Fans Forum - August 2014
Minutes of the Fans Forum held at the New Den at 7.00 pm on 7 August 2014
Attending Ian Holloway (first team manager), Andy Ambler (club CEO), Bob Asprey (MSC chairman)
Bob began by welcoming everybody to the evening and thanking Ian and Andy for giving up their time to come and answer our questions. Bob introduced Pete Garston (fan on the board) who was in the audience. The evening will comprise an opening 45 minutes, a 15 minute break and an 8pm resumption.
What is the team for Saturday?
IH - Millwall!
Thanks for coming and rescuing us last season. I think there were reasons for things clicking. I think the Hof kept the ball in the opponent’s half. We look at the new signings, who all look decent, but I think we’re missing a traditional centre forward. I’m disappointed that we missed, for example, Clayton Donaldson and clearly a lot of money is being spent by a lot of clubs but we’re still missing that player. We’re linked with the guy from Leeds and I think another forward like that is essential.
IH - The facts are quite right but, to be honest, with the Hof, I refused to have him back because he thought he was going to be a premier league player with more money and I used to have to take him off after seventy minutes. He lacked fitness, touch and pace and had a high opinion of himself. Ricky (Fuller) has been at the top for years and has experience. There is one (other player) I would take, with touch and skill. When you play a front three, you can’t be a lump, which the Hof was, but that’s what was needed at the time. Ricky’s brain is so much more advanced. He’s a unique player, who’s played in the premier league all his life. We can hit him with the ball and he can twist and turn and shake off defenders. At Blackpool I had Ben Burgess, who had no pace but had touch. Aidan O’Brien may come through, maybe John Marquis. I’d rather have a space in the squad and be able to bring in one that I want. I think Donaldson’s too old. I’ve got to find someone who can find space, like Magaye (Gueye), because if they’re not talented, it won’t work. I don’t like 4 4 2 and I don’t do a donkey, but will pick a team to do that, as we did last season because we had to. I’ll pick a team to win; I’ve done it most of my career. If Burnley can get into the Premier League, why can’t we? You were used by Chris Wood; he came here and then went to Leicester for the money and isn’t playing regularly. I want someone you can trust and that cherishes playing for you. The chairman will do it when it’s right, and that’s what I’d rather. I’m trying to get the right balance. I think we need someone who can run 50-60 yards with the ball. I don’t see that at the moment; we need someone who can carry the ball up the pitch, bring in other players and put them through. Morison wasn’t the number nine I thought he was, he was more of a 9½. The players have all worked really hard. I’ve been delighted with the response and you’d be so pleased. When I joined, we were committed to £6.8m in wages and now it’s £9.3m, but next season it’ll be about £3-4m. I’m used to picking someone up and making him shiny. We’re taking calculated risks with Magaye and (Matthew) Briggsy and I need you to be patient with them and the youngsters. I need you on board. I know I’m not going to get the best cash, but that’s fine; what I want is those that will play for you. I love your question and what you’re saying but Abdou has scored two, McDonald three, Woolford about five. So you might be quite surprised. The seniors have stepped up and beat the U21s 2-0; when I first got here it was the other way around. We’ve got Leeds then Fulham. One has a lot of money and one has a lot of mouth, but so have I and we’ll see what happens.
How’s Nicky Bailey?
IH - Not ready for Saturday, maybe Fulham. I think he’s wonderful, kept us up. He’s torn his knee a little. He said ‘I get fit in matches, gaffer’ and I said that’s bull****, but he’s right. He does have an attitude but I’m trying to help him. But I trust him and I think we missed him (when he didn’t play). We wouldn’t have stayed up without him. He wants the ball, sees danger and lets our full backs up the pitch. But Shauny (Williams) can play deeper and Jimmy’s been wonderful – and thrilled now there’s another Frenchman. I understand that he’s happy now and it’s happy days. I think we can see a little more from him, who you love. He’s due another goal like at Leeds. I know it’s impossible to please you all as you all have your opinion but I have mine and you have to trust me. I believe in what I can do and I think you’ll see the benefit of that. The biggest thing is that we stayed up, now we need to try to go up which I guarantee we’re going to try to do. I’m not a comedian, I don’t know any jokes but I’ve been a pundit. Pundits talk bull**** but with some knowledge. But I’m a people person, making them better people will make them better for Millwall. I believe I can dip into every part of this club and contribute something. I want to embarrass people, whatever it takes, I want to win but with style and humiliate them if I can. I want the rest of the football world, people like Gary Lineker, to say ‘look at how Millwall are playing’.
