By RICHARD CAWLEY
Gary Rowett scored at the old Den on his professional debut – but the new Millwall manager still ended up getting an earbashing after a 2-1 victory in the 1991-92 season.
John Beck, the Cambridge United boss at the time, had a fearsome reputation.
And Rowett experienced it first hand. He said: “I was a second-year apprentice, 17. I think Mick McCarthy was the Millwall manager. It might have been Steve Claridge who got injured and I came on after 25 minutes. I scored a header – which stuck in the stanchion – to win the game 2-1.
“With 20 minutes to go I was chasing someone back, I can’t remember who, but I slid in and missed the tackle. John took me off and absolutely berated me afterwards in the dressing room.
“I’m thinking the world is at my feet after scoring the winner and then get knocked down a few pegs. It was a very humbling experience, but also a great one.”
Beck led Cambridge from the old Fourth Division to the brink of the top flight.
Rowett said: “There were a lot of methods, while I didn’t agree with how the team played all the time, that were very, very good.
“He took us from League Two to the top of the Championship in consecutive seasons. If you’d have only played everyone once that season then Cambridge would have gone up again. By the second time [the reverse fixture] people knew what we were doing and became a little bit accustomed to it.
“It’s like anything, you take methods from every manager but then use your own personality – you have to be authentic to yourself – to take those bits forward.
“There was the man-management of Jim Smith and the coaching acumen of Steve McClaren. You look at the way Trevor Francis dealt with players…I could go down the list and keep going. I worked with Peter Taylor at Leicester, who was a really good coach. Alan Curbishley at Charlton was a great guy and good coach.
“But ultimately I’m my own person and have to find a way to play as a manager which fits me. There is no point me trying to be someone else. You use some of those principles but what you see with me is exactly what you get.
“I hope it has helped shape me a little bit.”
Rowett has felt what it is like to be an opposing player and manager at the new Den.
And he knows that the noise generated from the stands by the home support can help give the Lions an advantage.
“On the one hand you knew the atmosphere was going to be electric but you also hated it because you knew it was going to be a difficult game,” said Rowett. “No matter what team they put out or how they had been playing it would be hard.
“That’s what we want to try and embrace.
“I can’t wait for Saturday. It’s the one thing you want – a passionate fanbase.
“You appreciate you have got to give them something to really get behind. It’s not just for them to motivate the team. It works both ways. But it can be a really powerful thing.”
Rowett is likely to get a hot reception from this weekend’s opponents – having been sacked by Stoke in January.
He said: “It will probably be a game where their fans want to give me a little bit of stick, but that’s fine. It’s water off a duck’s back.
“I’ll just be so pleased to be back out there.
“It’s not important who the first game was against, and I don’t mean to be disrespectful to anyone. I was very proud to be manager of Stoke and it didn’t work out for anyone the way they felt it would. But the emotion will be taken out of the game.
“We’ll only get two days to work with the players before Stoke, so it certainly won’t be the finished article.
“It is a game we’ll try to win and they’ll try to win. I’m aware of the good players they have got and the fact they shouldn’t be where they are.”