How and where it all started...
From humble beginnings
Millwall Rovers were formed in the summer of 1885 by workers at Morton's Jam Factory on the Isle of Dogs. The majority of the workers at the factory were of Scottish extraction and consequently blue and white became the club's colours. Millwall inhabited four separate grounds on the island and changed their name via Millwall Athletic to plain Millwall before relocating across the river at The Den in 1910.
Having become The Lions, Millwall reached the Semi-Finals of the F.A Cup in 1903 whilst still a Southern League side, losing 3-0 to Derby County in front of 40,500 fans at Villa Park. The Club remained in the Southern League for a decade following their move to New Cross but in 1920 became founder members of Football League Division Three, beating Bristol Rovers 2-0 in their opening League game at The Den. (Coincidentally Rovers were Millwall's last League opponents at that ground in 1993).
In 1928 The Lions won promotion to the Second Division as champions of Division Three (South). The previous year 42,250 saw Millwall beat Middlesborough 3-2 in an F.A. Cup tie at The Den. In 1932-33 they achieved their highest League placing to date, finishing seventh, but after manager Bob Hunter died The Lions failed to win any of their last eight games and were relegated the following season.
The Second World War intervened just as Millwall were beginning to assemble a very strong side. In 1937 they became the first Third Division team to reach the Semi-Finals of the F.A. Cup. A crowd of 62,813 were at Leeds Road Huddersfield to see them lose narrowly to Sunderland 2-1. A year later Millwall won the Third Division (South) championship again, winger J.R.Smith played twice for England and Tom Brolly became a Northern Ireland international.
As war was drawing to a close Millwall made their first Wembley appearance in the Football League (South) Cup Final, losing 2-0 to Chelsea. The immediate post-war years were a struggle for The Lions. In 1948 they were relegated back to Division Three and a decade later they became founder members of the new Fourth Division. There were embarrassments and heroic exploits in the FA Cup during this period, the most notable of which saw the mighty Newcastle United beaten 2-1 in the 4th Round in 1957 before 45,646.
Sixties revival to the finest hour
The sixties witnessed a revival at Cold Blow Lane. Promoted as Champions in 1962, it was to prove a false dawn as relegation followed two years later. But the resurgence began immediately, as Millwall finished Runners-Up in Division Four in 1965 and then won promotion for the second successive season to Division Two in 1966.
The Lions were formidable at The Den during this period, setting a record of 59 home League games unbeaten in December 1966. Manager Benny Fenton was building a side capable of challenging for First Division status around Lions legends such as Barry Kitchener, Harry Cripps, Keith Weller and Derek Possee. Millwall fans thought their team had achieved its goal after beating Preston 2-0 in the last game of the 1971-72 season. Reports of the scoreline from the Birmingham v. Sheffield Wednesday game proved to be inaccurate and City went on to clinch the second promotion spot by beating Orient a few days later.
As Fenton's side disintegrated Millwall began the slide which led to relegation in 1975. The Lions were immediately promoted at the first attempt (finishing third in Division Three) but were relegated again two years later. The arrival of three key figures at The Den in the early eighties signalled another up-turn in the club's fortunes. In 1981, Keith Stevens made his League debut against Oxford United and subsequently went on to play over 550 senior games for the Club, a total bettered only by Barry Kitchener who made his 602nd and final appearance for Millwall in 1982.
George Graham took over as manager during the 1982/83 season, and after saving the club from relegation set about a major rebuilding project. A young striker named Teddy Sheringham made his debut the following year and in 1985 Millwall were back in the Second Division after finishing as Third Division Runners-Up once more.
Graham's departure for Arsenal proved only a temporary setback, as new manager John Docherty guided his side to the Second Division championship on an unforgettable afternoon in Hull on May 2nd 1988, and First Division football for the first time in the Club's history.