You talked about the tradition and uniqueness of Millwall and I’m interested in how you’re planning to take that forward. But Robbo? He’s been here – Millwall through and through with Dunney and Forde. Probably only Fordey is guaranteed to start. Then Bircham and Harris off field. I know how you’re going to replace Robbo in a football sense but in the tradition of Millwall?
IH - Do you know Sid Nelson and family? If he doesn’t get in my team very quickly post injury, I’ll be very surprised. I need new heroes. Who’s to say that Chopper Harris won’t be usurped by Lee Gregory’s goals? At Blackpool we had Stanley Matthews and Jimmy Armfield and I took the photos down. We had Charlie Adam, who became famous and I want to do that here, only four times over. I asked Robbo if he wanted to be on my staff and he said no, he wants to play – he’s only 32. So he’s on loan to Portsmouth and I’m trying to help him, he’s a wonderful fella. My Millwall is different to Kenny’s, it’s 4 3 3. I want to be like the best in the world, the Germans. I’ve tested the young lads, what I’m promising you is I want to breed the new breed of those people. There’s always another hero. You’ve had so many wonderful players in the past and I want to leave a legacy. So if I didn’t tell Robbo he wasn’t getting a contract next season, what does that make me? I hope he can come back to help us but I’ve got a grip on what we need. I don’t know Millwall but I’m trying to learn as fast as I can.
Home form needs to pick up compared to the last couple of seasons.
IH - We’ve not had a home game yet! Why do you think that is?
We can’t break teams down. They defend, they get one and we can’t score.
IH - Maybe we didn’t have enough individuals to break them down and didn’t have the team to win. Some people can moan, can’t they! But I hope you can see that at the end of the season everybody was trying. Not at the start of the year when the players hid behind your dislike of the manager. They were being paid the most this club has ever paid and gave you nothing. But they’re not moaning now. So whatever happens, at home, you’ll see the better pitch and facilities. We have to learn how to box around the ring. We need to learn how to roll it out and step off people, not just stand and fight. Maybe at home the crowd scare people to death. I want to bring in Riccardo and Carlos (Edwards), who don’t care what you think, they’re laid back. We’ve tried to find Millwall players for you. We need to be bigger at the back but I’ll sign a midget if he can pass the ball. It’d be good to beat Fulham because their players don’t care, but we care and I care. It’s not just a job, it’s my life now.
Have you settled on a captain yet?
IH - Yes, Alan Dunne. He wants to win more than anyone. He needs to believe in himself more sometimes. He can play centre half for me but not right back where he wants to sit back, not go forward. But at centre half he’ll be brilliant, because he wants the ball.
What about his foul against Real Mallorca?
IH - Outrageous, in the league he’d have been sent off. He needs to know that I need eleven on the pitch. He cares about the players that need it but knows those that don’t want to be here. He has to do what I want him to do and he will do what he needs to win. We are a unique club. We have to understand what we want and how we’re going to get it. Get used to our tactics because I think that’s how we’re going to win. I’m embarrassed to be English because we don’t think big enough. The Germans (at the World Cup) planned brilliantly; we did nothing. Nobody thinks big enough but we do at Millwall. People, don’t moan; come to me with suggestions. I want you to be comfortable that I care enough as if you were in charge. If you slaughter one of my kids, I will slaughter you, because that’s not how you do it, you encourage them. Remember, together, we are one. ‘Stronger Together’ – such a good motto, Arsenal nicked it. When we were promoted at Blackpool, everything I wore sold out and some of it was crap. This is London. Last season you saw people who didn’t care, if that happens with me, they’ll be out.
