Sheffield United: Chris Wilder remembers the day he pole-axed a Millwall hero and describes the chaos that followed
When he was asked what it is like to play at Millwall, a broad smile spread across Chris Wilder's face.
"Not too bad," came the reply. "Because I remember the old place."
The Den, where Sheffield United will attempt to progress their top six ambitions tomorrowÂ afternoon, can beÂ a notoriously intimidating arena when the home fans are in full voice. But its eponymously namedÂ predecessor, located a quarter-of-a-mile away on Cold Blow Lane, truly struck fear into the hearts visitingÂ supporters and players alike.
It was there, touch tight to the terraces and surrounded by an angry baying mob, where Wilder experiencedÂ his first real taste of hatred on a football pitch. And, remembering the day he flattened a local hero, it is whyÂ he insisted United's present day squad should not be daunted by the prospect of facing Neil Harris' side.
"I remember getting sent off there when I was a 19 year old kid and having cups of tea, cups of coffee andÂ cups of something else chucked at me," Wilder laughed. "I was dismissed near the away end and had toÂ make the long walk back. Walk the plank as it were.
"It was a tackle between myself and Jimmy Carter. I went for it, he didn't and it looked a little bit messy.Â "The game has changed a little bit though. I might have done more than a three match suspension if thatÂ challenge had gone in now. Definitely."
Wilder's day went from bad to worse when, after towelling himself down in the dressing room, there was aÂ knock on the door.
"Afterwards, we had to stay in the changing area on police advice. Apparently there was a mad man on theÂ loose, running all around the place. So we did what we were told and waited for everything to calm down."
Despite contrasting the visceral venom of Millwall's former stadium with what opponents face now,Â Wilder's respect for the Londoners became evident when he described a scouting mission to the capitalÂ earlier this week. Indeed, although Tuesday's EFL Cup tie against Fulham proved a damp squib forÂ followers of Harris' team, he spoke in glowing terms about the noise they created.
"I don't mean this in a disrespectful way but, being honest, it's not quite the same as it was," the UnitedÂ manager said. "Even so, when we went down there to watch them in midweek, you still see the floodlightsÂ when you come out of South Bermondsey station and begin walking there."
"Listen, it's still a tough place to go though," he continued. "Make no mistake about that. "We want Bramall Lane to be the same. Okay, there's boundaries people shouldn't cross. But we want theÂ opposition and opposition managers to get a little bit of stick, so long as it doesn't break those. "We want the opposition to be made to feel uncomfortable and that starts with us as a team. So no issues,Â no problems, as far as I'm concerned."
United prepared for the match fourth in the Championship table after beating Preston North End sixÂ days ago. Millwall, by contrast, are in the relegation zone and without a win in four league outings.
"I don't pay too much attention to the starts people have," Wilder insisted, reminding Harris' team also challengedÂ for the play-offs last term. "They've got good players and, if they get it going, there's no reasonÂ why they can't go on a run again. But we've got good players too so we've got to make sure it doesn'tÂ happen against us."
"They get right behind their team," he added. "So it's still an experience. I actually think it's a goodÂ experience, especially for young players, because they need to be able to handle things like that if theyÂ want to be successful."