Byline: STUART JAMES
GIVEN that Theo Paphitis describes being Millwall chairman as "living in a goldfish bowl with an outer casing made of very fine egg shells" you might have thought he would be looking forward to standing down on Sunday. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
Paphitis is dreading the moment when he relinquishes control of the club he saved from bankruptcy eight years ago. "I'm not looking forward to it in the slightest," he said. "It's a decision I am struggling to come to terms with terribly."
Paphitis, the son of Greek immigrants, is justifiably proud of the transformation he has overseen. During his tenure debts of [pounds sterling]10million have been brought under control and attendances have almost doubled, while the club have emerged from the depths of the old Second Division to become an established force in the Championship. On top of that, the club have enjoyed an inaugural European campaign and an FA Cup Final against Manchester United.
"I should not be at all disappointed but of course there is that disappointment - no Premiership," said Paphitis. "That's the only thing that niggles me. If there was one reason for not stepping down that would be it."
Yet back in April 1997 there were plenty of reasons for not taking over.
Paphitis said: "People said to me, 'Millwall? You must be mad. You're a first-generation immigrant, they're going to hang you up from the floodlights'. It was the biggest nonsense of stereotyping I've ever heard because the fans have been tremendous to me.
"I think the vast majority of them appreciate what I've done. There will always be a very loud minority that have got views that don't fit modern day society - and they appear in every club - but we don't run Millwall football club for them. Millwall are run for the true supporters of the club."
That much was evident when Paphitis introduced a controversial membership scheme after violence broke out following Millwall's defeat to Birmingham in the playoff semi-finals three years ago.
"The problems outside the ground after the game took a big piece out of me," said Paphitis, who admits he came close to quitting. "When a bit of china is broken you can stick it together again but you still see the marks, and those marks are still there. That was definitely my lowest point.
But the level of problems we've had in the last few years has been zilch and I'm very proud of that. …