Rumours about Cahill, any truth and would he fit in your team?
IH - Cahill loves this place and the fans. Tim remembers being ordinary and working hard, so when you ask him if he’ll come back, he’ll say yes, but if that’s a reality, with wages, etc, I don’t know. I’ve rung him three or four times regarding Aussie kids and he’s been great. With money, some people lose reality, but he hasn’t; he’s great because he’s genuine. If I could get him back…but in reality, I don’t think it will happen. The Chris Wood situation could happen again, if we took someone on loan. You can’t hide anything from anyone but I don’t want to let you down. We have to realise what market we’re in and we’re trying to do better.
IH - Usain Bolt! He reckons he could play, doesn’t he?
How are fitness levels? When you came compared to now?
IH Well, my fitness coach is fitter than the last one! Where the lads are, I’m not sure. You work from wherever you are and try to nibble a bit away. 12% body fat is too high. Some people are over that, too many are red, I’m trying to get those to yellow, and get those to green. How I do fitness is now in place; everybody has a folder I can look at. If anybody queries why they’re not playing, we’ll look at their folder. I want them quicker, stronger, fitter. I want players to feel fantastic, we’ve tested them physically and mentally. They all trained for ninety minutes then played 45 against Real Mallorca, which they didn’t think they could do. But I did lose (Richard) Chaplow by training then playing in the evening, I’m sorry for that. The stats are better than they’ve been in their whole life. Scott McDonald has been much better, I think he can score for us.
Did the passion of Millwall fans entice you to come here?
IH - I needed a break, especially after Palace, it burnt me out. I was watching players all day long as we didn’t have a chief scout. Dougie took everything with him – five members of staff. I don’t feel that now, we had a fantastic summer, moved into a house in Beckenham, so I can come here and do my job. My wife’s happy. So I’m completely in love with the place. I’ll be mortified if I don’t achieve what I’m bragging about. I’ve done it twice. I’d like automatic promotion. I’ll ask you a question, when you walk in this ground, don’t you feel fantastic, and are the people not Millwall people? I felt that but we need to control that passion. Our biggest strength can be our biggest downfall. My temper is a problem, I have to control it. We need to self police and I’ve been told you can really help me. One big mistake, one supporter pretending to be one of us can derail us. We need our real supporters not to be involved in that. We need to guide people into helping our team. You didn’t see that last season and it shocked the board because they were paying the most money ever, even one of the directors said that we can be s***. The running in preseason was amazing because of the kids and the senior pros had to keep up. If it fails, should it matter? No, because we’re looking at the stars, as Oscar Wilde said. At Blackpool, Jimmy Armfield sent me a card saying ‘thanks for our days in the sun.’ I want to do that again. The chairman will reward the right people if that happens. How many other people would do that, not many that I know. I am proud to put my name to him and this club.
I was wondering if Jimmy has told you how much he enjoys playing against Leeds? Seriously, how do you manage Muslim players?
IH - Jimmy had three weeks where he could only drink water. We had to prepare food for him to eat at 3.30am but now he’s eating! Remember, I had him at Plymouth as well; Kenny (Jackett) took him from me. I’m now getting the communication; I need him to run less and be more efficient. Others need to run more and then we’ll be okay. There’s more to his game and I want him to develop more. He’s a great person and I want to teach him. We’ll see where he is this season. Don’t think I don’t know that. I need to get the balance right.
Before you came here, what was your, and what is other managers’, perception of Millwall?
