Millwall 2002-03 Season Review (cont'd)

July

Lloyd Owusu revealed that he turned down Millwall    before signing for Sheffield Wednesday, as he wanted to move away from London to concentrate solely on his football.

Owusu's Agent Leslie Fevrier said "Lloyd liked everything about Millwall. But he wanted to get away from London. It was a nightmare making a decision which is why it took so long. It has never been about cash - but about ambitions. Wednesday had an average home gate of 21,000 last season."

However it was proved to be a lucky escape for Millwall as Lloyd despite scoring with his first touch on his debut against local rivals Sheff Utd, suffered from nerves was physically sick prior to several games. Millwall, of course, is no place for shrinking violets.

 Millwall manager Mark McGhee said: "We will be exploring our other options. I would like to find a fourth striker; but when we began that search, I thought I had the money to do so and that might not be possible now. So we have a responsibility to get Kevin Braniff involved in the first team."

 

 Sean Dyche: Out in front but out in the cold

However Sean Dyche was told the money saved in failing to sign Owusu will not be used to offer him a new contract. His contract expired on June 30, but will be paid until July 31 unless another club signs him. 

McGhee said: "There is no prospect of a new deal here. But we have got a good relationship with Dyche and even if he wants to talk to other dubs, he knows he can come and train with us to keep in shape."

 McGhee said the new television deal with BBC and Sky might make a difference to how much money was available for players - but he could not tell until further details emerged. 

Marc Bircham finally put pen to paper to sign for QPR. "When I was a kid, I always dreamed of playing for QPR," he said "My family are all Rangers fans. When I spoke to Rangers, they played on my heart-strings a bit. I would not have spoken to any other Second Division club, because I would not want to drop down normally"

Millwall upgraded their July 16 reserve pre-season friendly against Dulwich Hamlet, at Champion Hill, to a first team friendly to replace the Tooting fixture.

While Millwall failed to land their man, Brentford snapped up Millwall's Leon Constantine, the 24-year-old striker who was given a free transfer by the Lions, on trial.

Brentford Manager Wally Downes said: "Our chief scout John Griffin arranged for Leon to come down to us for a few weeks. We'll take a look at him and then see what happens."

Two wider football stories were also breaking. 

First the big two bookmakers in Britain, William Hill and Corals starting accepting single bets on football matches after a voluntary 40 year ban. The ban was introduced after a number of betting scandals in the sixties that lead to several players being banned for life.

 The FA were against the move as they had seen match result tampering efforts in 1997/98 from a Malaysian betting syndicates who interfered with floodlights causing the West Ham v Palace and Wimbledon v Arsenal games to abandoned. Suspicion was aroused when the second of these failures happen at Upton Park just seconds after a goal had been scored. In the far east, illegal bookies paid out the games as long as at least 45 minutes had been played. The syndicate had been broken when Charlton security guard Roger Firth admitted taking 20,000 to give the syndicate access to Charlton's floodlights to rig up a remote control device.

The second story was The Football League's four year TV deal with Sky. Sky were to pay just  23.75 Million per year which was substantially less than the 95 Million a year deal with ITV Digital. 

Football League Chairman Keith Harris said: "This is great news and removes a major uncertainty that threatened many of our clubs. They are now able to budget for the future with some certainty. In Sky we have a partner that we can completely trust."

The new deal now means that Sky will televise 60 Nationwide matches across all divisions, including 50 from Division One. The deal also gives it the end of season play-offs and the contract for the Worthington Cup.

The deal was struck three weeks before the League is due to start its High Court action against ITV Digital's former owners Carlton and Granada. The League claim the companies must honour the parent company guarantee and pay up the outstanding 178.5m owed for the remaining two years of the contract. As a result of this deal, the League will now be trying to reclaim the difference of 133.5m.

League chief executive David Burns said "When someone has broken their contract with you, there is no alternative but to go to court."

The deal however aroused anger from several First Division chairman as it terms were not referred back to them for approval of the amount to distribution between the divisions and length of the deal before the Football League chairman and chief executive signed the deal.

Paphitis said: "Granada and Carlton tried to destroy football in this country. It is great to have Sky back because they know what they are doing. If we'd had Sky in the first place, we wouldn't be in this mess. We had to let three players go purely as a result of the collapse of ITV Digital. The deal has consigned us to a very low figure for four years. We would have been better with no deal and trying to get more money later on. Some clubs will lose up to 10 million because of the way this was negotiated."

While Millwall were feeling the strain, Bradford axed 19 players after going into administration with massive debts and Watford sacked boss Gianluca Vialli and his backroom staff and asked players to take pay cuts.

