BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Danny Shittu was the last Millwall player to score an FA Cup quarter-final winner – and he is rooting his former club to reach the last four of the competition again on Sunday.
The former Lions centre-back, 38, headed home the only goal in a replay at Blackburn Rovers in March 2013 to set up a semi-final against Wigan, who went on to cause a huge upset to topple Manchester City and lift the trophy.
And Shittu also showed his aerial prowess to net in the 2-1 win over Aston Villa, then an established Premier League side, in the fourth round.
The Lagos-born defender admits those FA Cup moments were highlights of his Millwall career.
“John Marquis got the goal that took us through against Villa but for me to get the one that got us back in the tie meant so to much – especially because it was at The Den,” said Shittu. “The buzz going around the stadium that day was just unreal.
“We were unlucky not to beat Blackburn in the first match. If the shot I took in that game had gone in then I’d probably have walked into the changing room and retired right there and then – on a high.
“But again the atmosphere at The Den gave us confidence going into the away match. The goal was one of the highlights of my career and something I will never forget.
“There were the pictures of me taking my top off and people thinking I was crazy. I got a yellow card for it, but it just showed what it meant to me when you score a goal and don’t expect to.
“It was such an important one that you kind of lose yourself for a moment. It was a bit silly but as a team you work so hard all week on a plan and when it comes off perfectly, keeping a clean sheet as well, it’s just so memorable.
“That is the kind of stuff you remember for the rest of your lives and you want to celebrate with the fans.
“Going on that run was huge. Wembley [playing Wigan] was a good day but we were unlucky not to do well in that game.”
There is always talk about The Den atmosphere being one that can induce all manner of negative effects on opposition players.
Shittu experienced that – being sent off for QPR in 2011. He has impressed so much for Millwall on a 93-day deal that the west London side signed him in January of that year.
It brings a rumbling deep laugh. “What people don’t understand is that we’re still humans – we’ve got feelings and emotions,” he said. “I played for Millwall and then came back with QPR. Wow – that’s all I can say about the game.
“When you are playing for the club, the fans are for you. That’s why they say in sport that they can be the 12th man.
“The fans were on my back so much. Not in a negative way – nothing rude or racist – but in terms of booing and calling my name. It slightly affected my game. I got sent off and that explains it. I’ve played in World Cups and played in the Africa Cup of Nations against Ghana in Ghana – so I’m able to handle really tough places. But they really got to me.
“The whole stadium were on my case and it helped Millwall. That’s what supporters are there to do, to get behind their team and the did that on the day. There are no bad feelings about them doing that.
“To play at The Den for Millwall you have to be mentally strong. Those fans are really passionated about their team.
“Before I went there a lot of people thought it was going to be hard for me – what is going to happen? But I tell everyone that Millwall is one of highlights and where I built some of my best memories – not just the players but also the supporters.
“It’s the same for my mum Camilla. I grew up in London and my mum is still there, we know a lot of people in the South London area and for them to talk highly about her son means a lot to her. It means a lot to me as well.”
Millwall and Premier League scalps have gone together in recent seasons. Everton were dumped out in their current campaign and there is a chance on Sunday to add Brighton to the list.
Championship strugglers versus a heavily-resourced Premier League outfit – there should be only winner. But the Lions have shown they can not so much upset the applecart as tip it upside down.
“That’s the beauty of the FA Cup,” said Shittu.
“It is what you’re like on the day. For the players it is an opportunity to put what is going on in the league to one side – whether that is things going well or not. We’ve seen so many big defeats and surprises in the past.
“I really believe the boys are going to use the buzz from the last few rounds. Anything can happen on the day and I’ll be rooting for them on the day.”
IMAGES BY BRIAN TONKS