Minutes of the Fans Forum held at the Den at 7.00 pm on 16 March 2017
Guests Neil Harris, Steve Kavanagh and Micky Simpson
Chair Bob Asprey (MSC Chair)
Bob opened by thanking everybody for attending, especially our guests for the evening. You can ask all the questions you like of our Fan on the Board designate but football first, so questions for Neil, then we’ll have a break, and return with Steve and Micky.
All season, I’ve been more confident in your two banks of four. However, we have to endure an endless series of uninterrupted crosses, waiting for one of them to come off. Has it been difficult to keep people patient to understand the formation?
Neil - I understand the fan base gets nervous during the game with the space down the wings. My philosophy is that the opposition can’t score from wide but can from the middle. Early in the season, we had trouble stopping crosses, but we didn’t change the way we play. We worked with the players, adjusted a couple of players and it’s been effective. The best players for most teams at this level are the centre forwards. If the ball is wide, we can shuffle across and defend. It’s been effective for three months, except for against Spurs.
You like wingers, but when are they going to take the last defender on? They freeze, even on Sunday, it didn’t happen; Fred had chances. We need to attack the full back.
Neil - I think, unfortunately, that’s how the game is today. I’ve tried to sign certain players to do that, for example, Gregg Wylde. We work with Fred to give him the confidence to do take the defenders on. Many of you will remember Jimmy Carter – he used to just toepoke the ball to the corner flag and run after it. It is a dying art, but we’re trying to bring our young players through to do it. We’ll keep working with them.
I don’t see the players cross the ball over.
Neil - Everybody has different opinions but since 17 December, we’ve only been beaten by Spurs. We have a solid base and players with different attributes. Yes, I want players to attack down the wing, as we have Morison and Gregory waiting in the middle. We have teams come to play seven at the back against us so we have to play the ball differently. I like 442 formation and wide players.
Why didn’t you start with Shane Ferguson on Sunday?
Neil - The thought process was to try to be as physical as we could, use our size and athleticism, and then impact later with Fergie coming on. But I don’t’ think it would have mattered who I played, as Spurs were that good. In hindsight, would I have changed it? Maybe.
What’s the situation with David Worrall, I think there are a few games he could have fitted in.
Neil - He came out of the side due to personal issues and unfortunately, since he came out of the side, we’re on a good run. He’s patient and wants to be successful here. Obviously Fred’s played most games and been effective. Jed Wallace is back and David needs to be patient. If he gets the chance, he needs to take it. That’s the benefit for me of having a strong squad, I have two good players in each position.
If we go up, how much money will be available for new players? Do you have a list of players you’d like to sign?
Neil - Yes, the Spurs eleven! Yes, we’re busy working. We have the recruitment department. We get the odd one wrong, but generally it’s worked well. The chairman supports us phenomenally well. We’re looking for the right players, right age, right style of player. The dressing room is important, and the character and spirit is the best I’ve known, and I won’t threaten that.
Would you like to sign Cooper?
Neil - Yes. He’s come in and done well. His character is outstanding. He was highly recommended by Steven Reid. Hutchinson has been excellent, when he’s played, but been unlucky with injury. Will Cooper come? I don’t know. Will he get in the Reading team? I’d like his long term future to be here, as he would improve our squad. However, he still has two years on his Reading contract.
Aiden O’Brien, we get frustrated watching him
Neil - I will comment on that statement. Aiden’s very Paul Ifill-like, one minute you love him, then he frustrates. He can play on the fringes of the game a lot and people might want him to be more aggressive. But he’s a goal scoring talent and can play off the front or wide. Does he go for challenges or headers, no, but he’s a goal threat. That’s my balancing act, Aiden, Worrall, Fergie. I get frustrated, so does he. He’s one of our own academy players. He’s not a kid at 23, but he’s young in number of games. He gives his all. He covers more distance than any player except for Ben Thompson or Jimmy. Aiden’s long distance running and in his tests, he wins them all. And he scores more goals in the six yard box than anyone.
Why do we back off in midfield? Why don’t we go in for the challenge?
