'My friends think I am barking mad but we do have a chance'

Millwall's new chairman Peter De Savary believes the country's most unloved club can be one of its top 15 sides within five years. Jason Burt reports
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The Independent Online

"We are Millwall. Period," said the new chairman of the country's most unloved club. "We are a brand." It was, certainly, a variation on the old "no one loves us, we don't care" mantra and may have had them spluttering into their pints down the Old Kent Road.

But then Peter De Savary, from his sharp tones to his equally sharp City suit, was well aware that he also cut an incongruous figure as he was presented yesterday by the Championship club just "six hours" after flying in from the United States. In front of him he had a rather prodigious Ramon Cuban cigar, while to his left was an oversized stuffed lion - Zampa, the Millwall mascot.

There was also a good deal of chutzpah and plain-speaking from De Savary, a 61-year-old entrepreneur, and his dismissal of a suggestion that he had already had an in-depth conversation with Colin Lee did not bode well for the manager's prospects.

"I'm glad he thinks he's had an in-depth chat with me," De Savary said. "He will certainly know when he has."

Not that De Savary would be drawn on much - from the planned investment to who he has targeted - he was vague, hiding behind his newness. "I don't have a quick solution, I don't have a magic wand," he said. "What I do have is common sense."

Still he was prepared to be bolder on ambitions. "I think we absolutely want to be in the top 15 clubs in the country," De Savary stated. "That is our ambition. In five years' time we must be in the top 15 clubs and we are going to figure out how we are going to achieve that and we are going to have a plan and do it very professionally and thoroughly and put our backs and guts into it."

De Savary made his first visit to watch his new team play last night when Millwall hosted Birmingham City in the Carling Cup.

"Don't misunderstand me, the odds are against us, we're in a corner and most of my friends think I've gone barking mad," he said of what he expects to happen. "But we do have a chance and let's go for the chance."

De Savary was one of the City's most successful and colourful figures in the 1980s. He made a fortune from property and shipping and was, perhaps, best known for funding Britain's America's Cup sailing challenge in 1983. He was unsuccessful and his profile declined in the 1990s when receivers were ordered to his main holding company, Placeton. He claims to have lost £50m but has bounced back and now has a fortune of around £20m - and although he is unspecific as to how much he will plough into Millwall he says he will be putting up some of his own cash.

"I'm fully aware of that," De Savary said. "My eyes are wide open. I believe we can provide and put together the funds that are necessary."

De Savary admitted, however, that he would not attend every game. His family and work commitments are too great, but he will be buying a home close by the ground. "I need to find somewhere to live and understand better the environment and community," he explained.

More recently De Savary - who says there are no plans to de-list Millwall, which is a public limited company - owned Skibo Castle, where Madonna and Guy Ritchie famously married. "We are in the service business," he said of his latest challenge. "It's our job to put on a bloody good show. We all have to get into the cult mentality that we are in the business of entertainment."

De Savary, brought into the club by the Millwall director Dick Towner, who acted as a lawyer for him 20 years ago, admitted that he expected to find a "ramshackle" stadium and that he had been "apprehensive" about accepting the post.

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