Neil Harris, Richie Sadlier, Tony Cascarino and Alan McLeary pay tribute to Millwall legend Bob Pearson

Bob Pearson was instrumental in building three of Millwall’s most successful teams, with his role encompassing far more than just being chief scout.

The 83-year-old passed away at the start of last week and the Lions will hold a minute’s applause before they kick off their home game against Reading tomorrow.

Pearson was a pivotal figure for the Lions from the moment he walked through the door in 1974. Then manager Gordon Jago wanted to beef up the reputation of the youth team and felt the best way to do that was by winning the FA Youth Cup.

Pearson proved exceptional at recruiting the best juniors at a time before academies and with many London clubs not actively scouting. He said they would win the trophy within three years, instead they lifted that silverware in 1979.

By the time Millwall’s senior side had won promotion to the top flight in 1988 Pearson’s job was triple-layered – effectively a director of football and finding players for the first-team and youth set-up.

Bob Pearson with the Millwall team which won the FA Youth Cup

Only last week the former England striker Teddy Sheringham told our paper that he owed a huge debt to Pearson, who told him as a youngster that he would represent his country.

Former director Jeff Burnige remembers Pearson pushing for the appointment of John Docherty in 1986 and also Keith Stevens and Alan McLeary towards the end of the millennium.

The latter managerial pairing left the recruitment in trusted hands and Millwall reached the 1999 Football League Trophy final, losing 1-0 to Wigan.

That side was liberally sprinkled with Pearson acquisitions – Neil Harris, Richie Sadlier, Steven Reid, Paul Ifill and Tim Cahill, just to name a few.

“He could fall out with people, he reminded me of Sir Alex Ferguson, in some ways, because he thought he was right and he didn’t always like to debate something,” said Burnige. “He liked having the ultimate and sometimes the sole authority.

Bob Pearson with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren

“But I don’t recall Bob being wrong very often, if ever, on who to sign.

“He made a great contribution to Millwall Football Club. Unfortunately his time came to an end. One vital thing you have to have in that job is good eyesight. and it began to fail him.

“He was also diabetic and the time came when working with Theo Paphitis, who believed in him as well, that he wound down and ultimately retired from the game.”

Here is what some of Millwall’s leading lights have had to say on Pearson’s influence.

NEIL HARRIS (Millwall’s all-time record goalscorer)

“Bob signed me. He came to watch me play for Cambridge City. I scored a hat-trick against Fisher in the cup and he was there with the old kitman, Roy Putt. Then I played at Rothwell, in Northamptonshire, in the worst conditions ever – the keeper kicked the ball out and it went back off for a corner.

“They put in a bid in for me after the game and Bob said my attitude was a Millwall attitude. He did everything – he was the only person I met before the day of signing when Billy Bonds was manager. I met him, Bob and Theo then.

“He was a nurturing figure for myself and all the boys he brought in, especially those early months. When you had your highs and lows he was always there to lend an ear, put his arm around you or give a bit of advice. A patient figure with us.

“He said to me: ‘You’re a player, son’. I never knew what he meant then, but over time I realised it meant he knew, from experience, that you were going to be a very good player for Millwall – that’s what he was really saying.

“His record of signing players for the club, not half bad you know.

“He was very instrumental in starting us off and supporting Rhino and Macca in their 15 months in charge. He advised them and the club’s philosophy was to give a chance to the younger players – Neil Harris, Paul Ifill, David Livermore, Richard Sadlier, Tim Cahill, Lucas Neill, Matt Lawrence and Robbie Ryan to shine. And the next crop as well – the Ronnie Bulls and Peter Sweeneys.

“What also went under the radar was that he was the one who signed Sean Dyche and Paul Moody.

“Bob built that side to give Rhino and Macca the players to pick from. The philosophy was to play the youngsters and the club would take a year of building, or 18 months of pain, to get us to the level.

“He’ll be sadly missed by the football world. Although he might not have been a prominent figure in the last five or 10 years, his memory and legendary status at the club shouldn’t be underestimated.

“He was pivotal. Players, and managers, we get accolades. But someone like Bob Pearson was instrumental in supporting chairmen, managers and players over a long period. He won’t be forgotten in a hurry.”


RICHIE SADLIER (capped by Republic of Ireland before a hip injury forced his retirement at the age of just 24)

“I got a one-way flight in August 1996 and Bob picked me up. We stopped off at his house and I signed the contract there.

“When you’re a young player then your parents and yourself are going to be promised a lot of things by the members of staff at a club that sign you. But Bob delivered on them all. He said: ‘I’m going to keep an eye out for this lad and we’re going to do right by him – give him opportunities in the first team and look after him off the field’.

“He often pulled me aside at the training ground and ask how I was doing and he relayed to me some of the thoughts that manager had on me or some observation about how I was playing, training or behaving.