Neil - What team does that now? I’m a strong believer that everyone has different attributes. Williams won’t tackle like a Hurlock, but Thompson can’t pass a ball like Williams. I get what you’re saying and a large number of fans still want a Hurlock in midfield. I think centre halves come out at us because I won’t let our midfielders attack them. We’re not in the Championship yet, and need to concentrate on League 1 and winning games in this division.
If we don’t go up, will you sell Gregory?
Neil - No. None of the players are for sale.
On Sunday, did we get out without injury? How do you pick the team up? What one thing have we taken from that game?
Neil - Morison has a tight calf, but hopefully will be fit for weekend. The cup run was phenomenal, it was impressive to beat three premier league teams, and with no goals conceded. The group has a great mentality, they came into dressing room and were down, not the time I’d finished with them, they were fine. They’ll be at it on Saturday, as they know everybody will be watching for their reaction. What do we take? We knew we had to play well and hope Spurs didn’t. But they turned up with the right mentality and a professionalism that was impressive. The physicality of their players, they were quick, sharp, moved the ball brilliantly. We don’t have the God given talent they have, but my players can work as hard on their passing drills. It’s a learning curve.
Spurs didn’t stop trying to score. Sometimes we’ve been in a similar position, but we seem to stop trying to score
Neil - I think that’s the mindset of the players. We can improve as a group there. I talk always about difficult spells in games. Earlier in the season, teams would score against us, and we’ve had to improve that. And scoring is another step in mentality.
I admire our 4-4-2, in this division this works. What worries me is when it isn’t working, we don’t seem to have a plan B. do we need that?
Neil - We do talk about it in the management team. I think we’ve become repetitive and strong at what we do, but we’re a little nervous to change. If we were promoted, we’d have to adjust. Last season, my gripe was, we had a system, I wanted to be able to change personnel in the system and couldn’t but can now – we’ve adjusted occasionally to a 433. The players have proven we could adjust to a back three or midfield three. We have players who can do it. I have to be careful not to give mixed messages to the players. I didn’t want to change the system on Sunday. It doesn’t matter how we would have played. Would I change now? I would if I felt it was important.
It’s been good to see how Shaun Cummings has taken on his role
Neil - There’s definitely a difference in the way he and Mahlon play. Mahlon looked very tired when he came out of the team. Shaun steadied the ship a little. Mahlon’s come in since then and played well. He’s more of an attacking modern day full back. I think I have two good lads thriving on the challenge, and they both know what they’re good at and where they need to improve. And when I have switched it, they’ve embraced it, and I’ve shown faith in both of them. I’m lucky to have the choice.
You could play Mahlon as a winger
Neil - I could if I needed. But I disagree.
People get hung up on the system. Spurs played the way I like to see football played. I think we give the ball away too much and too cheaply. When we lose the ball, instead of closing down, we sit off them. Against Bournemouth, we closed them down. Why don’t we play that way every week?
Neil - Firstly, yes, we give the ball away too much. I want us to keep the ball. I give players freedom to play, with a guideline, but they make their own decisions. Without the ball, I have to utilise our squad to the best of its ability and when we try to press the ball, for example, against Peterborough, we conceded five. When you see teams that play 442, for example, Leicester, Brighton, Atletico, it’s very difficult to press but great for the counter attack. Athletically, some of our players aren’t the quickest. So if they do press high and get picked off, we have big problems. We work with pressing high and dropping off. It’s something we’ll be looking at in the summer for recruitment.
Harry Smith seems like a good find, what’s out non league scouting set up?
Neil - I like a non-league player, they have hunger and determination. Harry has a long way to go but has had a great impact. We’re diligent with scouting non-league players, mostly around London but it’s harder to buy them because either the non-league club has money or is stubborn. Harry Smith was £10,000 from Folkestone. Conference teams will quote £200-300,000 for a player.
Goalkeepers – how’s Jordan Archer and how was Tom King after Sunday?
Neil - Jordan is closer to being ready, probably touch and go for Saturday. Kingy has been excellent; he’s 21, and had only a few first team games. He was excellent for 94 minutes and everybody’s heart sank when that ball went in. But he’s thick skinned, you have to be as a goalie and he may have got a bit of stick in the dressing room, but it’s valuable experience for everybody. Tom’s shown his ability to compete with Jordan and earned his right to be the club number two. Yes, we want Jordan back, but Tom’s fine.
