Barry Kitchener, Harry Cripps, Teddy Sheringham, Terry Hurlock, Tim Cahill, Neil Harris, Paul Robinson. There have been many players who, whenever Millwall fans reminisce, will eloquently wax lyrical about how these are some of the greatest/hardest/most terrifying players they have ever seen at the Old and New Den. Players who we remember growing up watching wishing we could be, who we would cheer and chant their names from the stands and terraces. But what about the others? The players who when we find old programmes in the garage, we would flip it over and have completely forgotten that these players played a part in successful teams of the past. The ‘Steady Eddies’ who may not have scored hat-tricks or hit crunching tackles every week, but those who were reliable and wouldn’t let you down.
For this edition of Unsung Heroes, we look back to a player who was as determined as Tom Cruise dangling from the ceiling via a zip-rope and dodging defenders like security lasers, Paul Shaw.
Signing from Arsenal in time for the 1997-98 season, many hopes were pinned to the former Arsenal trainee after loan spells from his parent club at Burnley, Cardiff City and Peterborough United. The two seasons prior to the midfielder joining had seen the Lions relegated from the First Division in the 1995-96 season and a disappointing 14th place finish in the Second Division in the 1996-97 campaign. Along with the mediocre football the Lions were playing, the managerial hot seat was as lively as musical chairs with the arrival and departures of Mick McCarthy, Jimmy Nicholl, John Docherty and the unpopular Billy Bonds to name but a few. The signing of Paul Shaw was seen as one that would bring stability to the side and try to build the foundations for a promotion push to a league that Millwall thought they deserved to be back in. It seemed like Mission:Impossible for the South London side, but our new signing would be the one who would be the catalyst for great things to come.
The 1997-98 season was a busy one for our attacking midfielder and Shaw played a huge hand in ensuring that the Lions would secure another season in the English Third Tier. Our rock in the middle of the park was on the score sheet against the likes of Wimbledon, Watford, Gillingham Bristol Rovers and Wycombe Wanderers along with many others and he dragged his team mates up when results were getting tough to swallow. This was one of the seasons where the home fans would see rare glimpses of the likes of Tim Cahill, Neil Harris, Steven Reid, Richard Sadlier and Lucas Neill, but it was Paul Shaw who was an ever present with forty-four games and an impressive thirteen goals in all competitions. Millwall finished the season in a underwhelming 18th place, just five points above the bottom four and although the season was good for Shaw on a personal level, the league table showed that more work needed to be done.
The 1998-99 campaign saw an upturn in Millwall's form and Paul Shaw again was a regular in the Millwall team. Our team of undercover and unknown agents were getting more game time and although the goals were shared more equally amongst the side, Shaw continued to excel and goals against the likes of Blackpool, Oldham Athletic, Preston North End and Lincoln City contributed to his fourteen goals in forty competitive fixtures. The season also saw Paul Shaw receive his marching orders for the first time when he was sent off against Manchester City, but his discipline for the campaign overall was very good, as he only received another three yellow cards in that year. It was in April 1999 that the Lions progressed to the final of the Auto Windscreens Shield against Wigan Athletic and although the travelling South London fans were screaming for Shaw to feature in this game, the midfielder could only watch from the bench as the Latics scored in second-half injury time to win the game 1-0 and secure the Football League Trophy at Wembley Stadium.
1999-2000 proved to be the final season that the home fans would see the midfielder in a Millwall shirt. Although the Lions were knocked out of both domestic cup competitions in the first round, it was a strong season for the South London side with a 5th place finish and a Division Two play-off place. Shaw again featured heavily in the successful campaign with forty appearances and four goals against the likes of Wigan Athletic, Oxford United, Brentford and Oldham Athletic. After seasons of disappointment and setbacks, the turn of the millennium seemed like it would turn fortunes in Millwall's favour, however just when we thought we were on the journey to success, it was Wigan Athletic who again broke Millwall hearts when the Greater Manchester side won the play-off tie 1-0 on aggregate.
Paul Shaw left Millwall in the summer of 2000 to join Gillingham and also went on to feature for Sheffield United, Rotherham, Chesterfield, Oxford United Ferencvaros, Retford United and FC New York before retiring in 2011. In total, the popular midfielder played in 124 games for the Lions and scored 32 in all competitions. The club that he arrived in back in 1997 was a dangerous mission, but Shaw chose to accept it and he will be fondly remembered by all those at The Den.