“I was ready to leave Millwall in January of 1997. I was nowhere near the first team, I’d just been home for Christmas and I didn’t see the point in being at a club where I didn’t think I was good enough. I was fed up and homesick – what was the point of wasting a year over here to get nowhere? I rang my mum in tears on a Tuesday night and told her: ‘It isn’t going to work here. I’m not good enough and I’m not enjoying it’.

“Three days later I was called in by Jimmy Nicholls, trained with the first team on Friday and made my debut on the Saturday. It wasn’t until two or three years later that my mum told me that she had made a phone call to my old manager in Belvedere, who I played for in Dublin, and he contacted Bob. Then Bob did the rest at his end.

“That was the kind of thing he did, behind the scenes and without any fanfare – not looking for any media coverage – just quietly and discreetly looked after me. Every player probably has that moment that they think ‘wow, if that person hadn’t done that for me then how different would my career have gone, would I have had any career at all?’

“There were six of us that went on to have international careers – Lucas Neill, myself, Timmy Cahill, Reidy [Steven Reid], Ifes and Marc Bircham, who played for Canada. We were all two, maybe three, years apart. It’s an absurd amount of internationals to come from a two-year period at a club that had the resources that Millwall did back in 1996 and 1997.

“We knew he had a lot of influence when Rhino and Macca were in charge on players being signed and released.

“I came home from the U20 World Cup in March 1999, two days before the Auto Windscreens Shield final – I’d been away the whole month. During the gap between beating Walsall in the semi-final I was away with Ireland in Nigeria.

“We lost our game on the Wednesday which meant we were flying back to Dublin and then on to London, so I was available to play against Wigan on the Sunday.

“Now I was knackered. I’d been in ridiculous heat for several weeks and there was all the travelling, it took a lot out of us all.

“Bob had rung me on the Thursday, I was still in Nigeria, and he said: ‘Just make sure you get home’. On the Friday he asked how I was feeling and I gave him the honest answer: ‘I’m completely shattered’. He turned around and said: ‘Right, Rhino and Macca are going to ask you tomorrow how you feel and do not tell them you’re shattered – because if you give them the right answer you’re going to play at Wembley’.

“I went in and told them I felt great ‘really looking forward to tomorrow – if selected’.

“That was the little bits of extra input that Bob had, going well above and beyond which made you think ‘this fella is in my corner, rooting for me and using that influence to help me climb the ladder’.

“In hindsight, I don’t think he did me or the club any favours by convincing me to lie to the managers and play – because I did play s***! But that’s not Bob’s fault.”

TONY CASCARINO (scored 42 goals in 105 games for the Lions before a £1.1million move to Aston Villa in 1990)

“I had Bob the scout, Bob working on the staff and Bob who had a short spell as manager of Millwall.

“He was instrumental in bringing me to Millwall. He had his boys and anybody would know those that came through his youth system he loved and adored more. He was like Ted’s second dad. Bob made it perfectly clear that Ted was his favourite! He played a big part in keeping Teddy at the football club – Teddy quite easily could have left, even before I came.

“Bob worked long hours going around the country, trying to look at players and teams. The players get a lot of plaudits for getting promoted – same for the managers – but everyone knew behind the scenes what Bob did and helped bring to the club, from the younger element to bringing in Terry Hurlock, myself, Kevin O’Callaghan and others.

“It’s a real sad day because he is the emblem of Millwall.

“My contract was coming to an end at Gillingham and I played away at Chesterfield on a Tuesday night. I played my worst game ever. I was meant to travel back with Bob and the Doc, who was there as well. I wouldn’t get in the car, because I played so badly.

“When I signed for Millwall I said to Bob: ‘I’ve got to ask you this question, why the f*** did you want to sign me after Chesterfield?’ He said: ‘Ooh, you were s*** that night. I’ll be honest, I did worry about my judgement – but I had watched you about 25 times before that’.”


ALAN MCLEARY (Lambeth-born defender who played 343 first-team matches for Millwall and was co-manager with Keith Stevens)

“A lot of us go a long way back with Bob due to our affiliation with Millwall and through the youth system. My earliest memories were being introduced to Bob by a regional scout from South London, called Joe Wilson.

“Bob ran a very, very successful Millwall youth system.

“I think he’d have admitted his strength was spotting a player. He stepped into the breach when he needed to but his primary role, and probably most successful role, was as chief scout and scouting in general. Many, many years ago it wasn’t as organised and clinical as it is now. Even for a club of Millwall’s size we were one of the better ones in the whole country for producing young players, with the FA Youth Cup win testament to that. Dave Mehmet and Kevin O’Callaghan played in that era prior to myself, Keith Stevens and Teddy coming through.

“He was very influential when myself and Keith took over as managers. He gave us great information and support in that respect.

“It’s a very sad day – it was heartbreaking to hear the news but I look back at the great times we had with him.”

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