What’s happening with Fred’s contract and Joe Martin?
Neil - Joe is another great lad, my first signing as a manager. He played a lot of the games at the start of the season but is out of contract at the end of the season. He’s not needy and happy to wait. He won’t want to stay with us if he doesn’t have a chance of being first choice left back.
With Fred, we want him to tie his future down. You’ll have heard me say his agent’s been elusive. We’ve tried to talk to him and he’s not wanted to enter into conversations with us. We all want Fred to stay but it takes two parties to negotiate and enter an agreement. Where we can be relaxed is if he wants to leave it’ll go to tribunal. Hopefully we would receive £1,000,000 or above. As a club we can’t do any more. He’s a great young man. The problem now is a lot of players let their agents do the talking. I find it strange that players don’t want to talk themselves about the most important thing in their lives.
Steve - Agents will often tell the player to wait, so it’s not necessarily the player driving it. I’ve been there many times; some players sign, some don’t.
Do we only receive compensation if he’s out of contract?
Steve - He needs to be under 24 and have been offered a new contract.
Since you’ve been in charge, we have our Millwall back and I think all credit is due, because given the position we were in, it took a lot of bravery to take the job. There’s a lot to improve, as you’ve said. On behalf of the fans, whatever happens before end of the season, thank you
Neil - Thanks for that, I appreciate it. I take the praise on behalf of the staff and squad, but it’s saved for the end of the season. We had a slow start and it made me realise what a difficult job it is to sustain. The position is, we’re chasing promotion. Getting to the play offs is a must. Yes, we have a long way to go but we have to keep taking the small steps and we will keep improving. Hopefully with more improvement next season in the Championship.
When there’s our goal kick, most of the players are close to eachother. Have you ever thought of letting them play break out
Neil - The problem with that is it becomes a 70 yard ball and it becomes a one on one, so if there’s a slip, they’re in on goal. So, no.
Why do we have everybody back defending a corner? If you leave one up, they’ll leave two back, so this leaves more room
Neil - We don’t put eleven back. Gregory stays up.
Gregory’s job should be to keep the two occupied
Neil - I’ll take it on board. With set pieces, my focus is on defending the goal. At the moment, we leave one up and it’s been effective.
The opposition always seem to have a spare man
Neil - Our strength of defending is in the centre of the pitch. My philosophy is to leave the wide areas, as they’re the least dangerous areas on the pitch. No offence to full backs, but more talented players are normally in the middle of the park. I think our form has improved with Hutchinson and then Cooper. How do you explain it? I put our bad form in September and October down to big players not playing well: Williams, Webster, even Archer. Since we beat Charlton, it’s all come together. Webster plays well with Cooper and Hutchinson. The three of them have shown their ability.
Is Jimmy going to be offered a new contract to take him to his testimonial?
Neil - Yes, Jimmy’s a massive part of this club; he’s not played as many games this season, but we all know his character and we know his agent well so the conversations should be fine. He will need to consider his long term plan. Will he stay in England?
And Jed Wallace?
Neil - We’re trying to get something in writing. We have to be careful, because he’s not our player. He loves playing here, he wants to stay and sign a long contract. He’s another player of ability, good age and mentality, but that’s a conversation for Steve and the chairman.
Ben Thompson and set pieces. I understand he plays a covering role but with the leap on him, can we put him in the box?
Neil - It’s one of those you have to weigh up. His strength in the air is the surprise. It’s different with corners, etc, as you’re marked. He’s been challenged to score more in the box, as has Calum, Jimmy, Williams. He should be more dangerous. Our set plays have been successful but there is an element of freedom for the players, so as long as there’s cover.
Do you have a list of players you’d like to sign?
Neil - Yes, we have a wish list. I’ve identified players in this and higher divisions that may become available but we have to be mindful of the division we’re in.
If we were promoted, how much would we have to spend?
Steve - Time for a break!