The Sky deal to screen Division One games will bring in another 600,000 for Millwall, but that is more than 2million short of the amount the ITV Digital deal would have paid.

McGhee said "The new deal is a bit of a disaster because it is so long. Players' agents - and the fans - will have to realise that even on the strength of last season's performance, there is no magic pot of money we can give them. I am in exactly the same position."

"I had an understanding with the chairman that as things improved, I could expect to sign a new contract this summer. But I will not even speak to him about it because it would be ludicrous to insist on that now, when the club has lost a third of its revenue because of the ITV Digital collapse."

Despite speculation over the future of midfielder Tim Cahill, McGhee said Paphitis had promised only the manager would make decisions about selling players.

"We have had inquiries from third parties about Tim's availability," said McGhee. "But there has been no direct offer or approach. The chairman promised me I would not have to sell players if we were prudent with our cash. So we would only do it if it could benefit this club. But the decisive factor is always the player. Realistically, these days, if they want to go you cannot stop them."

"The best way to stop that is to convince them of our ambitions - we want to be in the Premiership and I believe we can improve on last year."

Pahitis added "New contracts for Sean Dyche, Marc Bircham and Christophe Kinet would have cost the club up to 500,000. Dyche had an offer from Bradford and turned down our deal last season. As much as I love him, he took a decision and it has not worked out. We all take those risks in life. But we will see the season through without flogging anyone. If we sell, it will only be when Mark McGhee believes it is the right thing for the club. And he feels with the youngsters coming through, we have enough cover. Those young players must get their turn at some stage."

The spate between Paphitis, Jordan and Scally (nicknamed the South London Mafia) and the Football League became more heated with Harris hitting back at his critics.

Harris dismissed those criticisms saying the four-year contract is the best deal he could have done. He said: "Theo is not happy but the reason the term is four years is a reflection of the fact that economic and advertising cycles are likely to take longer than two years to recover. In a depressed market the downturn tends to be rather quick, but the tendency is for the upclimb to be a lot longer.

"The deal was fully discussed with the Football League's commercial committee and the Football League board. It was their opinion, as was mine, that this was the only deal of any value on the table."

Paphitis had said: "Why have we signed a four-year deal in a depressed market? When things are bad you go short, not long. This deal has committed football clubs to four years of losses."

The press were carrying reports that Carlton and Granada had made a 60m  out of court settlement offer, but the Football League said there was no such offer on the table.

Further bad news on the financial front came when The Football League's media partner, ntl, with whom they run a joint internet venture Premium TV said it couldn't afford the next 5m installment of their 65m contract. Instead the hard up Cable TV giant ntl wanted to Football League to waive the outstanding 35m and introduce a profit sharing agreement. The trouble was that the there were no profits at this stage, just massive losses. 

An ntl spokesman claimed they had warned Football League Chief Executive David Burns a month ago but he had failed to do anything about it.  He said: "If they had dealt with this quickly then the issue of Friday's 5m payment would not be an issue now."

In the wake of all this bad financial news speculation grew that Aston Villa were about to make a 3.5 m bid for Tim Cahill. McGhee admitted that there had been approaches, but "we have had no offer of any description yet"

Cahill said: "The gaffer has made a statement and I do not want to talk any more about it. It is not down to me."

In the midst of all this financial bad news the pre-season friendlies started coming thick and fast. A Friday night game at Barry Town saw a young Lions team win 2-0 thanks to goals by Charley Hearn and Stuart Booth.

In addition to Hearn and Booth, Cherno Samba, Peter Sweeney, Mark Phillips and Alan Dunne all played.

McGhee said: "Cherno is nowhere near ready - but he never will be unless we start to bring him in soon. He needs to be involved in the big games in pre-season to give him the chance to work at a higher level. The young players need to be pushed harder than they would in the youth team, so they will come along quicker - but Cherno is not someone I see as making a contribution yet." 

Another big plus from the game was Joe Dolan's first game in a Millwall shirt for 18 months after he broke his leg. McGhee said: "Joe getting on the field was probably the important thing as much as anything else. And to see Neil Harris playing, too. The rest of the appearances were just giving people the chance to kick off their season." 

On a possible move for Tim Cahill McGhee said. "There has still been no official offer. But the only way he would go is if he insists on doing so - and if the right bid comes in. I do not want ham to go anywhere and I would not choose to sell him. But sometimes these days, with agents and the other factors in the game, that can become impossible."

Commenting on the news that Sean Dyche had signed for Watford, McGhee said. "All three Dyche, Bircham and Kinet who have left did well for us. They all wanted to stay. But we had to make cuts, which is all the more reason why the youngsters need to come through."

