AN FA Cup weekend is a good time to reminisce with Jake Cooper – even if he would prefer to forget some of his experiences in the competition over the past few seasons.
There was his first appearance in the FA Cup for Millwall when as a 21-year-old League One player in 2017 he was part of Neil Harris’ side that knocked out Premier League Watford.
From that high to a low in the next round when he was sent off against Leicester City before the Lions battled heroically to score a last-minute winner through Shaun Cummings.
There was a memorable if chastening experience against Tottenham in the quarter-final, where the Lions’ run that season ended in the last-ever FA Cup game at White Hart Lane.
Skip forward two campaigns, Cooper scores with his arm against Everton and there is that famous scene of Harris shouting towards the technicians’ room to turn the big screen off as it showed replays of the goal.
As the Lions prepare to face Crystal Palace this Saturday, the News went on a trip down memory lane with Cooper…
February 18, 2017
Fifth round: Millwall 1-0 Leicester City
A ‘bollocking’ from the boss
Millwall have knocked out top-flight Bournemouth and Watford to reach the fifth round.
It’s the 52nd minute and the Lions are going toe-to-toe with the Premier League champions, holding them goalless.
The ball is there to be won on the left touchline and Cooper – already on a yellow card – slides in on Ahmed Musa but he’s late. The inevitable second yellow follows.
Surely that’s the moment this cup run ends.
But the clock ticks on and Millwall continue to keep Claudio Ranieri’s side out despite the pressure building from the visitors.
Then, in the 90th minute, substitute Lee Gregory slips the ball through for Cummings – who is somehow in the opposition box – and the right-back coolly knocks the winner past goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler.
Cooper had showered and watched the late drama in the kit room. Then a clever piece of management from Harris. He tells Cooper, in private, he’s going to give him a ‘bollocking’ in front of the players.
“I think I completely forgot I was on a yellow, to be honest,” Cooper recalls. “To make a tackle like that, I was young, I was a different player. I certainly think I wouldn’t make that kind of decision again. I think I’ve matured from that player.
“I was in the moment and in a big game it went away from me, I just made a poor decision.
“But the boys soldiered on and got a result and it didn’t matter in the end, thankfully.
“I got changed, went into the kit room and watched it on a tiny little tele. I just sat there and heard the roar of the fans, I was a bit jealous. But I was happy for the team and the boys.
“I remember Chopper coming in – because I was sat in there before everyone else – and saying, ‘I’m going to give you a bollocking but take it on the chin in front of the lads’. He just warned me it was coming. It was just to set his principles. That was a good touch from him, I knew he was going to give me a telling-off.
“It was just a warning to everyone else, to show his power in the dressing room.
“That was what happened and it was fine, there was no problem. He was fine and we moved on, he helped me improve after that so no issue.”
March 12, 2017
Quarter-final: Tottenham Hotspur 6-0 Millwall
A step too far against supreme Spurs
Millwall held out for 31 minutes before the floodgates opened against Mauricio Pochettino’s side. Spurs were second in the league and that season scored four or more goals in thirteen games, including six and seven against Leicester and Hull.
Cooper put Harry Kane out of the game blocking the forward’s shot seven minutes in, but Pochettino brought on Christian Eriksen. Son Heung-min completed his hat-trick in the 92nd minute.
It was no disgrace that Millwall had no answer to their hosts’ relentless style.
“We were nowhere near,” Cooper says. “They were going for the Premier League, they ended up finishing second.
“It was the last FA Cup game at White Hart Lane, they played their full-strength side. Their players were too good for ours. We were a top-half team in League One and they were top of the Premier League with international players.
“It was a great insight into what those players are like, the speed and strength of that level. It was great for me at that age to get that experience, I’m sure some of the other lads will say the same.
“We did all right for half an hour and then the gates opened. But you tried to enjoy every minute of it even though you could see the difference in standards. Playing against those players and being tested every moment was a great experience.”
January 26, 2019
Fourth round: Millwall 3-2 Everton
‘Turn the f***ing screen off!’
In a riveting cup classic in a Den downpour, Cooper has scored to make it 2-2 in the 75th minute. But Everton players and staff are gesturing towards the big screen which is showing a replay of the goal – and the ball clearly going in off the defender’s arm.
Harris is shouting ‘Turn the f***ing screen off!’ in the direction of those who control it.
Everton want referee Michael Oliver to disallow the goal.
“I can’t remember it being deliberate at all,” Cooper says. “Obviously I knew what had happened but I actually thought my arm had been closer to my body before I saw it back.
“I looked like I moved into it but that was the afterthought of it.
“It was replaying on the screen, I couldn’t believe it. Chopper going mad was a funny moment.
“I saw the Everton players pointing at the screen, to the referee. I was thinking, ‘why the bloody hell is that playing up there?’
“Fortunately there was no VAR and the referee wouldn’t look at it. We got away with it.”
Millwall gratefully took that slice of luck and in the 94th minute Murray Wallace struck to send the Lions into their second quarter-final in three seasons.
March 17, 2019
Quarter-final: Millwall 2-2 Brighton (4-5 on penalties)
The Lions’ luck runs out
Millwall are 2-0 up with two minutes to go after goals from Alex Pearce and Aiden O’Brien. The prize is a trip to Wembley to play Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
Chris Hughton’s Premier League Brighton get one back through Jurgen Locadia in the 88th minute.
Then, in the 95th minute, disaster. In the last action of normal time, goalkeeper David Martin drops Solly March’s free-kick over the line.
Shane Ferguson was sent off in the 119th minute and after extra-time Cooper sent his spot-kick over the bar as Brighton went through.
“John Terry’s done it. I don’t really look back at it, to be honest, it’s gone from my mind,” Cooper says.
“I did my best. When I was a young player I took a few penalties. I was trying to go high down the middle-ish. I got it wrong. It happens, you see it all the time.
“It was unfortunate it was in a moment like that.”
Some great memories, some not so great. But a chance to enrich their history in the competition this weekend.
“We just had that underdog mentality that we had been known for over the years,” Cooper adds. “The pressure was off and you know what The Den was like, especially back then, when it was just a mad atmosphere for the opposition team.
“We used that to our advantage. We played well on those days and it went our way.
“It was crazy, the Leicester game, the Watford game scoring late on. We did well to get through those games – it was a brilliant time.”
Image: Millwall FC