Fordey’s done brilliantly at Portsmouth, will he be coming back
Neil - He came to the training ground today; it was great to see him. He’s a top professional, and went to Portsmouth because he wanted to play. We had a conversation at the start of the season and he said he wants to be somewhere he will play. He’s done well, come the summer, he might say he wants to return to Portsmouth. Will there be room for him in our squad? There’s always room for experience. We need a conversation. Professionalism wise, he’s one of the best I’ve played with.
What do you prefer, playing or managing?
Neil - There’s nothing better than playing. No better feeling in the world, save family, to scoring at the Den. But seeing a routine come off, picking a player who scores, affecting the game, is still good.
Justin Skinner has gone and Adam Barrett come in. You think he’s the right man?
Neil - Yes, Adam’s been with us ten days and has been phenomenal. Leadership, experience, the way he conducts himself, everybody will learn from him. From what I’ve seen, he’ll be a top manager. Drive and enthusiasm, he fits the bill perfectly. Justin was really good for us – a different character to me and Adam. I thought a change was needed. From what I’ve seen, it’s very impressive. Would Paul Robinson come back? Paul Robinson has signed a new contract with AFC Wimbledon. I’d like to have him back. When the time’s right, he’d like to come back, 100% yes.
Is John Marquis on the wish list?
Neil - No, our young players, without putting them under pressure, are coming through. We’ve had a great influx, we have more coming through, but it can’t happen every year. The Checkatrade trophy was excellent for us and resulted in us having sent players on loan. Chris Twardek and James Brown, we’re hopeful on. It’s difficult to give debuts in the Championship but I’m not afraid to do that. We allowed Sid to go on loan, as playing is best for them. We feel we have a really good crop of youngsters and we’re probably going to have to wait two or three years for another influx but we have a conveyor belt.
Bob - It’s good to draw the first part of the evening to a positive end. If I can expand on the comment regarding having our Millwall back, it’s about the club, and the supporters being able to identify with the team, and a positive togetherness throughout the Millwall family; so, for your part in that, we thank you very much.
Is it true that we have a sell on clause on all youth players?
Steve - Where a young player comes through, up to the age of 24, if you’ve offered them a new contract, you have sell on rights. If it goes to tribunal, a panel will judge that. There was a tribunal for a Southend player, Bentley, so I have experience of that. Sell on clauses are usually in a contract when you sell players, in case they go to another level; it’s called contingent value. I don’t know if Halifax put one in Gregory’s contract. I’ve not looked, as we’re not selling.
Where are we with the regeneration? The existing cabinet will be gone in fourteen months, so what’s the game plan?
Steve - I’m not going to say what we’re going to do next. There’s a public enquiry costing £500,000 of public money, which will take six months. They’re now putting out that this will be fine, when it’s done, the CPO will be resubmitted. We’ve come a long way but, at the moment, Renewal think it’s carrying on, and we believe that to be the case. Yes, the mayoral elections are in May 2018, but the new mayor may be in place before then. We have our case, it’s meant to be a stadium led regeneration and the club and community trust must be at the heart of it. The current plans do not have that.
Can we look at pricing structure for kids aged 12+. Season tickets go from £23 to £140
Steve - Yes, we can. But we’re just about to launch new season tickets. For age 12+, if they use the Family Enclosure, they pay only £50.
It’s too much of an increase to go to £140. I would scrap the Junior Lions
Steve - You’d scrap the Junior Lions? No I disagree.
Micky - if you’re going to try to get rid of the Junior Lions, 6, 7, 8 year olds, they’re our future fans.
I think the point is, the price goes to £50 for family enclosure, can it not be the same around the whole ground?
Steve - The family stand is incredible, but for that age, I think it’s fair to offer a lower price in that area. Other clubs do so and I don’t think it’s unfair.
With season tickets, Bradford’s pricing policy means so many people now attend games
Steve - What they’ve done is great. They’ve jumped off a cliff and the parachute is there and it’s worked. It’s how you take that first leap and how you know it will work. I was at a meeting when their chairman announced the plan and he was confident it would work.
