22 year old central midfielder, Ben Thompson, is the perfect example of what Millwall football club is trying to achieve. The recently-awarded family club of the year are looking to appeal to the younger generation and potentially try and bring them through their youth system.
I could tell from my interview with South Londoner Thompson that he loves the club, and wants to stay there for as long as he can. “Like with most players it [my career aim] is just to play at the highest possible level you can. You want to make the most out of your career and test yourself against the best around. Hopefully I can do that with Millwall.”
Thompson came through the academy at an early age, and when asked how long he had been playing for, he told me “I started playing as soon as I could walk! Football’s been a massive constant my whole life and I’ve played in some way for as long as I can remember.”
Millwall are currently sitting 17th in the Championship after enduring a two year spell in League One, where Thompson made 66 of his 69 league appearances. The young midfielder has had to be patient for his chance in the Championship, but is getting to grips with the league already. “It’s still fairly early days for me at this level but I’ve enjoyed it when I’ve played. My only other experience is in League One but obviously in the Championship there are bigger teams and clubs and individual players are better. The play can be a little faster and you need to be better on the ball because teams can punish you.”
Manager Neil Harris has previously spoken very highly about Thompson, telling the BBC “He plays like a fan in a football shirt, but one with real quality.” Harris is a Millwall legend, having made 380 league appearances for the club, and Thompson stated the importance of playing for a manager who knows the club so well. “The manager is probably the club’s biggest legend. He played here for most of his career and has now managed for a long time too so he knows everything there is to know about the club, the staff and the fans. I think that makes a huge difference. He has experienced highs and lows as a player and manager for Millwall and has been through most situations you could go through so his advice is invaluable.”
In addition to Harris, Thompson also spoke about Tim Cahill, who was in the same side as Harris when Millwall reached the 2004 FA Cup final. “Tim Cahill [is my footballing idol]. I used to love watching him play for Millwall. I loved how he played, the goals he scored and his energy in midfield. He’s a big legend for the club.”
Thompson was in the stands for the aforementioned 2004 FA Cup final, so he knows exactly what it means to be a Millwall fan, and when asked how important the support of the somewhat infamous Millwall fans is, he stated “The fans are massively important for us and how we play. We really respond to that noise from the stands and they respond to how we play. It’s great when you’re away from home and you see a few thousand Millwall fans who have travelled all that way to get behind you – it really boosts your performance in my opinion. And at The Den the home support is a reason why we’ve been so successful there in the last couple of seasons.”