MILLWALL are not extravagant dealers in the transfer market. But they still have a consuming ambition to secure promotion to the First Division.
Chairman Micky Purser, a local car dealer, maintains that prudent progress is the correct policy for the club because over-reaching could have disastrous consequences.
When they regained their Second Division place in 1966, they went on to reach eighth in the table and It, is significant that five of the seven clubs above them are now in the First Division – Coventry. Wolves, Ipswich, Huddersfield and Crystal Palace.
Supporters, impatient for success and jealous of neighbours Chelsea. Crystal Palace and West Ham, feel that a determined push then would also have landed Millwall in the top flight.
Instead, with smaller gates In the Second Division. Millwall have not been able to hold their ambitious star Keith Weller and transferred him to Chelsea for £100,000.
The highest position Millwall have achieved was seventh in 1932-33. They equalled that in 1967-68.Their FA Cup record shows that they are capable of reaching the heights, and the post-war peak was the 1957 defeat of Newcastle, who had won the Cup three times in the previous seven years.
The best performance was in 1937 when they became the first Third Division club to reach the semi-finals. The scalps included Fulham, Chelsea. Derby and Manchester City and some of the defeated players were Frank Swift, Peter Doherty, Eric Brook, Vic Woodley, Sam Weaver and Sammy Crooks.
Some fans have let Purser know their feelings by hurling stones through the windows of his showrooms in the Old Kent Road.
Purser says: “I read in the Oxford United programme a fortnight ago that Port Vale are £200,000 in the red. How on earth do you get out of that debt?
“It is very easy to put a club into deep trouble. You can gamble expensively on promotion, miss it and land in debt up to your neck.”Palace won promotion two seasons ago, rebuilt large areas of the ground and clung on with 27 points—one of the lowest, safety points total ever. If the season had gone the other way, they would have been in trouble.”
They splashed heavily in transfer fees in the summer but that was justified because they had a year’s experience behind them and were over the hump.
“Look at Rangers. They dropped straight back again after heavy outlays on the ground and it may take them over 10 years to recover.
“The best policy Is to be slow but sure. I have learnt from my own business that you can’t do things overnight. If you rush matters, they may end disastrously.”
So Millwall walk a tight rope and it is a delicate balance. If they splash heavily, they may gain promotion or plunge the club into trouble from which It would not recover.
Millwall’s plans for developing The Den are blueprinted at a cost of £100,000 and would be put into immediate effect in the First Division.
Meanwhile, they intend to spend what money they have to spare on new players and manager Benny Fenton has two men in mind.
They find, however, that clubs remember the £100,000 received for Weller and may put up the fee. Millwall jibbed at what they considered an excessive £25.000 for Nigel Cassidy, the Scunthorpe forward.
Although Weller was sold in the summer, Millwall refused to rush into signing a replacement and there were lengthy negotiations before Barry Bridges joined from Rangers last month.
Side by side with the occasional imports is the production of their own players, and Millwall have a good youth department under Charlie Vaughan. the former Charlton centre-forward.
Alan Dorney, Barry Kitchener—for whom they refused an £85,000 offer by Aston Villa two seasons ago— and Youth international Doug Allder are among the products.
When Bridges joined Millwall he told me: “I was put off at first by the surroundings but every player emphasised that I was joining a good club.” So Millwall have their priorities right. They are building a happy and loyal team spirit. Now we wait the day when, to quote Shelley, they will “Rise like lions after slumber.”