We’re all struck by how we can produce 47,000 people for Wembley. It’s that that makes me think there must be something we can do
Steve - One of the things I’ve set up is a group to look at attendances. There isn’t a single silver bullet but there are a number of areas where it can work. We looked at it after the Leicester game and for Chesterfield we added 2,000 to the previous Tuesday gate. However, you can’t do that every week because ST holders are your best customers and have to be looked after. We need to look at other ways, for example, primary school children. Bring them here as their first live game and that’s how you get them involved. There are numerous strategies and we’re working with the MSC. It’s the one thing every club wants. If I knew we would get 15,000 season tickets by dropping the price, I’d do it. The breakeven at Bradford was an additional 12,000.
Is there a chance we could do a mini loyalty scheme, say, buy four tickets and receive an incentive for a play-off ticket?
Steve - Playoffs are a difficult conundrum because you can’t move the prices. We looked at a four game initiative and given where we are with the league, we would work around that. I’m conscious of having done the Chesterfield game and going out with a promotion at ST time, as it might make some think twice, as they don’t see the value in the ST. I agree with the principle that occasionally, STs will allow us to drop a price for a game, as it fills the stadium. We’re approaching the end of the season now, so running out of time. Some ST holders complained about the Chesterfield promotion.
Can you not improve the ST offer?
Steve - We’re looking at that. We can’t add cup games, as we have to give half the revenue to the opposition. It’s something that needs attention. The Checkatrade trophy is to be discussed to find ways to improve attendances.
Would you consider kids for £1 and reducing ST prices for the fans?
Steve - STs for kids are £23. Next season we will have an initiative for ST holders. We can’t constantly do it as it reduces income.
What have the average attendance been since we moved?
Steve - This season, the average is 9,500.
The season we were beaten by Birmingham in the play offs, the average was 12,000, so the crowd’s just not there
Steve - This is why the staff all sat down for ideas and we’re speaking to MSC. We’re going to try every idea, even again. Every club outside the Premier League has this problem. Our season tickets compared to the rest of division are not expensive. I want this place full every week.
Micky - If you have ideas, send them to the MSC or me.
At our last game, I was pleased to see schoolkids attending, how much does that cost?
Steve - I worked with schools successfully at Charlton and Southend, where attendances grew by 1,000 a year. You need to be careful to manage it and target it. Follow them up and offer initiatives. It costs the club money if the tickets are taken by people that would have bought them anyhow. Need to take a long term view. At Charlton, Greenwich council paid £50,000 a year to support the school’s initiative.
Can the Community scheme expand into Bromley, Bexley, Dartford?
Steve - I don’t know the answer because the community trust is a separate structure and a charity. But yes, I agree, we need more advertising in the community. Our press and marketing team now work together and are looking at this.
I’d like to praise club on the support it’s given Harvey Brown. What you’ve done for him and his family is outstanding and we thank the club, but is there anything more you can offer them?
Steve - As you’ve said we’ve done a lot, but for any children like him, we have a duty to give something back to the community.
Do you ever get involved in raising more revenue through sponsorship arrangements?
Steve - Yes, I’ve recently had dinner with potential shirt sponsors. There’s a great commercial team here, and I’ve only been here 4 1/2 months, so I’m learning. I’m an accountant by trade, so when I own the figures here, I’ll drive those. We have a team working hard on sponsorship opportunities.
After Sunday, with the racial slur, what the club’s attitude? The media has gone over the top
Steve - As a club, we stand against any form of racism. It is racial stereotyping, so it shouldn’t happen. It did, and we’re going to hold a session in ‘Arry’s Bar, to educate people. We have to get our house in order. People will use the history of the club against us and we need to not give people an excuse, including the press. It gave the press an opportunity. I’m not going to say anything other than it’s wrong. Will you punish them? How can I punish 3,000 people?
I’ve heard that the chanting wasn’t our supporters but was Spurs, they do it themselves
Steve - You can’t say ‘They’re racist, so we will be’. Spurs have not reported us, the referee didn’t put it in his report; the press have put the pressure on, so we have to look after ourselves. They had their column inches to fill.
What else is in the pipeline like this session?