IH - I loved it. When I came here with QPR, I was told by one of my staff to just give the crowd some banter and in the end I was told to shut up! When I was a young player, I was almost crying on the way home because of some of the comments from the crowd – it was ‘big nose this, big nose that’. People think I’m a comedian but I’m not, I like a laugh but life can be hard. I get what you’re all about. When I was in the premier league, it was a load of bull****, but not here. I want to do this for you lot – the real people, who have fought through thick and thin. I would never tell you what’s not real. Life’s about yours but I have to worry about mine. Have I answered your question? I go off at a tangent and forget the question!
You’ve convinced us with your passion. After the Blackburn game, I don’t think anybody thought we were going to stay up. But there’s now a disconnect between modern players and the crowd. Also, what about the standard of refereeing?
IH - When I left Palace, it was my choice. I’d worked to get a team into the premier league but the chairman pocketed the money and didn’t reward the players. I want to come here and be real. The frustration you feel regarding wages, we don’t pay that, but the players are still earning more than most of us. I’ve got to sign the right type of person. I was useless at school; my brother and sister were much cleverer, but I’m reading something now about humility. I guarantee you that if our players don’t live like that, they won’t be with us. My wife had cancer and was told that she wouldn’t have kids, but I have four wonderful kids. My dad died feeling a failure because of money, but I don’t care about that. If you don’t trust me to get that over to my players, then I’m in trouble. I want a fair day’s work from the players and have to sign the right type of people. I hate how much people get – it’s obscene and corrupt. The premier league is ruining football, but I still want to get there, because if means you have something to watch and because we’re getting stronger. I’m not afraid of change but it deserves to be real. The chairman deserves it. If either of us break our trust, it can’t be repaired. My grandson lives in Bath but I can’t work there, there’s no club, and I’m not working for Bristol City! My dream is changing but a vision without action is just a dream; a dream without action is a nightmare. I think Andy (Ambler) and the chairman will facilitate that. It’s about the ordinary person rising up and achieving. The FA sold out to the premier league but the Germans would not do that. Roy Hodgson is the second highest earning manager in world football. Players and premier league teams think they’re too important. Young players won’t play Under 21 games. Why are they sending us to Norwich on Boxing Day; we’re playing the team we should be playing that day on the second day of the season (Fulham). Referees? Kenny was right. Now, I love referees. We’re going to be good enough to overcome whatever they throw at us. They’re already biased when they arrive here – ‘I need to be strong here’. Last season, DJ Campbell was flattened (against Brighton), the opponent should have been sent off and it should have been a penalty and it was admitted too late that it was a wrong decision. But we can’t change that. Kenny is chilled, but I can’t be.
Who marks the referees? Do you?
IH - No, I should but I’m never calm enough so I ask Andy.
AA - I’ve physically had to pull him away from referees! We mark them on Monday morning. In the last year, we’ve received more apologies than ever. The worst referees are those from the premier league. I know the head of referees and have suggested he coaches the referees. We’ll see how it goes.
IH - It’s the worst job in the world, equal with traffic wardens. I said to one ‘It must be your first time here’ and I was right. Yes, he was terrified and tried to be strong. I’m that good at languages, I can put a swear word in the middle of another word but what I want is that our group will outscore the opposition. If I can get us from minus 28 to level goal difference, it might take us to a certain level in the league but if we can get to a positive goal difference, we may have enough. We know Leeds’ style so I know my team for Saturday. Kenny told me that the chairman would trust me.
Our discipline was poor. What do you say to players?
IH - I think you need to help me because there’s a perception with the players that they need to be aggressive. The biggest problem last season was Sheffield Wednesday, where Bywater had a player in a headlock. We are going to fine the players. The club was fined £5,000 for the Burnley game and the penalty incident. Players need to focus on their task. Dunney told me he ‘had to welcome them (Real Mallorca) to Millwall. Shane Lowry was getting sent off and missing so many games and it’s not acceptable. I expect players to do their weights. We’re looking at it all scientifically and also the commando style, like you see on television – the values of discipline and self discipline. It’s not how well you play but how well you work together. Safe conflict will drive the group forward. When I arrived, they were dysfunctional and I blame you because you hated the manager and they hid behind that. Well, I have nothing to do with West Ham.
