George Graham had pulled off the greatest escape in Millwall's History. Taking over a team in the bottom 4
with just 16 points, he gave the players a chance to prove themselves, but the majority failed to impress,
with Millwall picking up just 12 points in the next 16 games and slumping to the bottom of the table.
Graham declared that major surgery was required.
Eight players came in Steve Lovell (Crystal Palace initially on loan then on a Free transfer), Peter Wells (Southampton Loan), Kevin Bremner (Colchester United £25,000), Dean White (Gillingham Player Exchange for Dean Horrix), Anton Otulakowski (Southend £30,000), Dave Cusack (Southend £30,000), Ian Stewart (QPR Loan) and Micky Nutton (Chelsea £65,000).
Five went out, Willie Carr was released, Dean Horrix went to Gillingham in a swap for Dean White, Peter Gleasure went out on loan to Northampton, Trevor Aylott was sold on deadline day to First Division Luton for £65,000 and Alan West was released on free transfer.
The results were to be dramatic. From being dead and buried in the middle of March, Millwall picked up 27 points in 12 games, losing just once, 1-0 at promotion chasing Oxford Utd.
The question on all Millwall supporter's lips was, were the players just playing out of their skins and would revert to normal form or did Millwall have a team to challenge for promotion.
George Graham began the clear out of the dead wood in the summer. Striker Bobby Shinton had his contract cancelled by mutual consent, Lawrie Madden, turned down the terms of a new one year contract and was given a free transfer and would later join Sheffield Wednesday. Winger Austin Hayes was also given a free transfer and would join Northampton. Sam Allardyce and Paul Roberts were both placed on the Transfer list, Allardyce could go on a free, but Graham wanted a small fee for Roberts.
Speaking of his first six months at the Den, Graham said: "I love to work and rebuilding Millwall certainly keeps me busy. But I've enjoyed every minute since I joined in December and now I face an important summer. If I can get get the right players - and strikers are my priority - then we will have a quality squad that should push for promotion. The next two or three signings are going to be crucial."
The lads were marvelous in keeping the club out of the Fourth Division, but I've told them there will be no sitting back. There must be competition for places and the next couple of signings should do just that. I'd like to get the new men in before the season starts, but I won't be hustled and risk making a mistake."
Peter Anderson popped back up in British Football after briefly playing again for Tampa Bay, he was Nike's man in the UK and signed up kit deals with Wolves and Sunderland and sponsorship deals with several players including Charlie Nicholas, Ian Rush and Graham Roberts.
With one ex-Millwall man leaving Tampa, another one joined, with Sam Allardyce wrapping his free transfer move to the Florida club, rejecting a trial with First Division Coventry.
One of George Graham transfer targets became known, Watford's 31 year old 6' 4" striker Ross Jenkins. Jenkins who had received offers to play abroad said: "I've no plans to move home if stay in this country. I've had over 10 offers, but I've not seen anybody at the moment. Sometime in July I will decide who to go back to for talks." He would later opt to move to Hong Kong.
Graham did get some good news, with Peter Wells promising to sign on a free transfer for Millwall when his Southampton contract runs out next month.
Millwall FC also started to the process to mend their bridges with Lewisham Council after the Super Den rows. Chairman Alan Thorne announced former Lewisham council valuer Brian White had been elected to the board. In the long term, the recruitment of former Lewisham Council figures would pay a healthy dividend.
Alan Thorne also announced major fixture changes, two Friday night games and five Sunday games."The idea," said Thorne, "is to avoid clashing with Charlton and we have found we get bigger crowds on Sundays."
Within days of pre-season training starting, Millwall suffered a blow when Peter Wells, who had just signed on free transfer, broke a bone in his left hand in a practice match against Braintree. Millwall had spent a week away at an army camp, in Shotley near Ipswich, where they stayed in the Spartan barracks and tackled the army assault course.
Graham said: "Its a terrible blow. I'm now hoping that Peter will be fit in time for the start of the season. I've been told it can take up to three weeks to mend. We've had a very successful week's training, but Peter's injury is a worry."
Graham also confirmed that Nicky Chatterton, now fully recovered from his kidney damage injury, would continue as club captain.
