m not sure if the England lads have that same commitment.
Keane and Duff being there game in, game out is also a huge compliment to Brian Kerr who’s come in for a bit of stick over the way he prepares for games. Personally speaking, five minutes of watching a team to see how a certain player cuts in on his right foot or the centre-halves squeeze up leaving space in behind is fine, but after that you switch off. Certainly, I remember a couple of times when carefully prepared dossiers were glimpsed at and then chucked in the bin in favour of a card school!
Going back to the Czech game, I thought Maybury did okay at full-back; Ian Harte’s had some harsh things written about him in the Irish press, so it was nice to see him banging one in; Andy Reid was solid again; and Alan Lee looked like he might give us an extra dimension up front.
A lot of people wanted Sunderland to get through ’cause of the Mick McCarthy/Roy Keane aspect, but as someone who was a regular on the Old Den terraces for four years and then played for the club, I was thrilled with the Millwall victory. Theo Paphitis, their chairman, has done a fantastic job transforming the club. The reason that they were a thousand short of selling-out their Old Trafford allocation is that he decided on it being one ticket per member. He knew that if there was any hooliganism in or around the ground, all the hard work they’ve done would’ve gone down the toilet. Millwall’s got a huge fan base…the only problem is that half of them have got criminal records! No, for all the “No one likes us we don’t care” chants, the club has pretty much eliminated the nutter element. I’m a bit concerned that some of the lunatics will come out of retirement for the Cup Final, but if they do I don’t think anyone should blame Millwall who suffered a 30% cut in attendances as a result of their no troublemakers policy.
You’ve also got to say “fair dues” to Denis Wise who for the eighty-fifth time in his career has answered his critics by being a winner. No matter how badly crucified he is by the press, Wisey always bounces back. I mean it as a compliment when I say that I’ve never met a worse loser. He hates it which is why I think he’s going to end up a Premiership manager, either with Millwall or somebody else.
As for Manchester United, the sense I got being at Villa Park on Saturday is that they wanted it more than Arsenal. That was certainly the case with their supporters who, contrary to their prawn sandwich reputation, sung themselves hoarse. Arsene Wenger’s been criticised for his team selection, but his priority had to be keeping his key player, Thierry Henry, fresh for the Champions League game against Chelsea. In the same way that United downgraded its importance for a couple of seasons, Wenger was prepared to sacrifice a trip to the Millennium Stadium for winning a European trophy and I think the vast majority of Gunners fans will support him in that.
Everything points to there being only one winner in Cardiff, but if Millwall get stuck into United, who knows, we may be in for the biggest Cup Final upset since Wimbledon and Liverpool. I’ll certainly be there with my blue and white scarf on!