Michael Hart Reports
At the age of 24, Steve Lovell is suddenly forging a new career for himself as a centre forward with spectacular success.
So vigorous are his claims to a striking role in Millwall's Third Division promotion-chasing team that the Lions' manager George Graham is now reluctant to return him to his previous midfield duties.
Lovell, a full-back or midfield play for most of his career, has scored in the Seven games that span the month of October.
Indeed he has scored all of Millwall’s goals in their last five matches... One in the 1-1 Milk cup draw with Chelsea, Two in the 2-0 win over Brentford, One in the 1-1 draw with York, Two in the 2-0 win over Lincoln and One in the 1-1 draw with Bristol City.
That is a total of seven goals and must be some sort of record.
His total for the season is 12 goals in 17 matches and his prolific marksmanship wins him The Standard Footballer of the Month award - an inscribed silver salver and two magnums of Veuve Clicquot Champagne.
He scored nine goals in seven matches in October. The first three goals came while he was playing in midfield, then Graham switched him to centre forward because of an injury to Dean Neal.
“I had a thing at the back of my mind about him playing at centre forward,” recalled Graham. “I thought he could do it so I took a chance on him basically because I didn't have anyone else to play there.”
“Even when he's playing in midfield or at full back, he likes to get forward. He's not naturally a defensive player. Obviously I’m going to have a problem when everyone is fit, but while he's scoring at his present rate I've got to keep him at the front.”
Lovell was born in Swansea, his father Alan, now, a factory foreman, was a professional for ten years with Swansea and Stockport.
“My dad has been the main inspiration in my career,” he said. “We played together in the same side when I was 14 or 15 and every Sunday he would take me to the local field to give me coaching. He’d really put me through it for three hours.”
Lovell a Grammar School boy, won seven Wales schoolboy caps and after Malcolm Allison, then the Crystal Palace
manager had sent a scout to have a look at him, he was offered an apprenticeship at Selhurst Park.
He became a part of the outstanding Palace Youth team of the late Seventies. They won the FA Youth Cup in and 1978 and were destined, if you recall, to make Palace 'The Team of the Eighties.'
But that was not to be. In his seven years at Selhurst Park, Lovell experienced seven managerial changes - Allison (twice), Terry Venables, Ernie Walley, Dorio Gradi, Steve Kember and Alan Mullary.
It was Mullary, under pressure to make economies, who released Lovell on a free transfer. Graham, who had played alongside him in the Palace reserve side, brought him to The Den in February 1983-his first signing as Millwall manager.
“I played 90 first team games for Palace, mostly at right back,” said Lovell. “But I played in every outfield position for them and that plus the fact they had so many managers never made me feel very secure there.”
Nonetheless, his ability clearly made an impression in the right places. He won two Wales youth caps and one full cap as a substitute against Russia in Tblisi in 1981.
Last season he was Millwall’s only ever-present. player, appearing mostly at right back, yet still scoring 10 goals.
“I’ve always scored goals what ever position I've played,” he said. “That's the strength of my game.”
“I started this season in midfield and if I'm moved back there, I’ll still be trying to get forward and score.
“Until recently I would have said my best position was the centre of midfield. But at the moment I've got to say it's at centre-forward. I've played centre-forward in the last four games and scored six goals.”
Lovell lives with his wife Mary and - sons Jonathan, three, and Mark, 16 months at Rainham, Kent. He plays golf off an eight handicap on his days off.
“I'm enjoying this season more than any other in my career,” he said. “We have a great chance of winning promotion. Our last two performances were probably the worst of the season, yet we won one and drew the other.”
“If we can do that when were playing badly we must have a chance. When we do play well, I don't think there are many teams that can beat us.”
● Seven Up.... Steve Lovell with his prize for scoring all Millwall's seven goals - an inscribed silver salver and two magnums of Veuve Clicquot champagne.
Tomorrow Millwall, who have a two point lead at the top of the table, visit third placed Bradford City. Can he score for the eighth consecutive match?
“I can try,” he said, “I always have a go.”