With a new £25,000 drainage system having been installed at the Den during the summer, Millwall would not be playing any home pre-season friendlies, to give the new pitch time to mature, but instead would play a string of local non league clubs. This was to backfire in a wave of bad publicity for the club as local hooligans teamed up to give Millwall fans a nice friendly welcome.
Trouble in the Home Counties
The first friendly was a behind closed doors game at Eltham with Charlton which ended 2-2. Dave Cusack and Kevin Bremner got the Lions goals, whilst Derek Hales and Martin Robinson scored for Charlton.
On the signing front, Graham was hitting a brick wall. "I've got some money to spend and I need to strengthen the squad. I had hoped to pick up players on free transfers, but it's too late for that now. All the good players on frees are snapped up early in the summer." Graham went on to reveal he had drawn up a hit list of six strikers and aimed to sign at least one of them before the season started.
The Tonbridge game which Millwall won emphatically 7-0 thanks to hat-tricks by Nicky Chatterton and Kevin Bremner and a goal from Dean White was marred by crowd trouble. The match attracted a large number of Chelsea fans, many from Tunbridge Wells and the team had to leave the pitch for 13 minutes in the first half as a 100 or so youths fought a battle behind the goal which spilled into the pitch.
There was further trouble in the second half and the trouble then sparked up outside the ground after the match and several youths were taken to hospital as was a police woman. Two Millwall fans were arrested outside the ground.
In the aftermath, four non league clubs cancelled their games against Millwall, Maidstone Utd, Carshalton, Dagenham and Enfield under pressure from the Police.
Carshalton official John Carpentiere said: "We were advised late last night that the game should be called off. They felt they would be unable to cope should we have crowd trouble."
Millwall club Secretary Graham Hover commented: "We have a reputation which is quite unfair. We have had no trouble at The Den since the Ipswich cup tie five years ago. Our away games seem to attract an undesirable element and rival fans can't be kept apart in separate enclosures in small grounds."
Alan Thorne in an interview with South London Press voiced his frustration at the whole chain of events under the banner headline 'Crush These Thugs'
Backed by police reports from Tonbridge, Thorne raged: "Millwall fans were not, in anyway to blame for the incidents at Tonbridge. I would have liked to have gone in a boxing ring with some of those thugs last Saturday. I tell you, they wouldn't have got up very quickly once I'd finished with them."
Thorne gave his suggestions on how to punish these "Mindless louts". He wants:
lHarsher Prison sentences: ...."Some of them should never be allowed to walk the streets again"
lPublic birching...."the current community service punishment is pathetic", he stormed.
The postponements had left Millwall without any practice games, except a 'reserve' friendly at Fisher, who were more than happy to play Millwall. A Fisher spokesman said: "We don't expect any trouble, most of our fans are Millwall fans too!"
All the bad news off the pitch overshadowed the failure of Graham to land the striker he had been chasing. Bobby Campbell, whom Graham had been negotiating for from Bradford City's receivers, elected to join Derby County for £65,000 to join up with old boss Roy McFarland.
Graham also revealed "I'm not simply looking for strikers, I'd like to get a good winger. The main problem is that there aren't too many of them about." One player Graham ruled out was Ian Stewart, on the transfer list at QPR, but Graham said he has no hope of raising the necessary cash.
FA Disciplinary Tribunal
Another bit of bad news hit Millwall in early August with Millwall being one of nine club being called before the FA to explain their poor disciplinary record from last season. It sparked a furious reaction from George Graham. "You can't tell me the game is any harder than when I played. I'm not proud of Millwall's record and I impose strict fines on any player booked or sent off. But I do feel clubs in lower divisions are being harder hit than need be. You can't tell me that Liverpool or Spurs players tackle any less fiercely. "
On the fact that five of the nine clubs called to book by the FA were from London, Graham remarked: "At least, if nothing else, it shows that we are not as soft as Northern clubs say we are....and that's from a Scotsman!"
Millwall were informed of their punishment at the hearing, a £500 fine.
