Millwall years 1993 - 2003
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
prior to a prestigious friendly against Sporting Lisbon. August 4th 1993 at Senegal Fields. The £16 million New Den was opened by the late John Smith MP onCold Blow Lane McCarthy guided The Lions to third spot
in the newly constituted 'First Division', only for his side to lose out in the Play-Off's once again, this time toDerby County
in May 1994.
Expectations for another promotion push in 1994/95 remained unfulfilled with Millwall finishing in 13th 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.
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.
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.
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 rescue 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 14th spot.
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 18th. 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 fromMiddlesbrough
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 fifth 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.
Millwall's return to the First Division during the 2001/2 season 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 whilst assistant manager Steve Gritt also departed to be replaced by Archie Knox.