Jimmy Carter had no plans to stay in football when he was forced to retire due to a back injury in 1999 – Millwall provided a lure he could not resist.
But the 52-year-old’s role at the Lions is not on the coaching side. He has been commercial sales executive since October 2015 – striking partnership and sponsorship deals at The Den.
Carter spent 15 years as a property developer and investor prior to his return to Millwall. The Hammersmith-born winger played over 100 matches for the Lions in two spells at the club.
“I’d been involved in property for quite a long time going back to when I was at Arsenal,” he explained. “I’d project manage on site. It was always something I was going to go into when I finished football.
“Apart from my first year after I retired, when I got asked to manage Millwall’s under-15 team in the academy, I had no real plans of going into coaching. For me, playing was everything, and the coaching position at Millwall probably came a bit too soon after retiring through injury quite suddenly
“I started in property when I was around 18 years old. I got married very young to a wonderful girl – we’re still married 35 years later.
“She has shared the same passion with me on the property front. After a few projects on a personal level we stepped up to projects on a commercial level.
“During my time at Arsenal, Liverpool and Portsmouth we formed a company that would specialise in developing sites in and around London.
“When you are 35 and your career is over, you’re still a relatively young man. The salaries were not great back then, so one had to consider what they were going to do after they finished playing
“It wasn’t a question that you retired, even though I’d had a couple of decent moves to Arsenal and Liverpool, good earning years. I didn’t have a stash to go and buy a hammock and live on a beach all my life. I needed something to go into – property development provided that
“I knew nothing was going to match being a player, what I had dreamed of doing as a kid. I was so blessed to have that life – getting paid to play football and go to the clubs I did. Looking back it is just incredible.
“I’ve got a strong affinity with Millwall and when they asked me if I’d come back the answer was always going to be yes.
“Initially I came in part-time, to assist with the hosting and lounges on a match day, then it was part-time in the commercial office. When Mark Cole left after 22 years
association with the football club, I was asked to come in full time.”
Carter admits there could eventually come a time when he decides to spend more time with his family.
“You can say that football life is glamorous but you’re never there for Christmas and New Year. I’m not saying it is all doom and gloom – quite the opposite – but you are away for long periods.”
Carter was part of the last Millwall side to win promotion to the English top-flight in 1987-88 – before the Premier League rebranding.
“I still remember the day I signed for the club,” he said. “I hadn’t played a first-team game [at Crystal Palace or QPR] and went straight into their side two days later. I was hoping I had a half-decent game – because if I didn’t play well in the first one then I’d never get a chance with our supporters!
“With Millwall fans, if you give it everything then you’ve got more than half a chance.
“The supporters took to me and then the team John Doc [Docherty] brilliantly built up in quite a short space of time got promoted. For the supporters, directors, chairman, fans and players it was just a special time.
“In life, especially football, you’re lucky if you have your time. It is one thing being a professional footballer, but for a lot of players – truth be known – they never will experience a promotion or playing in a cup final.
“So having those special moments, you really need to cherish them. If you’re lucky you get it once in your career. In 1987-88, it was that group of players’ time.
“We all keep in touch to this day. It’s amazing – 30 years on we [Millwall] have not managed to repeat it. Although the boys did an unbelievable job last season and very nearly got in the play-offs.
“In terms of a comparison to then and now, there are quite a lot. The team-spirit and group of players that the manager has assembled have got the right spirit and belief instilled into them. That has really come back to the club – the pride in the shirt. Those players give everything.
“Neil [Harris, manager] has got all of that in place and I can see the club going from strength to strength.
“There have been changes behind the scenes, Steve Kavanagh [chief executive] has been a brilliant boost for the club. The club is going in the right direction, I really feel that.
“The foundations of the football club are getting stronger and stronger. Last season was a major success.”
If the Lions do go up then it changes the playing field on every level – not least financially. Carter would be in an area which would see a spike in income.
“We’ve seen over the years that football is becoming more and more like a business now,” he said. “But the one thing that would never get lost sight of at this football club is what our fanbase means to us.
“We’ll always consider our fans, first and foremost.
“If one day we did get to the promised land then things do move considerably further in terms of commercial opportunities.”
Millwall cannot match some of the Championship powerhouses in terms of attendances, but Carter does not believe that impedes the dreams of reaching the Premier League.
Burnley and Huddersfield both did not spend their way to promotion.
“I’d also throw in Bournemouth as well, their stadium is 12,000 or 13,000 and ours is around 20,000,” said Carter. “If we got to the Premier League it would be banged out every single home game .
“There are huge sums of money if you get to the Premier League – life-changing money for the club, even if you only have a couple of years there.”
Carter played at the original Den and is in the stands now in the new stadium – so which was more hostile?
“The old Den, without a shadow of doubt. It was amazingly intimidating for the opposition, even Millwall players could get it as much. We have an amazing set of fans. You’ve got to give 100 per cent.
“When we were in our promotion run-in the old Den was a full house for the last eight to 10 matches. All the supporters were thinking: ‘Can we do it?’ I can still remember walking out on to the pitch ,we all felt like gladiators walking out in the colosseum. You felt that expectancy. You could see the fear in the oppositions’ faces.”
Carter was sold to Liverpool in January 1991 for £800,000.
“I never once asked to leave Millwall,” he said. “We had been relegated to the second tier after two years in the top flight. All credit to every single one of the players – not one put in a transfer request.
“Bruce Rioch came to me one morning before training and asked me to step into his office. He said: ‘We’ve accepted a bid from Liverpool Football Club – Kenny Dalglish wants to see you up in Liverpool this evening’. At the time I had no intention of leaving, I was very happy at Millwall. However when you know the club the club have accepted a bid, then you have a decision to make.
“Unfortunately for me he resigned within four weeks. It was always going to be tough thereafter.
“But I look back with great memories. To be signed by Sir Kenny himself is not something I will ever forget.”