The Evening Standard's regular season preview was usual upbeat report on Millwall. Under the title 'Proud Millwall set fair for a brand new image' Michael Hart wrote:
Millwall are close to finalising a major shirt sponsorship deal - confirmation of the club's success in combating the hooligan image that has hounded them for nearly two decades. The Third division club, unkempt, unfashionable, and unloved, are making strident efforts on and off the field to present a more acceptable face to the public.
Several big companies have shown an interest in sponsoring Millwall's shirt and the club itself is publishing a monthly newspaper called 'Pride' which is distributed free in the local area. Supporters helped paint the ground uring the summer and season ticket sales are up on last season. The club also spent £25,000 on installing a new drainage system under the pitch.
Finances, of course remain crucial to a club that had average gates of just over 4,000 last season, when 12,00 were needed to break even.
"Because of the the economies we are making, the break even figure will be much lower this season," said club secretary Graham Hover. "And we were very encouraged by the rise in crowds toward the end of the season, but its necessary we start off as well as we finished last season."
It was under new manager George Graham that Millwall put together a run of 12 games with only 1 defeat to avoid relegation to Division Four.
"We looked dead and buried when I took over last Christmas," recalled Graham. "I asked for commitment from the players and they gave it to me. I think the club is now going in the right direction."
Last season Millwall had 27 professional. This season Graham has just 19 to call on. Its a shoestring economy, but it saves around £150,000 a year in wages. Graham's only addition to the staff has been former Southampton and Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Peter Wells who joined them on a free transfer after a short spell on loan last season. Unfortunately, he could miss the start of the season with a broken bone in a hand.
The signing of Southend pair Dave Cusack and Anton Otulakowski clearly helped Millwall's fight against relegation. These two added strength and class to defence and midfield, but it seems that Millwall will be short of striking power this season.
The only orthodox strikers are Dean Neal - top marksman last season with 26 goals - and former Colchester forward Kevin Bremner.
"I'm hoping to add one or two strikers to our playing strength," said Graham. "I hope we can be in the promotion hunt from the start this season. I'm not silly enough to think that we'll start off as we finished last season."
"It's going to be tough, but we have a bunch of good professionals. I quite fancy Burnley to do well in our division. I saw them last season and couldn't believe it when they were relegated. I also fancy Newport, Brentford and Bolton."
The shirt sponsorship deal materialised in the shape of a two year deal worth £15,000 from the London Docklands Development Corporation. The deal broached by Bob Mellish, former MP for Bermondsey and current vice chairman of the LDDC. The deal will mean the Millwall will sport a sponsors name on their shirts for the first time, the letters "LDDC" will appear on the front of the shirts and also on the team tracksuits and adverts will be placed in the club programme.
The LDDC will also have two advertisement boards in the ground and four seats in the director box along with permission to distribute leaflets at matches.
Alan Thorne spoke of the club finances at the announcement of the deal. "Our finances are frightening and we expect to make a substantial loss this year." Alan Thorne had already put in £400,000 of his own money over the last two years and guaranteeing an overdraft of £1.6m.
"But this backing is greatly welcomed and will go into our revenue account. In our situation every little helps. We have trimmed our expenses as much as we can and are working hard to make Millwall viable by 1985."
The Evening Standard produced a nice comparison table of the capital's four Division Three clubs.
|BrentfordMartin LangeProperty Developer
|MillwallAlan ThorneMD Investment Company
| ||OrientNeville OvendenPaper and Tobacco Merchant
| ||WimbledonBeau ReynoldsPublisher
|Break Even Figures:This SeasonLast Season Average
|Brentford16 Professionals4 YTS
|Millwall21 Professionals4 Apprentices2 YTS
| ||Orient16 Professionals5 Apprentices5 YTS
| ||Wimbledon18 Professionals8 Apprentices3 YTS
|BrentfordDHL (Shirt) & KLM (roof)Joint five figure sum
|MillwallLDDC£15,000Over Two Years
| ||WimbledonGala Cleaners£4,000
|Brentford£4.00£3.00£2.5050pUnder 12's free with parents
| ||Orient£5.00£3.50£2.50£1.00 Juveniles£1.50 OAPs
| ||Wimbledon£6.00 Director's Box£5.00£4.00£3.00£6.00 Family Ticket Parents and upto 4 Kids£2.50£1.50
The Financial crisis was not just restricted to Division Three. Charlton under Chairman Mark Hulyer was battling against bankruptcy with Valley landlord Michael Gliksten suing over a £400,000 debt, while Palace who along with Charlton just avoided relegation to Division Three saw their crowds drop to below 10,000 although they just managed to break even.
