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 at a player who had a famous Christmas song sang about him, Tony Witter.
A player with a club collection that would make Nick Faldo blush prior to his move to The Den, Witter joined the Lions at the start of the 1994-95 season under the management of Mick McCarthy. The Lions just missed out on promotion via the First Division play-offs the season before and Witter was brought in from Queens Park Rangers originally on loan to add strength to the back-line and providing competition to the likes of Keith Stevens and player-manager, Big Mick. Witter’s first game for the Lions was in the 2-1 home victory against Sheffield United and the steady centre-half went on to play in the victories against Swindon Town, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Watford. As a reward for his determination and passion for the club, Witter was awarded a permanent deal in December. The home fans were delighted with this news and the defender was quickly becoming a fan favourite in Zampa Road. The Lions finished in a disappointing 12th place in the 1994-95 campaign, but victories against Arsenal and Chelsea in the FA Cup ensured their place in Millwall folklore. Witter featured in twenty-six games in all competitions and made it onto the score sheet once in a 3-2 away defeat against Portsmouth.
The decline in South Bermondsey continued and after finishing third and twelfth in the two seasons before, Millwall had a disastrous run in the 1995-96 season that no-one would’ve ever predicted. Witter again played in the majority of the league and cup campaigns and although this was a successive season when a Premier League side was defeated by the Lions in their own backyard, the 4-2 away victory at Goodison Park against Everton in the League Cup could not paper over the cracks and this was a season that saw disappointment and relegation. The defender was on the score sheet for the second season in a row when he scored the winning goal in the 2-1 home win against Ipswich Town, but defeats against the likes of Sunderland, Derby County and a change in manager halfway through the season saw the Lions drop through the league like a stone. Jimmy Nicholl came in to replace McCarthy who went on the manage the Republic of Ireland, but he could not stop the rot as Millwall finished in the bottom three in 22nd place. Witter finished the 1995-96 campaign featuring in thirty-six games with one goal, but the popular defender would be playing third tier football the next season.
The 1996-97 season saw Witter feature in the majority of games for Millwall as a season of stability and consolidation was the target for the Lions. Although he scored no goals in this campaign, the defender continued to be an integral part of the squad and contributed towards victories against Burnley, Bristol City, Luton Town and Wycombe Wanderers. Nicholl was replaced towards the end of the season by Millwall legend John Docherty and the Lions finished in a comfortable 12th place in Division Two. Apart from missing the middle third of the season, Witter played in thirty-six games and continued to be a fan favourite.
The centre-back’s final season at The Den in the 1997-98 year saw him in more of a cameo role in the Millwall back line and the defender only featured in twelve games in all competitions. The Lions finished in a disappointing 18th place on fifty-five points and Witter’s last game for the club was in the 0-0 away draw with Wigan Athletic.
In all, Tony Witter played a total of 118 games for the Lions scoring two goals. After leaving The Den, Witter went on to play for Northampton Town, Scunthorpe United, Torquay United and a number of non-league clubs before retiring in 1999. Witter was a player who was a big hit at the club and he was a consistently steady defender when the club needed one. His performances had the Millwall fans singing his names most weeks and walking along, singing a song, walking in a Witter Wonderland.