Dyche said: "I wasn't in too bad a situation because I had one or two offers on the table, but I just decided to hang on a bit because I wanted the right club at the right time. Fortunately it happened perfectly for me with Watford coming in, because I wanted to join them. It worked out well for me personally last season and also for the club as a whole. I've got to say that I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Millwall, but everything has to come to an end. This is a new beginning for me and I've got to concentrate on working hard and doing a job for Watford."

Sean Dyche put the record straight on his contract talks with the club in an interview with the South London Press.

"I was offered a contract on December 28. It was not an official club offer - there was nothing in writing stating what the terms would be - it was just a chat with Mark McGhee in his office, jotting down figures."

"It was a 15 per cent pay increase, plus more with appearances, yet we had been promoted to a higher division. I did not think that was good enough. I was not asking for ridiculous money. I thought it was the going rate. I was not offered what I thought I was worth. I would have been willing to sign a deal if I had. I did not think at the time that I was taking a risk with my career at Millwall because I genuinely thought we were going to do a deal and I would stay."

"Right up to us being knocked out of the play-offs, I still thought I would be a Millwall player the next season. I was still hoping something would be done. But by the time it came close to coming back, I had to look at my options. I was very lucky there were other clubs that wanted me." 

"I hope the fans saw me as someone they wanted to be out on the field. Many of them said I fitted their picture of what a Millwall player should be like. It was a wrench to leave because I had two wonderful years. But unfortunately, football moves on. Everyone has their own financial issues and I have to build for my future.

"Then it was made quite clear to me the finances would not allow me to get another deal. So there was no big decision. I wanted to play football."

"In all my time there, I had only one disappointment - that was the chairman implying that I was using an offer from another club to try and get more out of Millwall. That was simply not true. I am not having a dig at anyone. I have nothing but good things to say about Millwall. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at The Den. I just want people to know the facts."

Similarly, Christophe Kinet expressed dismay over the way Millwall had handled the renewal of his contract. 

"Right up until I went on holiday I thought I would be back here next season. I found out on holiday I would not. I still don't know why. Maybe it is the television money. It has left me little time to find a new club, which upset me a bit."

"And when I got back here to England, I found letters piled up on my doorstep asking me to discuss new terms. It's too bad. Millwall don't want me. I do not know why, exactly, but there is nothing I can do."

"I would prefer to stay in England in the First Division but it will not be easy and I hope I could get a club in Belgium if not. I have been training with my old club there since I found out I would not be back at Millwall.

"I will never forget the fans singing my name. They realised I never cheated the club. I gave 100 per cent. I don't care about reputations they have been perfect to me."

With the lack of signings the appearance of 21 year old Belvedere player Kevin Grogan (right) an ex-Manchester United Youth team player in the Millwall XI line ups at Dulwich and Welling was splashed by the South London Press.

"I want to keep him around for a bit longer so we can keep an eye on how he is progressing. I will probably make a decision soon after we come back from Sweden on Wednesday."  

However Nottingham Forest trialist Gareth Edds was not so lucky, "We will probably not want to keep him here" 

Millwall's hastily arranged and hush hush tour of Norway and Sweden saw Ben May and other youngster given prominent roles. Millwall kicked off with a 0-0 draw against Swedish First division side GAIS of Gothenburg, beat Norwegian Fourth Division Tistedalen 2-1 with goals from Ben May and Leke Odunsi, then beat Swedish club Trollhatten 2-0 with goals from Cahill and May.

Joe Dolan (left), who had been out for 18 months, suffered a setback in his comeback, by going under the knife to have a metal plate removed from his leg.

Joe broke his left leg in February 2001, and then tore a cruciate knee ligament while trying to recover his fitness. The plate was inserted to help the break heal more quickly but its 

removal  will see Joe sidelined for a further three months.

Mark McGhee said: "Joe has got to have an operation to remove the plate from his leg. We always felt it was going to happen. There was a chance he would not have to have it removed but now it has become a probability, there was no point in risking him. He is quite relaxed about it because it is all part of the process of healing he needs to go through."

"Stuart Nethercott did not miss a game last season so I am not too concerned about Dolan being out that long. If one of our centre-backs is injured while Joe is out, I will tackle the problem when it arises."

The first of the Pre-season friendlies at the Den was against Steaua Bucharest who were being hyped up as top European opposition as they had previously won the European Cup, beating Terry Venables' Barcelona in a penalty shoot out. It was rumoured that a substantial fee was being paid to the opposition for the game. However the game failed to captured Millwall fans imagination, with only 2,855 turning up on a baking hot July Saturday. Worse still, the standard of opposition was found wanting as Steaua showed all the defensive skills of a pub team, with a woeful offside trap.

