BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Neil Harris heads back to The Den next weekend for the first time since he left Millwall – and Adam Barrett admits it is huge shame that fans won’t be there to give him the welcome he deserves.
Chopper was already a Lions legend after topping their all-time scoring charts and winning promotion as a player from League One in 2010. But then he followed that up with more play-off glory as a manager seven years later.
Harris had 245 matches in the Millwall hotseat before resigning at the start of October 2019.
Now he will bring his Cardiff City side back to a ground where he has had so much enjoyment before – but there won’t be any supporters in attendance due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Neil was a tremendous servant to the football club as a player, coach and then as a manager,” said Barrett, who was brought into Millwall’s backroom team in March 2017.
“It would be lovely for him and Dave Livermore to rightly come back and get a great reception from the supporters; I’m sure they would have done that to show their appreciation. It’s a shame that can’t happen. It’s just unfortunate – that’s the way it is at the moment.
“It will be nice to see them and have a catch up, but that will be done after the game because first we’ve got the important bit to do. The sentiment is put aside for 90 minutes. It’s a game we want to win.
“I’ve known Neil a hell of a long time and then working with him and Dave we had a lot of success together. There is a friendship there, of course. We don’t speak all the time because now we’re rivals.
“When we do talk it is normally asking how the families are, because they know each other. It’s mostly non-football talk.”
So many of Millwall’s current leading lights were signed by Harris. You would struggle to find better value-for-money additions in the Championship than Jed Wallace, Jake Cooper or Shaun Hutchinson.
Eight of the side which started at Sheffield Wednesday last time out were brought in by their former boss.
“The squad was put together over a few years and it shows how well the football club has progressed,” said Barrett. “Neil and Dave started that process and put a lot of hard work in behind the scenes.
“Now the gaffer has come in and we’ve added a few players to it and just started to change slightly how we play to try to move it on again.”
Barrett had barely had time to hang his boots up at Southend United – playing more than 700 senior matches which included spells at Crystal Palace and AFC Wimbledon – before Harris was on the phone with the offer of a first-team coaching role.
“I’d just retired and he wanted someone who was just out of the dressing room,” said the 40-year-old, promoted to assistant boss by Gary Rowett this summer. “I was an experienced pro who had just done my badges.
“He didn’t have to sell it to me at all. It is a fantastic football club and it was a chance to come in with Neil, someone I’ve known for a long time but had never worked with. It was seamless. I hit the ground running and have really enjoyed it ever since.”
Harris took the Welsh side into the play-offs where they pushed eventual winners Fulham all the way in a two-legged semi-final.
Cracking that top six is also the objective of Millwall, who have finished eighth in two of their three previous campaigns in English football’s second tier.
Proof that the South Londoners are well-placed after the first 11 games is underlined by the fact they are a point and two positions higher than Brentford, the bookies’ favourites for promotion before a ball was kicked.
“It’s been a really solid start to the season,” said Barrett. “We’ve had some really good performances and we’ve been delighted at our defensive record.
“I still think there is room for improvement. You look at the top end of the pitch and you want to be scoring more goals.
“The clean sheets record speaks for itself – we’re an organised and a strong unit who work extremely hard for each other.
“To nick tight games we need to start scoring a few more goals to turn some of these draws into wins. We’re working extremely hard to do that.
“But we’re in the pack with a lot of other big teams.
“There are still a lot of games and a lot of points to go. With Covid and the game schedule it is going to really test the squad.
“The fixture programme has been relentless and it will be once we come back from the international break – up until Christmas it is two games a week.
“With the intensity we play at it means we’ve got to get the recovery right.”
Please support your local paper by making a donation
Please make cheques payable to “MSI Media Limited” and send by post to South London Press, Unit 112, 160 Bromley Road, Catford, London SE6 2NZ
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has encouraged everyone in the country who can afford to do so to buy a newspaper, and told the Downing Street press briefing recently: “A free country needs a free press, and the newspapers of our country are under significant financial pressure”.
So if you have enjoyed reading this story, and if you can afford to do so, we would be so grateful if you can buy our newspaper or make a donation, which will allow us to continue to bring stories like this one to you both in print and online.