The financial pressure on Third Division clubs was eased a bit with news that each club was guaranteed around £125,000 from their share of pools, television, Cannon Sponsorship deals and gate money levy.
Millwall wrapped up their pre-season games with a Friendly behind closed doors in Suffolk against a Malayasian XI which they drew 2-2 with goals from Dave Martin and Andy Massey.
In the week before the season started speculation grew that Dave Cusack was set to return to Southend as their manager, Peter Morris said that "Cusack was a possibility" after missing out on Mike Saxby and Kevin Beattie. However George Graham was quick to dismiss the link as rubbish. "I've only just signed him - I've no intention of seeing him go. He's done a good job for me. He will be saying here for the rest of his two year contract."
In The South London Press preview, by Brian Stater, George Graham laid out aim for the season, Promotion.
Millwall manager George Graham has set his heart on clinching promotion in the coming season.
But that's a promise Lions fans have grown used to hearing. Every Den boss has drawn a rosy picture at the start of each campaign since Millwall slipped into Division Three in 1979. So what makes Graham's pledge so different?
" Me," he says. "I've been in the game a long, long time and reached a high standard as a player. I want to do the same as a manager." The former Arsenal and Scotland star is about to begin his first full season in charge. He adds, "I know what's in front of me - as a player I knew you have to work hard and learn all the time. A lot comes down to application. I think the same rules apply to being a successful manager. The club is now definitely going at the right direction. We're better organised on and off the pitch."
Much of that reorganisation can be seen in this year's team picture. Of the first team squad that begun last season under Peter Anderson only six players, including skipper Nicky Chatterton, survive.
The new faces arrived in a frantic six-month spell as Graham tore apart the side to drag the club out of desperate relegation danger. The rapid rebuild was a big success, last season ended with a superb run of 10 wins in the 13 matches when the new-look side's big-hearted style won over the hard-to-please Den faithful. Graham wants more of the same this time around. He said, "The basic philosophy is that we attack as a team. I've given everyone in the side a licence to go forward, and at the end of the season I want to see that everyone except the goalkeeper has scored. But we've also got to defend as a team - and that means seeing the forwards come back and do some work."
"One of our strengths is that there are no outstanding individuals. If you come to rely on one particular player you can be in trouble if he gets injured. I believe a team should play as a team."
Graham would like to see a full squad of 16 players, all ranked equally, so there is, competition for places. And he admits he could use more forwards.
"At the moment I've only got Dean Neal and Kevin Bremner. There's nothing wrong there -'I'm delighted with them - but I only have two apprentices as cover for them," he said.
He's hoping that the momentum built up last season will carry on through the new campaign - but he isn't banking on it. "We've started right back at the beginning in training," he said, "concentrating on the basics. I'm taking nothing for granted. I've been around long enough to know that football has a way of slapping you in the face."
Graham Lands his man
Just as the time seemed to have run out for signings before the start of the season, George Graham pulled of a great coup, landing 22 year old right sided midfielder Steve Lowndes from Newport County for a fee to be decided by a Transfer tribunal.
Graham values the player at £25,000, but Newport have set his value at £75,000. Graham said, "I feel £75,000 is a ridiculous figure. But he is a good player. I'm very impressed with him and he will certainly be in Saturday's team at Brentford." Lowndes, a full Welsh international, scored 15 goals for Newport last season as they just missed out on promotion.
With Dean White and Dean Neal both suspended for the opening game at one of the promotion favourites, Brentford on August 27th, David Martin would be drafted in as a makeshift striker.
That game ended in a 2-2 draw with Brentford talking the lead with a Francis Joseph goal only to be pegged back by a Jim McNichol own goal, before Chris Kamara to restore the lead on the stroke of half time. Steve Lowndes capped fine debut with a fine 65th minute goal as Millwall stormed back in the second half. The News of the World waxed lyrical about Millwall in their short report. "Millwall finished the match yesterday as they ended last season - looking like champions in the making. In the last five minutes, they had no fewer than four chances to snatch victory but had to settle for a draw."
