Monsieur Salut writes: Lucas Ball* was the ideal Millwall fan to invite into the ‘Who are You?’ interview suite, aka gmail. He is just 16 so one of our youngest candidates in the series, but is passionate about his club and conducts similar interviews for Behind Enemy Lines, the Millwall fan site News at Den‘s equivalent feature. ‘The young prodigy’, another Millwall fan called him the other day.
In 1891-92, Sunderland’s Team Of All The Talents became the first to show a 100 per cent winning record at home (13 games). Lucas does not think we’ll avoid another dreaded English record, for the number of home games without a win (19 so far, including the goalless draw in the FA Cup last season), and expects a draw.
He neither rates nor hates SAFC though he feels for our fans, would take Lamine Kone, sets survival as his main objective for Millwall this season and talks of ‘extreme frustration’ at his club’s hoodlum image …
Salut! Sunderland: seven points above Sunderland, strong in defence but goalshy. Is this a season of relegation avoidance for Millwall or do you feel you can rise well away from the danger zone?
Lucas Ball: on early season performances, I think somewhere around 15th is achievable for us. The goal is simply to stay up to give us something to build on, but if we add just one or two players in January mid table is very possible. The defending has generally been excellent and Jordan Archer’s form in goal earned him a Scotland call up after he turned around his poor early season form. Conor McLaughlin and James Meredith have been excellent additions to the backline, as well as Jed Wallace and George Saville in midfield. Morison and Gregory, playing up front are struggling a bit to put their chances away at this level.
Neil Harris sounds like everyone’s dream manager: prolific striker in a fine Millwall career, then leading you as manager to two Wembley playoffs and back into the Championship. Tell us about him and your thoughts on his achievements/ability
Neil Harris was coming towards the end of his Lions playing career when I started paying attention to football and I’m gutted I never saw him play before his cancer, when he was even more prolific. I was lucky enough to meet him and have a proper photo done with him as a youngster, and will look to interview him in the next couple of years, which would be brilliant. He’s honest and loyal, two qualities which aren’t particularly prominent in today’s football, and he understands Millwall. Only people with certain mentalities succeed at this club, and Harris is certainly a strong character.
Logical next question: how high can Lions’ fans reasonably expect to see their club go? At first glance, John Berylson, a Havard-educated US businessman, seems an improbable owner/chairman of Millwall FC. How do you assess his affinity with the club and has he the resources and stamina to move you to higher levels?
Berylson is involved in real estate as far as I’m aware, so him buying the football club closest to the city of London isn’t actually as much of a surprise as it first seems. I think he is willing to invest more so we establish ourselves at this level in the coming years, but his health hasn’t been as good recently. He’s a good chairman, and hopefully he stays healthy. I wouldn’t expect to see us in the elite division any time soon, but that’s too much about money for our fans! Who knows though, Harris is a decent manager and stranger things have happened.
Steve Morison goals have obviously made him a hero but your record so far this season suggests the defenders are your main asset. Who is doing well and where do you badly need strengthening?
The defence has been brilliant. As mentioned above, Conor McLaughlin and James Meredith have been superb additions. Shaun Williams was in the best form of his life before his injury, whilst Byron Webster will be sorely missed after his string performances. Steve Morison is leading the line still, but he isn’t putting away his chances like last season. We need someone who’s more clinical, as Gregory isn’t scoring enough either.
Sheringham, Claridge, Morison … who are the players who have given you most pleasure as a Lions fan or make you wish you were old enough to have seen them in action?
Whilst Teddy was a great player for us, he is now hated by many Den faithful. I was born in 2000, so he was before my time, and I never really saw Claridge. I wish I’d have seen Tim Cahill and even the likes of Barry Kitchener, Terry Hurlock et al. I’ve still seen numerous stalwarts though, including Morison himself, Harris, Robinson, Dunne, Forde and Abdou. I might have missed someone there, really not sure!
Who should never have been allowed near The Den?
Ian Holloway and the vast majority of his countless signings! He ruined the club and the wage bill spiralled under him. It was ridiculous. Gary Taylor-Fletcher, to name just one was a complete waste of space.
Your highlights as a supporter are not difficult to guess. Wembley apart, what else sticks in the memory?
Listening to the game (from home) where Neil Harris became record scorer was incredible, it was great to see him break that after so long with us. I’ve watched us four times at Wembley, I didn’t go this year due to a family problem. For such a small club we’ve certainly had some highs. Being in the press box to watch some fantastic performances this year has been excellent too.
And lowest points?
I was very annoyed when Kenny Jackett resigned, the guy was an excellent manager for us for five years. Relegation in 2015 was probably my lowest point since I started properly following the club back in 2009. Harris did what he could to save us but the damage was done by Ollie.
You probably get fed up with being asked about hooliganism but it’s not controversial to suggest that some Lions’ fans have worn the unsavoury image as a badge of honour (I remember interviewing a semi-reformed hooligan years ago and he was proud of the punches he and his mates threw). What’s your view?
I’ve seen clips where we are proud of it, and it’s almost part of the culture of the club. However, we haven’t had much real major trouble in recent years and most of us get extremely frustrated by the label we all get stuck with. Half the time in recent years it’s not even been the regular game attendees causing the trouble, which makes it all the more frustrating for the loyal ones.
Thoughts on Sunderland – the club, the fans, the city and region, our perpetual managerial crises?
The only real time I know of us playing Sunderland is the FA Cup Semi Final back in 2004, one of the greatest days for most of our fans. Not a massive fan of the club, but I wouldn’t put them anywhere near my most hated. I honestly don’t know much about the city, but the fans certainly deserve better than Ellis Short. Most of the managerial merry go round at the Stadium of Light is down to his awful ownership.
Is there any SAFC player you’d like to see at The Den?
Last season I would’ve picked either Jermain Defoe (despite his links to West Ham) or Jordan Pickford. I’d probably go for Lamine Kone. Although his attitude is often criticised, I think Harris could work with him, and we do need a centre back particularly with Webster’s injury ruling him out until the end of the season.
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Hand on heart, were will our clubs finish this season?
I think we’ll finish about 15th and Sunderland around 18th. It’ll be hard to turn around such a poor start.
Diving the other forms of cheating: a lost cause or still worth trying to stamp out?
For the sake of the game and the legacy of those legends left behind, we have to keep trying to stamp it out. It’s worth trying to keep whatever integrity we can in the sport! Tougher punishments are needed for diving.
Will you be at the game and what will be the score?
I won’t be, no. I’ll go for Sunderland 1-1 Millwall though. I’m backing George Saville to get our goal.
* Lucas Ball on himself: I’m 16 and an aspiring sports journalist. I started my A Levels in September, and grew up in Medway, Kent. My dad and grandad before him are/were Millwall fans respectively, and I followed in their footsteps. A shame that I never got to visit the old stadium!
Interview: Colin Randall