A potent strikeforce of Sheringham and Cascarino led The Lions to the top of the League with a 3-2 win over Q.P.R at The Den on October 1st 1988. Ultimately Millwall finished tenth in their first season in the top flight.
Sadly, it all went badly wrong the following season, when after topping the table once more following a win over Coventry in September, The Lions failed to win any of their last twenty League games and were relegated. New boss Bruce Rioch almost led the Club back to the top flight via the Play-Off's, but they lost out to Brighton in May 1991. Teddy Sheringham set a new club goalscoring record with 38 before leaving for Nottingham Forest.
From new beginnings to wounded Lions
Within ten months Rioch's spell in charge was over, his resignation paving the way for Mick McCarthy to take over in 1982. In May 1993, Millwall played their final game at The Den after 83 years and moved to a 20,000 all-seater stadium a quarter of a mile away from Cold Blow Lane at Senegal Fields. The £16 million New Den was opened by the late John Smith MP on August 4th 1993 prior to a prestigious friendly against Sporting Lisbon.
McCarthy guided The Lions to third spot in the newly constituted 'First Division', only for his side to lose out disappointingly in the Play-Off's once again, this time to Derby County in May 1994.
Expectations for another promotion push in 1994/95 remained unfulfilled with Millwall finishing in thirteenth spot. However, there was plenty of excitement in Cup competitions that year with Premiership giants Nottingham Forest, Arsenal and Chelsea all falling victim to The Lions on their own grounds in the two major competitions.
Mick McCarthy's achievements at The Den increasingly aroused speculation that he would succeed Jack Charlton as manager of the Republic of Ireland. When Millwall shot to the top of the First Division again in the autumn of 1995 these rumours grew stronger. Unfortunately, the speculation appeared to have an unsettling effect on the side, and by the time McCarthy eventually departed for the Republic job, The Lions had begun to slide out of contention. Worse was to follow, however, as his successor Jimmy Nicholl was unable to arrest the decline and Millwall dropped into the bottom three for the first time that season following the final game at Ipswich and were duly relegated.
The sale, over a relatively short period of time, of quality players like Teddy Sheringham, Chris Armstrong, Colin Cooper, Andy Roberts, Ben Thatcher, Mark Kennedy, Alex Rae, Kasey Keller,Jon Goodman and Kenny Cunningham had had a debilitating effect on the Club's playing strength. In the long term, however, it didn't prove sufficient to prevent Millwall suffering severe financial problems and in January 1997 trading in the shares of the Millwall Holding Company on the stock market were suspended and the administrators were called in to attempt to launch a rescure package.
Against this background, the team continued to struggle in Division Two, and manager Nicholl, along with a number of backroom and administrative staff were casualties during this crisis period. Former Boss John Docherty returned to the helm briefly, but resigned after the side failed to win any of their last eleven games to finish the season in fourteenth spot.
The rest is history
By May 20th 1997 a rescue package was in place and new chairman Theo Paphitis appointed Billy Bonds as his first manager. There was no immediate upturn in fortunes on the field, however, and after another bright start to the campaign the season ended with the side flirting with the relegation zone before finishing eigh teenth. The Chairman decided that another change was necessary and Bonds was replaced by Lions stalwart Keith Stevens in May 1998, with Alan McLeary becoming his assistant.
The task of the new managerial team was to recreate the success they enjoyed as players with Millwall during the late eighties. In their first season at the helm resources were tight, and after bringing three new faces in on free transfers during the summer of 1998 the squad remained unchanged throughout the campaign with the exception of keeper Ben Roberts who came in on loan from Middlesbrough.
Increasingly youth was given its head, with no fewer than nine players still eligible for the Under 19 side appearing at first team level. Under the circumstances a 10th place finish was a creditable start, and there was the bonus of the club's first official Wembley appearance in a recognised competition when 47,000 Lions fans saw their side beaten 1-0 by Wigan Athletic in the Auto-Windscreens Shield Final on April 18th 1999.
