‘No one likes us, we don’t care’ is the oft-sung chant of Millwall supporters and manager Neil Harris believes the club’s embattled, underdog demeanour is going to be more relevant than ever on their return to the Championship.
A two-year exile in League One ended in May when a late strike from veteran hitman Steve Morison propelled the Lions to victory in the play-off final against Bradford City at Wembley.
Their second-tier renaissance begins on Friday night against Nottingham Forest at the City Ground, and Harris acknowledges that the division’s landscape has changed markedly since their last dabble.
Middlesbrough last week took their summer spending beyond the £40m mark with the signing of Ashley Fletcher from West Ham, while Aston Villa have stumped up enough cash in wages to lure former England skipper John Terry to the Midlands.
“You only have to look at reports of Wolves bidding for Andre Gray at Burnley, which is quite surreal given he was one of the best strikers in the Premier League for me last season,” said Harris.
“Middlesbrough spending over £40m just shows where the game is at in this country. Football has gone crazy over the summer.
“We feel we’ve spent quite a lot of money over the summer, but it’s just dwarfed by every other club in the division.
“The knock-on effect of TV revenues and the influx of foreign players mean Premier League players are performing in the top half of the Championship. That’s the way it is.
“It makes it more difficult for teams coming up through the divisions but Millwall is great at being an underdog. We have to have that mentality.
“We’re going to go into most weekends with teams thinking they are going to beat us and that’s going to be a problem for them.”
Millwall took their number of new recruits in this transfer window to seven with the capture of ex-Manchester United and Fulham midfielder Ryan Tunnicliffe on Saturday, although that move was one of four free transfers.
All of his signings, according to Harris, buy into the Millwall ethos and the club’s all-time record goalscorer recoils at any pigeonholing of his side as relegation-fodder with the sole objective of survival.
“The aim is to stabilise in the division and to prove that we can compete – getting a foothold at the level is going to be key,” added the 40-year-old.
“I expect some ups and downs in the first eight to 10 games but things in our favour are going to be momentum, confidence and an understanding of how we play as a team.
“Most weeks, we are going to come up against teams with double, triple or quadruple our budget. A lot of teams will have bought a single player for more than my whole team is worth.
“We’ll go into games and everybody will be looking at the opposition and going ‘Jeez, look at the players they’ve got, how much money have they spent?’, but there will be the sense of ‘we’re going to have a right go at these’. There is the element of the underdog and we’re going to embrace that and enjoy it.”
Millwall’s penchant for bruising the elite was in evidence last season as they knocked top-flight trio Bournemouth, Watford and defending Premier League champions Leicester City out of the FA Cup before sealing promotion.
“We can be a very dangerous side and we have got to find our way again at this level,” said Harris. “We got back quicker than a lot expected in two years. But we are ready.”