You mentioned referees. One in particular is Mike Jones.
IH- I have an idea. I’ll invite him to my house warming party and you can hammer him!
We were told that Kenny rang you about this job. Did you find, when you met Andy and the chairman, that Kenny had over or undersold the club?
IH - We know each other so well. My best mate is Gary Penrice and that’s how I know Kenny. He lost his career at 27 through injury. I was at QPR and we went into administration, went down, had seven players and no staff. So I asked Ken – it was a great interview. I told him there would be no pay, will you come and join us? and he said yes. And we put it all back together – he left another job to do it. Kenny said ‘you’ll like the chairman and Andy. Because of what you’ve achieved, the chairman will listen to you more than he listened to me’. Kenny and I have discussions, he’s very emotionally different to me, but he was right. I try to make people feel important and each day Andy and the chairman make me feel important. Thank God for this man (points to Andy). Without Kenny, I was having the rest of the season off, because I want my life to be full of my job. My mum is 82 and lost my dad at 54. She’s been on her own ever since and is now struggling. She does as my dad used to say ‘live every day as if it’s your last, because one day you’ll be right’ and that way, you won’t have wasted a day moaning. My cup is always half full, but it was half empty at Palace. I had to sell Wilf (Zaha) to Man U but we got him back on loan. Kenny had had enough. Something had hurt him and we don’t know what it is, he’ll never say, but he still loves this place. He said ‘Please, Ol, speak to them’. Thank God I did it. Skin of our teeth, mind, but in the end it was four points (clear) – a walk in the park!
Did you ever think we were down (last season)?
IH - I was fuming at Blackburn Rovers because we didn’t stay on task. It was infuriating. To get that throw in that wrong was infuriating. We were planning as if we were down but I realised that when times are bad, you have to make things happen. But then I got angry, the 6-0 training game, Robbo looked scared; I warned them at 4-0, ‘get some passion’. I changed seven players and we won. Dunney said to some of the players ‘I’m not sure you want to be here’ and that’s what our team talk became. When you have another chance, you really want it, don’t you? Now there’s optimism, right now it’s great. I played one of my favourite songs – George Benson ‘Love times Love’, because you do and I do. I have a premier league trophy on my fridge, because that’s what I want.
Are you happy with the squad? We’re missing Nicky Bailey, but I can get 4/1 on us finishing in the top half. Shall I take it?
IH - Yes, I can’t bet, but yes. I want to compete at the top end of the table. I have money to spend but want to give the players here a chance. There’s one or two (out there) that I definitely want. I believe we can have a half decent start, even if we don’t win on Saturday. I believe we need a free kick expert and someone who can carry us up the pitch. In training, I make the target bigger and beg them to hit it. Palace’s training ground is 1½ miles from ours and I had to ask for our balls back!
You mentioned ‘when we get into the Premier League’. What about 3-5 years after that?
IH - We’re trying to set the club up, with a global scouting network and the academy. The Premier League is set up to make the clubs that come up fail. The top four also get Champions League money, so the rich get richer. It can be done but the club needs to be set up right the two clubs I have taken up were not set up for it. Palace stayed up because of Tony Pulis – I recommended him and he had something to prove. When we get there, we’ll be ready. We’re looking at buying back our training ground. In 6-7 years, we’ll be ready by taking baby steps where Blackpool took too big steps; the chairman would not sell Charlie Adam and let me reinvest the money – I wanted to buy Puncheon. Let’s beat Leeds and then I’ll talk about their chairman.
What’s happening with the regeneration and the Jumbotron?
AA - We’re looking at replacing the screen but it will cost £130-150,000. (I’d rather have a new striker) There are finance options we’re looking at. Clearly it’s old and knackered. The regeneration is complicated; our advisers are working on it. We want to develop those three areas of land but the council seem to want Renewal to do that, not us. The compulsory purchase orders will be fought. Let’s be clear, the regeneration will be good for the club, there will be the new station and the location will be improved but we don’t want the council to take away our slice of the cake.