During the close season Alan McLeary was elevated to the position of Joint Manager alongside Keith Stevens, and in the first week of July the playing staff was swelled with the acquisition of experienced campaigners Paul Moody, Sean Dyche and Michael Gilkes.
The upturn in fortunes continued as Millwall mounted a sustained promotion push at the turn of the millennium following a slow start. Neil Harris bagged 25 League goals, the first Millwall player since Teddy Sheringham to pass the 20 mark, but defeats in key games at Preston and Burnley meant that Millwall had to settle for 5th spot.
For the third time, they failed to reach the Play-Off Final, losing out 1-0 on aggregate to Wigan Athletic after dominating the second leg at the JJB Stadium.
The 2000/2001 season, however, saw The Lions make a triumphant return to Division One as Champions of the Second Division. Mark McGhee had taken over from Keith Stevens and Alan McLeary as manager during September 2000, and by Christmas Millwall were top of the table. They were not to drop below second spot for the remainder of the campaign and promotion was achieved at Wrexham on April 28th. A 5-0 win over Oldham on the final day of the season guaranteed the Championship with a total of 93 points. The team kept a remarkable 14 clean sheets in their last 19 games and Neil Harris finished equal top scorer in the Division with 27 League goals.
Promotion, Play-Offs, FA Cup final and European adventure
Millwall's return to the First Division during the 2001/2 was a case of so near and yet so far as The Lions came within a whisker of reaching the Premiership.
With virtually the same squad of players that had clinched the Second Division title, boss McGhee's youngsters did superbly to finish the campaign in fourth, chalking up notable 'doubles' against WBA, Crystal Palace and a memorable 1-0 win against high-flying Wolves.
However, Millwall's season ended in heartbreaking style when, having secured an excellent 1-1 draw at Birmingham City in their Play-Off semi-final first leg, an injury-time effort from City's Stern John fired Steve Bruce's side into the final - and ultimately the Premiership.
Expectations were high going into the 2002/3 campaign, but long-term injuries to key personnel, in particular Tim Cahill, Richard Sadlier and Steven Reid thwarted Mark McGhee's plans. The loss of TV revenue meant there was no cash to strengthen the squad although Dennis Wise and Mark McCammon arrived for no fee during the course of the season, following Andy Roberts who returned to his first club in the summer of 2002.
Millwall ended the season as the form team in Division One, winning six and drawing one of their last eight games to finish in a creditable if disappointing ninth position.
During the summer Steve Claridge left the club to take up the manager's position at Weymouth. Assistant Manager Steve Gritt also departed to be replaced by Archie Knox.
It was a mixed start to last season, and a series of uninspiring displays culminating in a home defeat against Preston on 14th October 2003 led to the departure of Mark McGhee along with his assistant.
Dennis Wise was placed in temporary charge of the team, with Ray Wilkins coming in as his right hand man. Two wins and a draw in the next three games persuaded all parties that the situation should be made permanent, and the team began to make real progress over the festive period.
A run of just two defeats in 22 outings saw The Lions up into the Play-Off positions and on the brink of an historic achievement.
That 1-0 Semi-Final victory against Sunderland at Old Trafford on 4th April 2004 saw Millwall through to their first Final in the club's 119 year history, having narrowly failed to make it through in their three previous attempts. As an added bonus, a UEFA Cup place awaits.
The Cup Final proved to be a momentous occasion for everyone connected with the club and the result scarcely tempered the celebrations. In the end, injuries and the unavailability of key players undermined The Lions' Play-Off push as they finished 10th in Division One.
The 2004/5 campaign was another eventful one, although once again high hopes were ultimately unfulfilled with another 10th place finish in the League. The Lions gave a good account of themselves in their first European tie (UEFA Cup 1st Round), going down 3-1 to Ferencvaros in Budapest after holding the Hungarian Champions to a 1-1 draw at The Den.