Neil Harris cashed in with an hatrick within half an hour, which showed clinical finishing inspite of the poor defending. With three minutes gone, Harris dispossessed Mirel Radoi, ran on into the area and was on hand to tap home the rebound of  this own shot after it hit the post. Harris was put clean through by Ifill and he rounded the keeper to slot home on 19 minutes and then when clean through again he lobbed the keeper to complete his hatrick. Ifill completed the scoring in the 40th minute to give the Lions a 4-1 half time lead.

In the final minute, Steven Reid was red carded for an elbowing offence. However Referee Steve Tomlin, mindful of the playacting through out by the Steaua players, viewed the video straight after the match and agreed to rescind the card as it was plainly a collision that led to play acting.

Ben May again featured in place of the still missing Richard Sadlier. McGhee was crowing about how Ben has come on in "leaps and bounds".

Ben was keeping his feet firmly on the ground "I don't know how it's come right now, I'm tired but just happy to be playing. I only played my first game five games ago, but I'm just happy to play every one."

Last season, Gravesend born Ben scored five times for the reserves, including a hat-trick against his local side Gillingham, and was top scorer with eleven for the Under 19s.

"There was no hint last year I would be in. I didn't think I would be playing four or five games in a row, and to play whole games as well is great."

"I haven't got a clue how I'm going to figure this season. I've just got to work at it and hopefully be involved. They [the front-line] did it last season but if they get any injuries I would jump at the chance to try and prove myself. It felt really good to get in. Hopefully I will be here to stay."

Captain Stuart Nethercott certainly believes there is a chance that Ben could figure this season. He said: "The boy's been a different class. You can see signs of Sads  in him. He's got good technical ability and is a handful for defences. We might have a gem on our hands."

Ben believes the youth team could realise their potential. "Everyone's got a chance to get in the team. It's definitely a good crop of youth players. Every day I'm learning, and every day the gaffer is teaching me new things, so all I can do is learn and hopefully get better."

Stuart Nethercott was in upbeat mood writing his Captains Corner Column in the Southwark News. "Everyone's got to improve another ten or twenty per cent if we want to do well this season. We've seen the improvement already. We've seen more confidence from the likes of Timmy, Reidy and Ifill. If these big-time players can improve even more then the signs are good."

But just as optimism was spreading to the fans, the dark shadow of vultures come to pick Millwall's squad apart was seen on the horizon.

Throughout the close season, there have been rumours linking Tim Cahill with a move to Villa Park. These rumours gained strength when Villa's sold George Boateng to Middlesbrough for 5 million. Steven Reid was also been linked with other clubs.

But Mark McGhee denied that either player will leave the Den. "I think everyone has just put two and two together. There are lots of teams interested in Tim Cahill but we want to keep hold of him. Villa have expressed an interest, but not recently." The uncertainty surrounding the futures of two of Millwall's top young players will be a cause of anxiety to Lions fans, who have already seen Marc Bircham, Sean Dyche and Christophe Kinet leave the Den this summer, as the club tries to improve its financial position.

However McGhee was to admit later in the season that there was a lot more than people putting two and two together in these rumours. Indeed McGhee whole strategy for the coming season was based around selling Cahill to raise the cash to replace him and the released players.

 

 

More bad news emerged on the TV coverage front as the BBC and ITV confirmed that they were not interested in bidding for the TV Highlights package (which were severely restricted due to clauses in the deal with SKY for the live games). This left speculation that Channel 5 could pick up the rights for free.

The club also announced that by the 1st August they had received 6,500 applications for Memberships or season tickets. With the start of the season on the August 10th, this was a strong indication of poor attendance for the Rotherham game. "A lot of people don't understand that they won't be able to get into the match just by turning up unless they get their membership beforehand. We want to get as close to capacity as possible, but this can only happen if forms are filled in now." said a clubs spokesman.

The Football League and its Partner ntl in its joint venture, Interactive Web service company Premium TV, launched its new subscription service for each club. Millwall's was called 'Lions World' and the Millwall press team employed to work on Lions TV for the Jumbotron would provide a daily 5 Minute programme and various features plus goal highlights. The cost of subscription was 34.99, but as the saying goes once bitten, twice shy, the take up was poor given the ITV Digital debacle and the previous weeks news that the whole venture was on the brink of folding.

A fans forum was held on July 31st which gave the Millwall chairman and management the chance to spell out the thinking behind the release of Bircham, Kinet and Dyche.

 

To be Continued..........

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