"That was just the start Steve wanted," said Lions Chief George Graham. He added, "There were so many Millwall fans at the game, it was as if we were the home team." Brentford boss Fred Callaghan agreed with George Graham: "Yes Millwall will be among the promotion candidates."
On the Bank Holiday Monday Millwall gained sweet revenge over Northampton, with an easy 3-0 win in the first leg of the League cup First round at the Den thanks to a second half brace of goals by Nicky Chatterton after a close range opener by Dave Martin from an Anton Otulakowski corner. A pleasing factor for Millwall was the crowd of 4,158, was over a thousand up on last season's cup tie against the cobblers. It wasn't all smiles for Graham as he berated his new signing Steve Lowndes performance, "He hardly did anything to impress me".
The transfer tribunal returned its verdict on the Lowndes fee, £55,000.
Millwall's good start continued with a 1-0 win over Plymouth at the Den thanks to an 85th minute winner. The goal came from a Nicky Chatterton corner and a nonchalant back header by Dave Cusack which picked out full back Steve Lovell's who appeared on the blind side to blast the ball home on the far post.
Graham was very pleased with Dave Cusack performance: "He had a very sound game and is very important to us. Even when he got a head injury in the second half, he bounced back with great determination." Commenting on the persistent rumours of a move back to Southend, Graham said: "Dave is a little unsettled here, but as far as I am concerned he's got two more years on his contract. He's staying with us."
Millwall continued their fine form with another home win in midweek, 3-2 against Port Vale in front of a crowd of almost 5,000. Nicky Chatterton scored another brace and Kevin Bremner made up for a howler when he allowed the ball to run through his legs with goal gaping, with a fine 68th minute goal.
George Graham almost stuck with the same side as for Port Vale for the trip to Hull, resisting the temptation to put Dean White straight back in after suspension, continuing with Paul Robinson playing out of position, but brought in Peter Wells for Paul Sansome in goal. Millwall were to go down 5-0, although they hit the woodwork four times. Dean Neal was denied twice in the first half, once by the post and then by the bar. Anton Otulakowski headed against the bar 4 minutes before the break and Deano completed an unwanted hat-trick in the last minute, rattling the bar again.
Graham said: "This is the first time I have been really disappointed in these players . There was nothing encouraging about our performances. Our attitude was wrong. We did a lot of attacking but we didn't do it in the right way. We were careless about it and left ourselves exposed at the back too often. I know the players can do better and I'm sure they will bounce back. Now I have to decide whether to drop one or two players or keep the same team."
There was some good news however when Graham revealed that Dave Cusack had asked to come off the transfer list, although it begged the question why it hadn't been mentioned that he was on it in the first place when a move back to Southend was being rubbished. Graham said: "I'm delighted Dave has decided he wants to stay. He can be a tower of strength at the club and it means I can stop worrying about a new centre half." Graham reveal that Dave was still living in Southend and had found the lengthy commute an unexpected strain. He added, "Dave is now thinking of moving closer to the club."
One central defender leaving the club though, was former player of the year Paul Roberts who joined Brentford on a month's loan.
Millwall cruised into Round two of the Milk Cup beating Northampton 2-1 in the second leg at the County Ground with goals from Otualkowski (with a diving header) and a Dean Neal break through the middle to wrap up a 5-1 aggregate win. The team had seen two changes, Wells and Robinson dropped for Sansome and Dean White. The headline in the local press when the draw for the second round came out, was "Millwall get the Cream" with a two legged tie against high flying First Division West Brom.
The next league game, saw an impressive 3-1 win over pointless Bournemouth with a brace of goals from Anton Otualkowski, but was talked out of the chance of a hat-trick. Anton's first goal was an equaliser three minutes from the interval, slotting home after keeper Ramsbottom could only parry a Dean Neal's effort. His second was a 20 yard left foot bullet from a rolled Chatterton free kick. Anton was then chopped down five minutes from time for a penalty kick, which Chatterton offered to let Anton take, until Dean White intervened, insisting that Nicky take it.
