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Wally on the FA Cup draw against his old club Millwall

Our manager's reaction after last night's draw

29 January 2019

Wally Downes will be aiming to engineer a famous FA Cup victory against the club where he started his coaching career.

The Dons were last night handed an Emirates FA Cup home draw against Millwall in the last-16 of the knockout competition.

Speaking about the draw, Wally said: “I was speaking to ‘Bomber’ (Neil Harris) earlier in the day and we both said, ‘blimey, we don’t want each other’, but that’s the way it’s turned out. It’s a local derby and it should be a great day. It’s the next game in the competition for us and on the day anything can happen. Two giant-killers are playing against each other: they knocked Everton out and we knocked West Ham out. It’s a different dynamic for both of us in the next round. All of a sudden now, Millwall are the giants.”

Wally’s introduction to coaching came at Millwall almost three decades ago. Though it was a difficult time, our manager said it was great experience for his coaching career.

Recalling his time at Millwall during a recent programme article, Wally said:  “I packed in playing at the age of 28 due to injuries. I started to go and watch matches as I wanted to stay in the game. At one game I happened to be sat next to a guy called Frank Sibley, who used to play for QPR. I knew him and he asked what I was doing. I told him that I had packed in playing and he asked me to come along and work with Millwall's academy. I lived in Ham at the time and he said there was an academy in East Sheen. I was asked to come along and meet the academy coach.  

“Frank Sibley was the first-team coach, John Docherty was the manager, and Frank McLintock was the Assistant Manager. The board at Millwall had told John and Frank that they had to sell Teddy Sheringham and Tony Cascarino by the time the financial year came around in March. They refused and that meant that they resigned. Frank Sibley was put in charge of the team and at 9.45 am on my first day there he said that I could put the first training session on! I had been there to try and get an academy role, but the next thing I knew I was putting on training for the first-team. The squad included players I’d been up against in the previous 10 years. All of a sudden, I was taking on responsibility for a first-team training session with top-flight players.

“It was a baptism of fire. It lasted six months until Bruce Rioch came in. He kept me on until the end of the season, but then I was let go and I went to Crystal Palace. It was an impossible task really! I tried to remember a couple of training sessions that Dave Bassett had put on over the years. Some of the sessions were fresh in my mind as I hadn’t long finished playing, but I had to try and put that over to my peers, including Terry Hurlock, Teddy Sheringham, Tony Cascarino and Les Briley, who I’d previously played with. It was amazing. They had gone through the divisions and were in the top-flight and I had to go out and put on a training session on my first day. It’s amazing the way things happen.

“I called around for advice to people that I knew, but it was really a case of me remembering stuff that I’d done and having to learn on the job. It was a very difficult job because Frank had been a manager earlier in his career, but not for a long time. The situation was a little bit toxic because of the board wanting to sell the players. They wanted to go because John Docherty had left, so it was a very difficult situation, but it stood me in good stead for the rest of my career.”

Of course, Wally has had a successful coaching career since, which has included spells at Crystal Palace, Reading, Southampton, QPR, and West Ham.

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