The announcement by chairman Theo Paphitis that he would be stepping down at the end of the season after eight successful years was a blow, and his was to be one of several high profile departures.
Manager Dennis Wise resigned after the last game of the campaign against Burnley, followed shortly by skipper Kevin Muscat who returned to his native Australia. Senior players Paul Ifill, Darren Ward, Peter Sweeney and Danny Dichio also moved on during the summer. In late June, new chairman Jeff Burnige appointed former player Steve Claridge as the successor to Wise, but then less than a fortnight later resigned from his position.
Claridge was then replaced by Colin Lee shortly before the start of the campaign. Having managed the team under difficult circumstances up until Christmas 2005, Lee was then appointed Director of Football with his assistant Dave Tuttle taking over the manager's role, assisted by goalkeeping coach Tony Burns. Two wins and two draws over the Festive period brought renewed optimism that The Lions could claw their way clear of the drop zone in 2006.
The turning point was the controversial defeat in a key relegation battle against Sheffield Wednesday - a loss from which The Lions never really recovered.
Alan McLeary took temporary for the final two games of the season, during which a number of promising youngsters were introduced to the side.
During the close season Stewart Till was appointed as the new chairman of the football club, with Peter de Savary remaining as chair of the holdings board.
Heather Rabbatts also arrived in the capacity of Executive Deputy Chairman as Millwall laid the groundwork for their forthcoming League One campaign, strengthened by the raising of some £6million through a share issue.
The Lions also named former Liverpool, Chelsea and Rangers player Nigel Spackman as new manager, with the backroom staff further bolstered by the arrival of one of the most experienced coaches in the country in the shape of ex-Scottish international Willie Donachie.
Unfortunately, the team made a poor start to the 2006/7 campaign, picking up just five points from their opening 10 League fixtures. The alarm bells began to ring again and the board took the difficult decision to part company with manager Spackman less than two months into the season.
Donachie was elevated on a caretaker basis, and as results began to improve he was given the job until the end of the season. Going into the Boxing Day clash at Brentford, Millwall knew that defeat would see them drop to the bottom of the table, but a resounding 4-1 success kick-started a remarkable upturn in fortunes. With striker Darren Byfield restored to fitness after a lengthy absence through injury, midfielder Dave Brammer proving a shrewd signing from Stoke in the January transfer window along with the return of the legendary Neil Harris from Forest, The Lions began to play like promotion contenders. After the turn of the year, only Scunthorpe, Bristol City and Blackpool, all of whom would gain promotion, could match Millwall's run of form.
Harris made club history on 20th January by beating Teddy Sheringham's League goalscoring record as Donachie's men finished the
season in the top half of the table (10th).
From the Berylson era to Championship return
Off the field, major new investment came through American consortium Chestnut Hill Ventures, led by new company chairman John G Berylson.
Having taken four points from the opening two fixtures in 2007/8, the pre-season optimism soon began to fade and following a crushing 4-0 defeat at Carlisle The Lions were bottom of the table with ten games played. Manager Willie Donachie paid the ultimate price, and after Richard Shaw along with Colin West had steadied the ship during a brief caretaker spell in charge, Kenny Jackett was recruited to the Den hot seat from Manchester City.
The club were plagued by an horrific injury list throughout the campaign and the new boss ultimately hauled Millwall to League One safety following a 3-0 demolition of, ironically, Carlisle in the penultimate game of the season.
The summer of 2008 saw chairman John G. Berylson and the board embroiled in an AGM battle with former majority shareholder G.F. Lacey, with the shareholders ultimately backing the board. Meanwhile manager Jackett bolstered his squad with the additions of goalkeeper David Forde, defender Tony Craig, returning permanently after a loan spell having left for Palace 12 months previously, young striker Ashley Grimes and midfielder Nadjim Abdou.
The new boss's first full season in charge so nearly yielded the promotion everyone was hoping for.
