Neil Harris interview: 'I'm here to bring the Millwall-ness to the football club'

Return: Neil Harris (Robbie Stephenson/PA Wire)
Return: Neil Harris (Robbie Stephenson/PA Wire)

“I’m here for a reason," says Neil Harris as he prepares for an emotional reunion with the Den on Saturday. "To bring the Millwall-ness to the football club."

Harris, who returned to Millwall for a second spell as manager last week, accepts that 'Millwall-ness' means different things to different people, but the club's all-time record scorer and self-appointed rabble-rouser is determined to channel it towards his side's fight for survival.

"Being in early the other day, the guys around the corner collecting the bins stopped me and wanted to shake hands," Harris told Standard Sport ahead of tomorrow's game against Watford.

"Enough people tell me every day in the street, 'We just want to see our team play, we don't care if you've got the ball or don't want the ball, we just want to see a committed performance, we just want an identity. We just want our Millwall back'.

I want my players to feed off the electric atmosphere... I'm not talking aggression, it's about togetherness

"Whatever they mean by that is individual, of course."

Harris could not have made a better start in restoring Millwall's essence after succeeding Joe Edwards, leading the Lions to a hard-fought 2-1 win at Southampton last weekend to ease the threat of relegation — though they remain a point outside the drop zone with 12 games to play.

Harris knows he is back on a "rescue mission" and for the 46-year-old, the most important aspect of 'Millwall-ness' is not the club's fearsome reputation but unity.

"The Den has been built for so long on a fear factor for the opponent," said Harris, who resigned as boss in October 2019 and has since managed Cardiff, Gillingham and Cambridge.

"I'm not talking about aggression, I'm talking about togetherness as a club, where the noise and atmosphere is electric. I want our players to feed off it.

"When you get the togetherness from everyone, we're a very, very difficult shuttle train to stop."

Neil Harris made a winning return, beating promotion-chasing Southampton (Robbie Stephenson/PA Wire)
Neil Harris made a winning return, beating promotion-chasing Southampton (Robbie Stephenson/PA Wire)

Harris also had two spells at Millwall as a player, and he will be giddy with excitement tonight and probably as caught up as any of the 15,000 home fans in the Den come 3pm tomorrow. And he believes his connection with the club and supporters could be the difference between staying up and going down.

"Yeah, it can be that simple," he said. "If you've got harmony as a club, with the board, a fanbase that are desperate to see their manager and team win, and players desperate to do well for each other and the club, that's what makes us a really powerful club.

"And whenever the club has had success it's been because we've had that unity. And that's what we need at the moment."

He added: "I'll be running around the living room excited [on Friday]. I've got the energy, I think everyone saw me on the touchline the other day, excited, energetic.

I just want to enjoy watching my team play, to feel part of the atmosphere and football club again

"And I just want to enjoy watching my team play. I want to feel part of the atmosphere and football club again. The reception I got at St. Mary's on Saturday was nothing short of astonishing, even as a Millwall man it was quite heart-touching."

Harris has signed an 18-month deal, but has no thoughts beyond the Watford game and keeping Millwall afloat in the Championship, though he does believe that both the club and himself have grown in the five years since his first spell in charge.

"The club's come on leaps and bounds as an infrastructure. The staffing, the football, the training ground, the crowds have grown. It's hugely moved," he said.

"I'd like to think [I'm a better manager]. I have done 200 to 250 games since then so experience dictates that.

"I think the players would be the first to say I'm probably still the same guy, a man-manager who cares about the lads and loves them dearly, but maybe as a manager I'm more ruthless."