BY MATT VERRI
Alex Rae remains hopeful that the current Millwall squad will be able to do something his side could not – secure promotion to the Premier League.
The Scot left Falkirk in 1990 to join the Lions and spent six years at The Den, making 256 appearances and scoring 71 goals.
Rae went on to play in the Premier League with Sunderland and Wolves but despite twice reaching the play-offs with Millwall, they were unable to get over the line.
“It was one of the big disappointments for me, that I never managed to go up with Millwall,” he admitted.
“When I joined, it wasn’t a difficult decision at all to sign. It was a brilliant squad, with the likes of [Teddy] Sheringham, [Jimmy] Carter, and [Les] Briley, and as a young lad I had always wanted to give England a stab.
“My first season we lost to Brighton home and away in the play-offs, having beaten them in the regular season, and then we went close a few years later.
“I had six good years at Millwall, and the relegation in 1996 was obviously the low point. I couldn’t believe it.
“We were top in December, and we signed Sergei Yuran and Vasili Kulkov in January. They were on fortunes, and I felt the whole complexion of the club changed – we didn’t adapt to players coming in on huge money, and those signings didn’t help us at all.
“To leave the club after getting relegated didn’t sit right with me. I didn’t like the way it all panned out in such a disappointing way, especially having missed the last couple of matches through suspension.
“It’s a brilliant club, I loved my time there, and they gave me the opportunity to play a good level of football in England.”
It’s nearly 25 years since Rae left Millwall, but his affection for the club is still evident.
And the Scot believes the South London side will have every chance of earning promotion to the top flight should they squeeze into the play-off places come the end of the season – although there are major questions about the domestic football season.
The FA, Premier League and EFL issued a statement at the end of last week that play would not resume until April 30 – at the earliest – due to the spread of the coronavirus.
“When I was managing Dundee, I was really close to getting the job at Millwall,” Rae said.
“I met with John Berylson, and spent three hours chatting football with him. He ended up going with Kenny Jackett, which was probably the right idea as they had a good time under him.
“I keep an eye on the results while I’m on my show [Clyde Superscoreboard] in Scotland, 100 per cent. When you play for a club for six years and have a good relationship with the fans, it’s hard not to hold them dear.
“Millwall have had a brilliant season – the other presenters are fed up of me celebrating goals that mean nothing to them.
“The team have a good spirit and a really strong backbone, with Shaun Hutchinson and Jake Cooper. I know Shaun Williams from when I was at MK Dons, and he’s a great type.
“It’s just about hitting form at the right time now. I got to the play-offs five times as a player – four times I finished third, and never got promoted. The one year I finished sixth, we got promoted.
“From my experience, the teams in third and fourth can be a bit deflated about missing out on the automatic places, whereas the side in sixth comes in with momentum.
“You never know, Millwall could hit their stride just at the right time. I would absolutely love them to get promoted.”
Away from football, Rae has been training for the London Marathon, running for the veterans care charity Erskine.
The race has been postponed until October 4 as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, having been due to take place on April 26.
And the former Millwall man admitted the training has taken its toll on his body, and that it was only a throwaway comment that led to him signing up for the race.
“I had a caller to our show last April, and he told me he was as stiff as a board because he’d just done the London Marathon,” Rae explained.
“Stupidly and without thinking, I said I was doing it next year, despite having no intentions of doing it.
“The very next day, the Erskine Trust asked me if I would be their ambassador, and because I’d committed on the radio the night before I couldn’t say no.
“The training has been a nightmare. My hip has really flared up, I’m on anti-inflammatories for the first time since I stopped playing and I’m tossing and turning in bed at night.
“It could be a world record for an ex-footballer, I’m looking at about 10 to 12 hours!
“The quicker this marathon is done, the better for everybody. The Erskine Trust can get their money, I’ll have ticked something off my bucket list, and I can get back to playing five-a-side with Ally McCoist, Frank McAvennie, and all the boys.”
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