"It was the best professional decision really. It would have been nice to get a hat-trick - but Nicky's the regular penalty taker." Graham's comments on the game were short and sweet, "This was the type of game we were expected to win - but we had to work hard for it."
Away Day Woes
The next fixture was a Friday night away trip to winless Southend, but the Lions would go down 3-2 in a stormy match which saw 4 Lions books and Southend's Steve Phillips sent off for vicious foul on Steve Lowndes six minutes from time. Anton Otulakowski had headed an equaliser on the stroke of half time, but goals in the 46th & 53rd minutes had put the Shrimpers 3-1 up. Millwall were back in it 2 minutes later when Dave Cusack was flattened in the area and Chatterton stroked home the penalty. Millwall mounted a grandstand finish but could find no way past on loan Fulham keeper Gerry Peyton who pulled off a string of great saves.
George Graham predictably hit the roof over the Lions defensive display. "We gave three bad goals away. I'm on the look out for a couple of new players to strengthen the back line. If I get them we can still have a big say in the promotion race."
"We've been getting plenty of compliments about the way we play, but we must start keeping clean sheets away from home."
Whilst things weren't going to plan on the field, off it Millwall were having another crack at the Super Den Scheme with the announcement of a revised Super Den II Scheme.
Millwall chairman Alan Thorne had been in talks with Lewisham Council aimed at getting the go-ahead for his all-new plans. Thorne said, "I have completely re-thought the original scheme. The new ideas are now going through the planning permission stages" He added, "I hope to have agreement within the next three months."
The previous proposals to re-build the Den unveiled by former chairman Len Eppel in 1979, collapsed when backers Associated Dairies (ASDA) pulled out two years later.
Plans for the new look Den include:
lSPORTS CENTRE to be run by Millwall for the public;
lSHOPPING facilities housing a superstore and do-it-yourself centre
lPARKING for almost 700 cars.
The Ilderton Road end of the ground will also be re-built. Thorne explained, "I have spoken to many supporters and most tell me they prefer to stand behind the goals." So the plan is to have terraces at that end, but they are designed to take seats easily if demand changes."
Thorne's first major hurdle is getting the scheme approved by Lewisham's planning committees which will discuss it on November 15 1983. If Thorne gets the go ahead his next objective will be to persuade a retail outfit to come in on the scheme. He is preparing a detailed survey on the commercial possibilities of the area in an attempt to attract backers. A major stumbling block to the old scheme was the presence of gas and electricity mains on the site. Under the former concept these would have cost £750,000 to re-route, but Thorne says he has devised a new approach which will involve far less expense.
Changes were afoot behind the scenes at Millwall with Graham Hover resigning as club Secretary and Tony Shaw coming in as the Chief Executive.
Millwall's away day woes continued, despite twice pegging back Oxford at the Manor Ground, two late goals sealed a 4-2 win for the home team. George Lawrence was the man who did the damage scoring the opener and third and decisive goal from two trademark Oxford corners, Gary Barnett scored their second, with Jones scoring an injury time 30 yarder. Millwall's two goals weren't exactly tap ins either, Lowndes scoring from the edge of the box and Stride, scored from much further out, his 40 yard free kick taking a deflection on its way in. George Graham thought the match could easily of ended 7-6 as Sansome had pulled off a remarkable reflex save from a Steve Biggins close range header and George Lawrence fluffed a sitter, while Biggins wasted two more guilt edged chances while Kevin Bremner brought the best out of Oxford Keeper Hardwick.
Graham was resolute in defence of his defenders saying: "It is the same defence that did so well for us at the end of last season. Good players don't become bad ones over the period of a few matches. Once we get this sorted out we will be all right. We have been playing some very attractive football and have earned loads of compliments."
