Millwall boss hopes he’s seen last of ‘eerie’ Den – plus why ‘great opportunity’ to reach next level

MILLWALL boss Gary Rowett believes the club have a “great opportunity” to get to the next level – especially with fans back at The Den.

The Lions likely played their last game without supporters in SE16 as they defeated Bristol City 4-1 on Saturday.

The UK’s vaccine rollout has been a success and a report in The Sunday Times at the weekend said social distancing rules will be scrapped from June 21. The only measure set to be in place from then is masks in certain indoor settings.

Thousands of Lions fans have shown they are confident things will be back to normal as they have snapped up season tickets and memberships for 2021-22.

English football has taken tentative steps towards eventual full capacities, and there were 8,000 supporters at the League Cup final between Manchester City and Tottenham at Wembley last month.

Rowett hopes to have seen the last of an “eerie” Den.

“We’ve spoken about it before – and I appreciate every set of fans, every team, every club and all the players will always think that their fans are the most important – but a lot of people I’ve spoken to have said that it just feels like such a weird place at The Den without the fans, it’s almost eerie,” Rowett said.

“There’s a lot of places where it doesn’t feel quite so bad but for us, it’s just a real emptiness and it has been a challenge. It’s been a really difficult season but I think there’s been a lot of positives.

“The team have shown a lot of progress over the 18, 19 months since we’ve joined and I think next season is a great opportunity for us to take that to the next level if possible with our fans there.”

Millwall guaranteed a top-half finish for the second season in a row with their win over the Robins. Rowett’s side are currently 11th, but could finish ninth if they beat Coventry on the last day and other results go their way.

But Rowett explained why he isn’t overly concerned with their final position.

“We’d be happy with that [a top-10 finish] but it’s a difficult one to stand here and say ‘we want to get in the top 10’,” Rowett said. “Our mentality is, ‘we want to get in the top six’, nothing else is really acceptable for us.

“Whilst I think there’s been progress, whilst I think a top-10 finish two seasons in a row is admirable for the players, if we were to finish 12th I still think the players have worked incredibly hard and given it everything in difficult circumstances.

“For me, it’s more about next season – we want to finish the season strongly. But I’ll be really honest, a top-10 finish for everyone, it sounds nice, it sounds a little bit more-rounded, but I don’t care.

“I don’t care because for us with our aims, we haven’t quite got there. So for me, it doesn’t really detract from what we wanted to achieve.”

Image: Millwall FC 

John Kelly