There will not be too many visiting managers who arrive at The Den this season and bemoan the fact that it’s empty. Doing so would be rather like complaining that your blackjack dealer had forgotten his marked deck, or that your local volcano hadn’t been erupting enough lately.
But when Neil Harris takes his Cardiff City side to Millwall on Saturday and stands in the away dugout for the first time as a manager, it will be a shame that 20,000 Lions fans are not there to welcome him home, particularly given the way his celebrated tenure ended.
Harris left by mutual consent in October 2019, after a run of bad results had seen sections of the Millwall support begin to turn against a man who, as a player, scored more goals than anyone else in the history of their club, and as a manager, delivered promotion back to the Championship, as well as two FA Cup quarter-finals, in a reign lasting almost five years.
A warm homecoming might have been a way to banish any lingering ill-feeling, any sense of regret and to revel in times gone by – not that Harris himself is in the business of sentimental reflection.
“It’s my old club so you always take notice of what they’re doing, but that chapter of my life has gone,” he said ahead of the Championship meeting. “It was a wonderful time, but now it’s a new chapter and the only challenge in front of me at the moment is going back to The Den on Saturday and getting three points.”
The absence of home support may help in that endeavour, but with the Bluebirds faithful also famously among the division’s most vociferous, Harris puts both his old and current clubs in the same boat when it comes to being hindered by the now not-so-novel playing conditions.
“There are a lot of similarities in the passion of the fan bases,” he said. “Cardiff City Stadium for the big games that I’ve played in there and now obviously managed, huge, huge games, and the fans really can be the turning point.