The home game against Sheffield Utd was to continue Millwall's woes, but they had only themselves to blame. Anton Otualkowski blasted home a 20 yard free kick to give Millwall a 4th minute lead. A slip by Cusack let in Trusson, who found Keith Edwards who first shot was parried by the recalled Peter Wells, but only back to the Blades striker who made no second mistake. Graham claimed that Edwards was "Five yards offside" Injuries to Kevin Bremner and David Stride had forced a reshuffle in the Lions ranks, with Robinson in at left back and utility man Dave Martin up front. Cusack was penalised for felling Colin Morris just after half time and Morris picked himself up to score with the spot kick. However Millwall won a penalty of their own in the 62nd minute as Dean Neal was brought down and up stepped Nicky Chatterton whose weak shot was fisted away by Keith Waugh.
Chatterton said: "I feel really bad about it - it cost us a point. I tried to place the ball instead of blasting it and didn't hit it very well, You are always expected to score from a penalty - but it isn't as easy as it looks" Graham admitted his team had "lost out in midfield", so his forwards were starved of the ball, while the defence saw rather too much of it.
Sam Allardyce returned to the country after trying his luck in America and signed for First Division Coventry. He marked his debut in fine style with a first minute tackle on Paul Mariner. Bobby Ferguson compared Sam to "the Butcher of Bilbao" saying "That tackle was worse than the one on Maradona."
Millwall could forget their league worries for the moment as they entertained First Division High flyers West Brom whose inform strikers, Cryille Regis and Garry Thompson were leading the goal scoring charts. Chariman Alan Thorne was hoping for a 10,000 crowd, saying: "The revenue from the tie could help stop the club from going into deficit this season."
Nicky Chatterton felt a surprise could be in store, "This is obviously going to be a tough match for us, but everyone at the club is really keyed up." He reckoned that Millwall could surprise West Brom with their determination and speed. "Players are much quicker to close each other down in the Third Division than the First. There they tend to stand off, but we can't afford to do that."
Graham was wearier, but also looking at an upset. "We are going through a sticky patch at present and this match is a great chance for us to regain our confidence. Albion are one of the most formidable striking sides in the First Division, so I expect a real thriller. I don't want to frighten our players, but the West Brom strikers are a bit special. If we can get to grips with them we have a chance. At this stage I don't know what my team will be, but we won't be over-awed by the task. We're hoping for a 10,000 crowd and I wish it wasn't a two leg tie."
Alan Thorne got his wish crowd-wise, 10,721 including England Manager Bobby Robson turning up to see Millwall run Albion ragged during the first half.
It all started with a bang as Dean Neal scored twice in the first four minutes. In the 2nd minute Dean scored with an overhead kick inside the six yard box from a Bremner cross. Two minutes later, he was in the right place when Cowdrill missed a Lowndes cross to swivel and drive home. "That was a dream start," said Graham, "after that we never let them settle." Millwall sealed the first leg win with an 80th minute freekick from just outside the area, won by Dean Neal, when Steve Lowndes drove his shot into the bottom corner of the net.
Dean White, newly installed captain couldn't have had a better start to his reign, as he had Albion on the run for most of the first half. Chatterton impressed also playing as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. According to Michael Hart of the Standard he was Millwall's busiest and most effective competitor in midfield that held its shape, challenged for every half chance and distributed the ball intelligently.
Graham was delighted but not carried away; "It nice to take on the big boys from Division One and win," He smiled, "But to be honest, I would far rather we won our Division Three games - starting against Burnley on Sunday."
"After the good start we had I suspect some of our lads felt they had only to pull on their boots to win promotion. Well I think three successive defeats has taught them a lesson. Their attitude last night was outstanding. I expect total commitment from any player that pulls on a Millwall shirt and they gave me that."
"Albion had the classier players, but we bustled and outfought them. I thought our back four handled Cyrille Regis and Garry Thompson magnificently."
Commenting on the switch of captaincy before the game, Graham said: "I think he (Dean White) imposes his personality on the game more than Nicky."
Two goal hero Dean Neal Said: "I set myself such high standards last year that they have been hard to live up to. But I've created a lot of goals for other players. It was fantastic to beat a team like West Brom and beat them well. It's not as if our goals came from breakaways. The crowd were fantastic - they gave us a real lift."
The South London Press waxed lyrical about Millwall's win.
'Millwall's display had been a triumph of industry over artistry. The midfield motto had been - if it moves tackle it - as the Lions denied West Brom time to settle. And in suffocating a side used to plenty of poise on the ball, the tactic proved deadly. It fulfilled an outstanding prediction by midfield man Nicky Chatterton that Millwall's all-action style could be the key to unlocking Albion.
