Gary Rowett: I came to Millwall with point to prove... my fire was burning

Dan Kilpatrick
Rex Features

With a prison governor for a father and a Royal Marine for a brother, Millwall boss Gary Rowett has never been one to seek comfort after a bad result.

“It was a tough household, so you learn very quickly you’re not going to get a lot of sympathy,” Rowett told Standard Sport. “That’s why I don’t dwell on defeats. It was, ‘Listen, just get on with it!’ You learn a bit of resilience that goes a long way. We’re very close, but sympathy is not among their character traits.

“My dad gets to a few games. I won’t tell you which ones in case anyone’s waiting for him — although he can look after himself!”

Fortunately, Rowett has had little need for a shoulder to cry on since joining the Lions, who are just outside the Championship play-off places, thanks to eight wins in 16 games under the former Burton and Birmingham boss.

Tomorrow, their attentions turn to earning yet another FA Cup upset at The Den, with Premier League high-flyers Sheffield United the visitors in the fourth round.

Rowett is rapidly re-establishing himself as one of the game’s most promising English managers after his burgeoning reputation took a hit at Stoke, where he was sacked after fewer than eight months in charge, with the club 14th in the Championship.

“After Stoke, I did come into the job with that little bit of hunger, something to prove,” he said. “When the fire is burning inside you, that’s when you do your best work.

“I’m a big believer that every experience you have as a manager you have to learn from. When you’re winning games, it’s a fairly easy job. When you’re losing, that’s when you have to look honestly at yourself.

“We didn’t win enough games at Stoke and I ended up being sacked, which I had no problem with whatsoever. We did a lot of work, myself and my staff, over the nine months [out of work] and I feel better prepared for this job.”

Like almost every football fan in the country, Rowett had preconceived notions about a club whose supporters wear their reputation for being disliked as a badge of honour.

Tom Bradshaw scores in the FA Cup win over Newport County (Getty Images)

Some elements of Millwall’s image, he feels, are wide of the mark but he hopes their togetherness, exemplified by the Den’s infamous atmosphere, can help the club become the FA Cup’s most prolific giant killers, with a 26th scalp tomorrow.

“Some of the preconceived ideas are completely true,” Rowett said. “Everyone is so together, the spirit is incredible and it’s a really tough place to play because the fans make it an intimidating atmosphere — in a good way.

“We have to use that vociferous crowd to our advantage. It’s one of the few crowds out there that when you’re losing they’ll try to get you back in the game, rather than being disappointed.

“But you know what? It’s been brilliant. It’s been the friendliest, most supportive club.

“Sometimes the perception from the outside is very unfair. This job has been the most enjoyable I’ve had.”

Rowett inherited “a really hungry group” from Neil Harris, who resigned in October, but found a squad with a doomed attitude towards away days, having failed to win all seven League matches on the road. Resisting wholesale change, he has focused training on possession football and ensured his side can adjust systems to suit the occasion.

You can only have an effect if the culture is good and I walked into a brilliant culture.

“You can only have an effect if the culture is good and I walked into a brilliant culture that Neil created, so full credit to him,” Rowett added.

“Away from home we were struggling to win and there was a feeling going into games that we’d probably lose, so we changed to 5-2-3.

“We’ve played 4-2-3-1 at home, largely because the pitch has not been in great condition. We got some really good results away, which then gave them the belief that we can play either [formation] and win games.”

The Blades are an inspiring reminder that the Premier League is not an impossible dream for a local club with a tactically astute manager, but Rowett, 45, is determined to do things the Millwall way.

That includes respecting the club’s FA Cup pedigree, even with a daunting trip to Leeds to follow on Tuesday.

“We’re not trying to be Sheffield United or anyone else,” he said.

“We’re trying to achieve [success] in our own way.

“When you look at Millwall’s success in the FA Cup, you always have to look at it as a priority.

“We won’t be making 10 changes — firstly because we haven’t got that many players — but I wouldn’t do that anyway.”

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