After a faltering start The Lions were soon up amongst the front-runners and held a top six spot for most of the campaign.
Promotion favourites Leicester City and Leeds United were both beaten before Christmas, but stuttering home form after the turn of the year threatened to undermine the team's progress.
However, a record six away wins on the spin served to maintain the momentum, and although the push for a top two finish ultimately faded, Millwall secured fifth spot and a place in the Play-Offs.
Leeds were the semi-final opponents with a Neil Harris goal in the first leg enabling Jackett's men to take a narrow lead to Elland Road. Jimmy Abdou's late equaliser rewarded a battling display in West Yorkshire and Wembley beckoned.
Sadly, in spite of a wonder strike from Gary Alexander at the national stadium, a 2-1 half-time lead was surrendered to Scunthorpe United who won the Play-Off final 3-2.
It took a while for The Lions to find their form again as the 2009/10 campaign got underway. Injuries to key players were a factor, but by October Millwall were upwardly mobile and up amongst the front runners.
Steve Morison, signed during the summer from Stevenage Borough, began to find his feet at League One level, and the home form sustained the promotion push.
However, by the turn of the year, automatic promotion looked out of the question but a storming run of form, with just one defeat in 19 outings, saw Kenny Jackett's side gradually begin to close the gap on Leeds United in second spot.
After completing the double over the Yorkshire outfit in late March, that gap had closed to a solitary point where once it had been in excess of 20. Two defeats and a draw in the last five games hampered further progress though, but The Lions still entered the final day of the league campaign as one of five teams who could still clinch promotion.
A 3-2 win over Swindon proved not to be quite enough as Leeds also won to clinch the runners-up spot, and once again the Play-Offs beckoned after a third place finish.
Huddersfield were the semi-final opponents, and after a 0-0 first leg draw, goals from Paul Robinson and Steve Morison at The Den secured a return trip to Wembley.
This time there was to be no heartbreak as Robinson's solitary goal was enough to see off Swindon Town and clinch promotion for the first time through the Play-Off lottery.
Kenny Jackett's men kicked-off their 2010/11 Championship campaign in style with a 3-0 win at Bristol City followed by a 4-0 demolition of newly relegated Hull City. In spite of a bizarre 6-1 home defeat at the hands of Watford, The Lions soon established themselves comfortably at the higher level, and after an unbeaten December moved into the New Year harbouring ambitions of sneaking into the Play-Offs.
The formidable home form of the previous two seasons returned with big wins recorded against Palace (completing a home/away double), Scunthorpe and Preston, whilst promotion rivals QPR and Leeds United were also beaten at The Den. Away victories at Hull and Burnley, also up amongst the front runners, saw Millwall targetting sixth spot with half a dozen games remaining, but defeats at Coventry and at home to Swansea put paid to those hopes and ultimately a ninth place finish was secured.
Farewell to a Lions legend
It was a case of 'second season syndrome' in 2011/12, with stuttering home form the achilles heel for much of the campaign.
The departure of Steve Morison to Norwich and the legendary Neil Harris to Southend left some large boots to fill up front. Darius Henderson was signed from Sheffield United and was to finish top scorer with 19 goals including three hat-tricks.
However, it was the arrival of Andy Keogh (Wolves), Shane Lowry (Aston Villa), Harry Kane (Tottenham - loan) and latterly Maik Taylor (Leeds United - loan) that provided the catalyst for a revival in the New Year.
Firstly the away form began to improve with notable successes at Barnsley, Burnley, Peterborough and Doncaster, culminating in a tremendous run during April which saw The Lions win five on the spin before drawing their final game, gaining Kenny Jackett the Championship Manager of the Month award in the process.
On a sad note, the great Barry Kitchener passed away on 30th March at the age of just 64. The main West Stand at The Den was subsequently renamed 'The Barry Kitchener Stand' in tribute to our club appearance record holder and the official opening on Saturday 18th August marked the start of the 2012/13 season.