League One Spotlight
Harris still hungry
Richard Bailey catches up with Millwall striker Neil Harris and finds out his intentions for the future.
Last Updated: 16/11/09 5:09pm
It is the middle of January and 3060 hardy souls have braved the elements to watch Millwall take on Crewe in an FA Cup third round replay at Gresty Road.
The second-half begins cagily with neither side wanting to make the mistake that could cost their team the chance of a lucrative tie in the next round.
Having drawn 2-2 10 days before both sides are eager to progress as Millwall tentatively press forward down the left flank before a hopeful ball is played into the box. The cross somehow finds its way to the near post where Neil Harris is there to sweep the ball home.
The striker wheels away in delight leaving his jubilant team-mates in his wake. As well as giving his side the lead - Millwall went on to win 3-2 - Harris has just broken the club's all-time goalscoring record held by Teddy Sheringham, a mark that has been intact for over 17 years.
However, the 32-year-old has not had it easy in reaching the milestone and is no stranger to overcoming adversity - Harris successfully battled testicular cancer in 2001.
Having been told by Lions boss Kenny Jackett that he wouldn't be getting a new deal at the end of the season, just a month after breaking the record, the former Cambridge City man knuckled down and did what he does best, score goals. In fact the he bagged five in his last 14 games and was duly rewarded with a one-year contract in June.
Harris hasn't rested on his laurels since. Despite reaching the latter years of his career the frontman continues to find the back of the net with relative ease.
The Lions favourite is in his second spell at the New Den having sampled life at Cardiff, Nottingham Forest and Gillingham before returning 'home' in January 2007.
Since then, Millwall have gone from relegation battlers to League One promotion hopefuls. Having suffered play-off final heartache last season following a 3-2 defeat to Scunthorpe, Millwall and Harris in particular are determined not to have to go through the pain again.
With 11 goals so far this season in all competitions - taking his tally for Millwall to 128 - Harris is doing his best to make sure he can fire his beloved Lions to the safety of a top-two finish, although he is the first to admit that a play-off berth is perhaps more realistic.
Having reached and surpassed Sheringham's total of 111 goals Harris, perhaps refreshingly, acknowledges the significance of such an achievement and admits he is as hungry as ever to continue scoring goals and make it as hard as possible for the next person to break the record.
"To be Millwall's record goalscorer is a fantastic achievement, I recognise that, for me personally to do that it was such a proud moment," he told skysports.com.
"To be the number one in the club I love playing for in their history is an awesome feeling, sincerely something I am extremely thankful for.
"You know breaking the record is a fantastic achievement and for the fans as well. As soon as I did it I said I didn't want to stop, I didn't want to just be happy being the number one, I want to extend that record and take it out of the reaches of anybody who can break it for a very long time."
Despite being in his twilight years as a professional footballer, Harris is confident he still has a few more seasons left in his body and is as determined as ever to win some silverware before he calls it a day.
"I still want to win things," he declared. "There is nothing better for me in my working life other than scoring a goal.
"There is no better feeling on a Sunday morning than when you see your name in the newspaper. I love scoring goals but I want to win things as well, hopefully that can be with Millwall in the future, if not there are things I want to do.
"I have been very close to coming to play abroad, so that might be something we might consider as a family, but I feel there is still a few years left in me to carry on playing. I know when it's time to finish but that is a long, long way away.
"I certainly enjoy playing for the club. I have had a fantastic time playing for the club. I am not getting any younger and sometimes you want to do the sort of things you want to do in your career before it is too late.
"I am out of contract in the summer but I am scoring goals, feeling sharp and feeling fit and I have got a couple of good years in me yet, so you would have to see what January brings."
Harris puts the Lions' slow start in the current campaign down to injuries rather than a play-off hangover - Jackett's men won only once in their opening seven league games - but now find themselves in the midst of a seven-game unbeaten run taking them to seventh in the table, two points off the top six and seven points away from the automatic promotion places.
It is all a far cry from when Jackett took over in November 2007 when the former Swansea boss did just enough to keep the club in League One having finished 17th and just four points off the drop zone.
However Jackett managed to turn things around in his first full season guiding the club to fifth, ultimately losing to Scunthorpe at Wembley.
"We are thoroughly enjoying it," Harris said of the club's unbeaten run. "We had a slow start, expectations were high because of where we got to last year and the slow start was only really because of injuries.
"There was certainly no hangover but we got people back fit, got a couple a good results and we drew confidence from that.
"It is still the same people behind the scenes, it is obviously a different manager, but there were a lot of people who didn't understand what it meant to play for Millwall, they didn't care about representing Millwall as a club.
"The gaffer has been able to bring in players who know the club and know the way it works and play the Millwall way, that's 100 per cent heart on the sleeves, high tempo and stand up and be counted and the gaffer has put a team together to represent the club in that way."
With Millwall currently looking odds-on to make the play-offs at least, Harris feels they should be in the Championship, although he accepts how tough it will be to eventually get out of League One.
"A club of our size, we feel our rightful place is to go and play in the Championship and try and get out of that league," he stated.
"We feel as a squad of players that we have and we believe in each other we should be in the top six. We feel confident enough to put pressure on ourselves.
"I feel anything outside the top six for us would be disappointing. It is a competitive league with big clubs and big wage bills people are still spending money. There are some clubs spending money in there that are like teams in the Championship.
"If we get in that top two, I believe Leeds will take one of those two spots, it might be a case of fighting for second position. If not we have the experience in the short term of playing play-off football."
Having highlighted their potential in becoming the first-team to beat pace-setters Leeds last month at the New Den it would take a brave man to bet against the Lions returning to the Championship this time round and one thing is for sure, Harris will be looking to continue to plunder the goals.
"I am just comfortable [here] I enjoy playing. I have always had the pressure on me to score goals. I just enjoy playing here. Obviously the fans are fantastic and I feel it is a personal crusade of mine to try and score and repay the faith in them," Harris concluded.