Steve - I’ve asked Millwall for All to look at this. We’ve had a few issues of racism in the ground but it has stepped up lately; since Brexit, people are braver, society has shifted slightly. I’ve said this needs readdressing. We need to do everything we can to make this place welcoming.
Regarding stereotyping, we are being stereotyped. This press demonisation needs to stop
Steve - I agree with what you’re saying. About a month ago, a national journalist said to me that there seems to be a shift in the way the club is presented – can we set up a group to talk to them, so this is progressing. It’s going to be a long road but a Sun journalist praised us today.
How do you get the press to print what we want them to print? Why don’t we challenge them legally?
Steve - Doing that will just get them to look for every opportunity to criticise us. Don’t think we’re going to roll over and accept everything. We’re not
Micky - Six months ago, the regeneration was a problem and Steve’s made progress there. If we get our house in order with racism, etc, we will be able to fight back.
We had a player called Gavin Grant. It came up in the papers that he was involved in a shooting, when he wasn’t out player. He was found not guilty. He went to play at two other clubs, went back on trial due to new evidence and was found guilty. The headline in the Standard was ‘Millwall striker…’ This club scores own goals, we lost a manager due to it, but those sorts of cases are problems
Steve - I think we all agree we’re in a tough spot and the press will work against us. I won’t take the press on, as there’s only one winner. I did that when my dad died and it really hurt me. The press team can move perceptions but it will take time. But we make it easy for the media. Let’s stop throwing bottles on the pitch; stop giving them the opportunity.
Millwall will never lose the stigma. But we will never stop putting through our own net. Leicester was a case in point, with parents taking their kids onto the pitch. Why didn’t we hear about Charlton beating up Fleetwood fans, Palace vandalising their own coach. No matter what we do, the club always attracts a certain type of fan. Why did the stewards let people on the pitch?
Steve - All the points being made, I understand. I defend stewards, they are briefed that, to stop a riot or crushing, you let people on. We have to educate fans and move forward.
At away games, they double search you. Why is that?
Steve - I hear what you’re saying. Searching happens in football. Fans get searched, including away fans here. If you don’t search people, there’s trouble. How do flares get in? They’re hidden with kids, who can’t be searched or concealed in other ways.
Loyalty points scheme worked well this year. Will it be in place next season?
Steve - Yes, we think it worked. We avoided that initial crush although there were still people here at 4am! We’ll carry points over to next season, if we have an early game that needs them.
Dockers’ Day and the ex-players. You could spend time asking them questions on the pitch
Steve - Yes, we can look at that. One of the things I picked upon when I joined was the pre match atmosphere and since the music started, we’ve not lost. We’re looking at the build-up and what else we can do. We want to communicate and we have a willingness to listen to ideas. So feed your ideas in via the MSC. Our desire is to improve communication, the matchday experience, the size of the crowd and get the press on side.
Don’t introduce clappers, or drums!
Steve - Why would you need clappers? The noise generated even with 9,000 is phenomenal and is intimidating but mustn’t cross the line.
Why are away supporters allowed bottles?
Steve - Yes, it’s in our report to the FA that we know where the bottles came from. Yes, we know we want to increase crowds but against Charlton, the referee was about to abandon the game and he wanted it announced to the crowd, which would have made it worse, given they were 3-1 down. Away fans don’t generally throw bottles. We are looking at quick pour systems, the pumps for Leicester were a one off. If the bottles weren’t being thrown, it would be better for everyone. We took them out after Charlton from the East stand but it’s costing us money.
The CBL gate gets locked earlier and earlier after the game. Why can’t it be left open later?
Steve - I need to find out why but if there’s no good reason, I’ll change it.
A while ago, there was talk of a museum, and some of us donated items. In the Dockers stand we don’t have very good photos, as there are in other stands, can we look at the memorabilia over there?
Steve - The museum is in the process of being put properly in place; it’ll be in press lounges – it’s been more complicated than envisaged. We will look at the pictures for the Dockers.
Bob - Thanks Steve and Micky and thanks to you all for coming out. On Saturday, we will have commemorative badges for sale to mark the 59 game unbeaten run. They’ll be at blue bus with the money to the Jimmy Mizen charity.
The meeting closed at 9.22 pm.