Harry smiles on latter day Lions

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The Independent Football

Once upon a time, the popular serenade down Cold Blow Lane way was: "Harry, Harry, break us a leg." Somewhere up above Old Trafford yesterday, the spirit of Harry Cripps, that beloved of defensive bruisers, was beaming down on Millwall.

The latter day Lions performed with such conviction in the Theatre of Dreams that they will be treading the big stage for the first time in their 119-year history. The prospect of their potentially riotous followers descending on Cardiff and the continent will not please everyone in the beautiful game, or in Europe's local police forces.

The Millwall fans, though, were nothing more than raucously joyful inside Old Trafford yesterday and the Londoners, unloved though they are, brought their own touch of romance to the grand old Cup competition.

Tim Cahill's winning goal - a crashing drive into the Stretford End net - was enough to earn the industrious midfielder a place alongside the late, great Harry in Millwall folklore. And Cahill's story merits inclusion in the historical litany of FA Cup fairy tales.

"You have to go back seven years," the Sydneysider said, clutching the match ball in his zipped-up tracksuit. "My old man got a loan out to get me here for a trial. He could afford two pairs of football boots and he had three sons. I owe my family. It's nice to pay them back with a day like this."

Tim Cahill Snr, an engineer who was forced to retire on medical grounds, made the 12,000-mile trip to Old Trafford with his other sons, Chris and Sean, to watch Tim Junior, the son he sent to England as a 16-year-old, to fulfil his dream of a life in professional football.

"My old man's English," Tim Jnr said. "He's from Dagenham. He helped me a lot on the training pitch because I was a late developer. He used to get us up at 4am to watch the FA Cup final every year. And now I'm playing against Manchester United in the final.

"Paul Scholes, Roy Keane, Ruud van Nistelrooy ... Oh my God! They're my heroes. I hope I can get Van Nistelrooy's shirt." Cahill was not the only hero in a Millwall shirt yesterday. Neil Harris, the man who has overcome testicular cancer, covered every blade of grass on the Old Trafford pitch.

Victory against Sunderland completed a week of dreams come true for the Millwall number four. Banned from representing his homeland for nine years after playing for Western Samoa while visiting his grandmother as a 14-year-old, Cahill finally played for Australia, against South Africa at Loftus Road, last Tuesday night.

And now the new hero of the New Den will be breaking a leg, as it were, on the European stage. Old Harry never quite made it with Millwall to Milan.