Ben Marshall’s return to Millwall was the perfect January transfer window gift for the club’s supporters – but he has revealed that a present went the other way in return.
The winger signed for the Lions on loan last month from Norwich City. He did the same a year ago, while on Wolves books, and was a rip-roaring success for the South London outfit.
Salford-born Marshall, 27, did little to dampen hopes of a return to SE16 when he watched Millwall’s
2-0 defeat to Blackburn from the Den stands just a few days before a deal was finalised, using it as a chance to meet up with his father.
Marshall said: “He loves it at The Den. He’s got his flat cap already.
“I think a guy said to him ‘if you can get your Ben to come back, we’ll get you a flat cap’. He turned up with the flat cap on Saturday.
“It didn’t suit him, like. But if he wants to keep it, he can keep it.”
The cap might not have fitted, but Marshall certainly did at Millwall last season. He got three goals and five assists, his quality on the ball part of the reason the Lions propelled their way up the Championship standings – opening up the possibility of gatecrashing the play-offs.
Not that the classy left-footer had any expectations of a crack at the top six when he signed on deadline day in January 2018.
“It was more, at that time, just going out and playing some games,” he said. “Did I expect us to be challenging for the play-offs? Probably not, but as each game went by it became clearer we might get in there.
“Initially for me it was trying to get in the team and then, secondly, staying in the team and contributing whatever I could.”
Only back-to-back losses to Fulham and Middlesbrough in game weeks 44 and 45 of the 2017-18 campaign killed off their prospects as they finished eighth.
Marshall said: “Obviously it’s disappointing when you get so close, but you quickly remind yourself how well the lads did – 17 games unbeaten. To have that chance of thinking you can get in the play-offs was more than enough, when you look back at it.
“I remember being sat on holiday and thinking ‘crikey, it couldn’t have gone any better’. I went to Millwall, the manager put me straight in and kept me in. Sometimes it all just turns out in your favour.”
Marshall and Millwall works. He talks about when he first joined Blackburn in August 2013 as an example when the chemistry didn’t quite yield the right results.
That Rovers side won 4-1 on the opening day against Bolton and had Scott Dann, Tom Cairney, Josh King, David Dunn and Jordan Rhodes in it.
“It is a great set of lads here and great management staff,” said Marshall. “Everyone seems to be on the same level – there’s no-one who thinks they are better than what they are.
“I remember when I first went to Blackburn, if you look at the squad we had and look at them now – most are playing in the Premier League. And we didn’t even make the play-offs in that year, even though they were good boys.
“I’ve experienced at clubs where we’ve had unbelievable talent but it hasn’t worked because sometimes the click wasn’t there. There is unbelievable talent in the dressing room here, but luckily we’ve got that team spirit as well.”
Millwall were patiently chipping away at a deal for Marshall in the summer, only for Norwich City to come on the picture and offer a much bigger fee and wages.
“Once the season finished I just went on holiday with my family,” said Marshall. “I wanted to switch off for two or three weeks and not think about anything, really.
“When the time came to start making decisions, I was always honest with the manager [Neil Harris] and said ‘if I can come back, I’ll come back’. But there’s a lot more to it than just ‘can I come back?’
“The top and bottom of it is that I ended up at Norwich. Even still to this day I don’t know exactly what went on. It was just like ‘we’ve accepted a bid from Norwich’. I think it was a lot more [money]. As a football club you are not going to take less, it’s as simple as that.
“It was my only option at the time, I didn’t want to stay at Wolves. I thought it was a good option – and it is. Norwich is a massive club. To be able to sign a four-year contract was big for me.”
But Marshall did not get a Championship look-in for Daniel Farke’s side after the end of August.
The Canaries moved top of the table after their win over Leeds on Saturday, but being a bit-part in that never appealed to the player.
Marshall said: “When I was there I’m sure you can speak to most of the lads and the staff – they would say I was really good around the dressing room and played my part. I’m nearly 28 and I was one of the older ones. I felt like I could put my arm around them, when they needed that.
“I did feel part of it.But on the flip side, I’m not like a puppet – just there to be good around the dressing room and expect me to be happy, because I want to play football games. That is what I was stressing. They were stressing they wanted me to stay, but mainly because I was good around the dressing room. For me, that told me I might need to try and leave.
“It’s nothing to do with Norwich – the players or the staff. I sat there watching the game on Saturday wanting them to win, because they are decent lads.
“Sometimes that click doesn’t happen and you’ve got to be professional about it – not going in and kicking off. Just be honest, that if I can go and get some games I’ll probably prefer that.
“They’ve done a lot of things for me Norwich, I’m not going to say anything bad about them.”