I think the club sleepwalked into the situation. The council moved and the club missed an opportunity.
AA - We did make mistakes – we didn’t think the council would do this to us; maybe we were complacent, especially with the lease we have. But we’ve moved on. The chairman has the bit between his teeth and is going nowhere. The people that bought Orient came here first but the chairman sent them away. His businesses are going well and he’s a man of his word and has invested £32million.
How are ticket sales going?
AA - Season tickets are 5,500, compared to 5,900 last season, and memberships are up. We’re almost sold out for Saturday; by the way, get here early! As Ollie said, optimism stretches wide. We’ve sold 4,000, well 5,000, tickets for Fulham. It’ll be great – a day I’ve been waiting for a long time – but we must make sure nobody ruins it. I can never get the Leeds arrangements overturned because of issues that come up. There’ll be about 16,000 here on Saturday. We can’t open the lower tier to Leeds because the police bill would be more than the gate money.
Is that the maximum?
AA - Yes, with 2,000 Leeds fans and no away lower tier sales.
IH - Isn’t making fun of losing somebody disrespectful? Why do we do that? That’s not football. You need to bear in mind that it was someone’s son. If that were my grandson, I would want to kill them. We’ve just commemorated World War I. Why wear a disrespectful shirt? I don’t get it. I want to understand why people do that. I just want to brat them. Someone has actually died and we are going to take the p*** out of that. I wouldn’t want anyone affiliated to me to do that. Why do we let so called Millwall fans do that? Why can’t we rise above it, show some respect to the ones we lost and just win. That shows strength. We are the lions of Millwall. They have pride. I’m not proud of that and I don’t want you to be. I want to meet these people so they understand what my dad and granddad stood for. I am going to keep believing. Be honest with the people around you and say ‘we don’t want that anymore.’
I think you have to look at the stewarding. People don’t sit in their own seats.
AA - It’s about respect for each other. The stewards should do their job and we will look at that but it’s a difficult environment. It’s the non regulars that cause this.
IH - There’s a story about a kid walking on the beach and throwing the beached starfish back into the sea. His dad said ‘Why do you do that, there’s so many, it won’t make a difference’. The boy said ‘But it makes a difference to that one’. We could all do that. I want people to be proud of this team and what we stand for. I want to meet these people and make them understand. Don’t call me a politician, I work hard for my money. We have to make a difference and have to do it through the supporters’ club. We have to help the chairman and re-educate people so we can move forwards. Imagine the Premier League party! If we lose Saturday, I’ll come back fighting for Tuesday and then Fulham, and so on. It makes us stronger together. We can do it but you have to tell the people you know that ‘we don’t do that anymore’. Get a Premier League trophy for your fridge, because that’s where we’re going.
You say that Saturday is nearly sold out. Why not use the ticket booths for collection, splitting the tickets according to the area of the stadium.
AA - If we sell out, we could do that. We want people to get here early. The MSC have just paid for a BT Sport subscription so you can watch lunchtime premier league games here, not at the pub. We’re trying to come to a deal to offer discounted beer prices. People still don’t realise that your ticket is on your membership card, that you don’t have to collect a paper ticket. We have to change that mentality.
IH - Someone’s got to change that. We need to be move forward but can’t look back and need to start afresh. Bob Marley was shot but carried on with his gig. I think we need to think differently. We won the war but when you lose, you look and try to change. We still ask the US for help. I can’t change the past, only tomorrow. I don’t care about the past but need to move forward. I’m a custodian of this club and it’s a privilege and I won’t stop until I’ve made you proud. Think about our future, I want it to shine. Are you with me? Kenny gave up because he couldn’t change things. We need to do that.
Bob closed the meeting at 9.40 pm by thanking everybody for their participation and attendance and wishing the team well for the new season.
Millwall Supporters Club, c/o The Den,
London SE16 3LN -
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