Millwall played with a passion inspired by a raucous crowd that loudly disputed decisions when even a throw in went to West Brom. Albion could be forgiven for feeling that they were playing far more than 11 men as the Lions covered mistakes and redeemed blunders.'
The match had profound effect on English football. Bobby Robson had been in two minds as to whether to adopt a 'Blood and Guts' English style for the international team as his instincts told him or whether to adopt a more continental style. England had been humbled by the Danish at Wembley a couple of weeks before, playing a halfway house style, but adopted the English style for the clash with Hungary at the Nep Stadium and saw the English team responded with a 3-0 win and finest English performance for years.
Robson admitted; "I was inspired myself before the game in Hungary by Watford's remarkable performance against the German's of Kaiserlautern and yes, even Millwall's conviction when I saw them beat West Bromich in the Milk Cup. We never gave Hungary even a split second on the ball. We played just like an English club side and to me that is a tremendous compliment to the players. Our way of playing in England is to deny the opposition time in which to operate. That has got to be right for us as well even if you are playing Argentina or Brazil."
The gate receipts from the Milk Cup first leg tie were reveal as £26,000, of which The Football League take four percent and Millwall and West Brom Brom split the rest.
The only clouds in Millwall's silver lining was on the injury front. The pulled hamstring injury to Micky Nutton which forced him off on the hour mark would keep him out for a while. Dean White was to carry on playing in spite of a groin strain, while David Stride had missed the cup tie with his groin and stomach strain.
Anton Otualkowski was in confined in Brooke Hospital in Woolwich, ordered to have a complete rest for his injured back. His wife Carol said, "He went in on Friday and I've been told he has a slipped disc. He is in quite a lot of pain and cannot walk."
Graham said: The doctors have told him he must have a complete rest. I hope he will be out of hospital in the next few days. He will have missed a lot of training, so there is very little chance of him being fit enough to come straight back into the side."
Paul Roberts returned to the Den at the end of his Brentford loan spell as Brentford refused to pay a small fee wanted by Graham to keep him permanently.
A bumper crowd of 6,709 turned up on Sunday to see the Lions beat fancied Burnley two- nil thanks to a David Stride free kick from the edge of the penalty area which took a slight deflection off Brian Flynn and screamed into the top corner and a Dean Neal goal from Steve Lovell's long throw flicked on by Dave Cusack.
Stride, who had spent four years out of the English game in America after his £90,000 move from Chelsea to Memphis, had subsequently played for Minnesota, Fort Lauderdale and Jacksonville.
"I was lacking a bit of match practice. I was happy to get through the game without making any mistakes and by playing at my own pace. The goal was a nice bonus for me. I've been out of the English game for a while, so I feel I've still got something to prove to the manager," said Stride, whose contract runs out in the summer.
George Graham was pleased, "It was real professional performance. Our strikers Neal and Bremner found time to defend and Chatterton had a fine match. Stride wasn't fully fit, but he came up with a goal. I know that practising free-kicks in training is monotonous, but we've been working on that free kick for weeks and its paying off. I told the lads to be patience against Burnley who are a good side who have a lot of players with great potential. We did a good job on them and I was pleased with everyone."
The win after three straight defeats left Millwall in the top half of the table in 9th place, but someway off the early pace set by leaders Oxford and Hull. It was Millwall's away form that was proving their downfall again. The defence had leaked 14 goals in 4 games and the two away games in a week against Lincoln and Rotherham would go a long way towards shaping Millwall's season.
Things looked good at Lincoln, Millwall came back from an early goal to lead 2-1 with goals from Kevin Bremner and Dean Neal, but an injury time equaliser snatched two points from the Lions grasp.
At Rotherham, Millwall were awarded a penalty when Kevin Bremner was hauled down, but Dean White's shot was saved and the Lions fell behind minutes later to a John Stone header. Despite Rotherham being down to 10 men when former Lions favourite John Seasman limped off with 25 minutes to go after Terry Donovan had already been stretchered off, Millwall could not capitalise.