By Chris Dunlavy
Jed Wallace is talking about Wolverhampton Wanderers, and the moment in 2017 he realised it was time to flee the Midlands.
“When I arrived, Kenny Jackett was manager,” explains the 24-year-old, who joined Wolves from Portsmouth in 2015.
“Steve Morgan was the owner. All the old guard, really.
“By the time I left they were managed by an Italian goalkeeper (Walter Zenga) that nobody had heard of and a Chinese owner that I never saw. It was a totally different club.
“Then they signed Helder Costa for £13m. At that stage, you have to be realistic. I’m a lad from Portsmouth who cost £1m and I was up against an unbelievable talent in Helder.
“I could see where the club was heading and I wasn’t too proud to realise I wouldn’t be taken along for the ride. It was obvious I needed to walk away.”
Like Millwall, the club where he is currently rebuilding his career, there are no airs and graces about Wallace.
He tells the tale of his abortive stint at Wolves not with bitterness or regret but with an honesty and frank perceptiveness that belies his relatively tender years.
“I was unlucky,” says the winger, who was signed by Jackett after scoring 17 goals in League Two for Portsmouth, the club he still supports.
“I injured my knee in pre-season, then I lost all the confidence and momentum I’d built up at Portsmouth.
“Ask any player about joining a new club and the first thing they’ll say is you have to start well. If you don’t, it’s difficult to get the punters back on your side.
“But I’m also honest. Did I get the right opportunities at Wolves? Not really. I never started more than two games in a row. But did I play as well as I needed to when I got a chance? No. I had a few big chances and I missed them.
“That’s how it goes sometimes. All I can say is that I’m glad my mates there are doing well. And who knows, we could be playing them in the Premier League next year.”
At the turn of the year, that statement would have seemed absurd. Beaten 2-1 at Norwich on January 1, the Lions lay 15th, six points above the relegation zone without an away win all season.
Seventeen games later they are yet to lose again and went into Saturday’s critical clash against Sheffield United in sixth spot. For a team with the second-smallest budget in the division, it is a remarkable rise. Yet Wallace doesn’t see it that way.
“We should have been there all along,” insists Wallace, who, pre-weekend, had scored seven times in 43 matches this term.
“I’m good friends with a lot of boys in football and I speak to Conor Coady at Wolves all the time. I was ringing him all through December and January saying, ‘Mate, we battered them. I don’t know how we didn’t win’. Honestly it was every game.
“At one point, it felt like every goal we conceded was a 30-yarder flying in the top corner or something like that. Our shots hit the post and bounced out.
“He was probably going, ‘Yeah, Jed, whatever mate, you’re 15th’. But apart from 20 minutes at Derby, Wolves away and Brentford at our place, we’ve smashed everybody.
“It’s only since Christmas that we’ve really started to take our chances.”
Wallace says Millwall’s famed spirit adds much to the mix.
“Everybody always talks about spirit and togetherness, blah blah, blah,” he adds. “But, honestly, I’ve not seen a dressing room this close in my life.
“We’re all British, we get on well. We’re constantly taking the mick out of each other. It’s like a throwback to the eighties.
“And if there were any big-timers in there, they’d get hung up in the changing room. The boys wouldn’t tolerate it.”
Mainly, though, he credits gaffer Neil Harris – a Lions legend who took charge in March 2015 and won promotion from League One last term – for building a cut-rate team of ‘misfits’ with a point to prove.
“The manager’s done a great job,” says Wallace. “He’s got two of his friends – Timmy Cahill and Steve Morison – to run the changing room.
“Then there’s a few others – me, George Saville, Ben Marshall – who’ve been at big clubs and need to work our way back up. Shaun Hutchinson falls into that bracket, too.
“Our right-back, Mahlon Romeo, got released by Gillingham two years ago. He now looks like an absolute powerhouse in this division.
“That’s testament to Neil, who recognised something that others missed. He also pulled Ben Marshall out of a freezer at Wolves. He’s come to us and won 11 out of 13 games.
“And all for what – a million quid or so. Who else can say that? Everyone talks about Villa and Middlesbrough spending big, but Bristol City brought a £6m striker off the bench against us. Most clubs in the division can do that now, but it’s unheard of here.
“Does it make things difficult? Yeah. We ain’t gonna be the best team in those play-offs. I’m the first to admit that I won’t get the ball out wide and do ten stepovers like Cristiano Ronaldo.
“But like everyone else in this team, I’ll roll my sleeves up, win tackles and make us very hard to beat. What we lack in ability we make up for in heart and desire.”
Whatever happens in May, Wallace is ahead of his own personal curve.
“I still remember playing in Non-League when I was 17,” he recalls. “My mum and dad sat down with a friend of ours that works for Chelsea.
“We all agreed that if I could be playing full-time Conference football at 25, I’d have done really well. That was my ambition.
“So to be playing every week at Portsmouth and then move to Wolves at 20 – believe me, I didn’t take that for granted. I
still don’t, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want more.”
And with a potent good luck totem in the stands, who’s to say that wish won’t be granted?
“My first son, Luca, was born six weeks ago,” he says. “So far, he’s unbeaten. He’s been to three Millwall games and one Portsmouth game and won all of them, so I can’t ask for much more.
“If he carries on like this, his dad might be in the Premier League next year!”