Dense housing estates rub against peeling industrial estates; roads end without warning. I park opposite a building site, where a stack of plush yuppie flats is going up. Round these parts, they have been regenerating hope since Across the road, fans are gathering around the glowing counters of the Millwall Cafe.
Leeds fan struck by police officer amid unrest after Millwall defeat - Mirror Online
For Chris Drewell, this is his pre-match routine: drive down from his home in Chelmsford, park up nearby, and grab a quick bite to eat. C hris is retired, and no longer travels to away games. But he has been coming to The Den, in its various incarnations, for 50 years. We drew at The Den, then lost the replay Millwall have never won a major trophy or played in the Premier League.
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And so its moments of euphoria have been cruelly fleeting: a handful of promotions offseting a handful of relegations , an FA Cup final in , two golden top flight seasons in the s. This is not much to show for half a century of devotion. S o what keeps Chris coming back to Millwall, week after week, Peterborough after Peterborough, fish supper after fish supper? I remember my first trip to Millwall, a Cup replay against Staines a few years back.
I remember, in about , watching a short-lived teatime quiz show on Channel 5 called Whittle.
E very club has some scumbags. Doubtless Millwall still have a few too. But then, people would always rather have a prejudice confirmed than challenged. P olice have designated the Tottenham game a high-risk fixture. Millwall are confident the game will pass without incident. At 8,, the crowd is less than half-capacity, and Millwall scrape a fortunate win thanks to a Lee Gregory penalty. Still, another three points, another clean sheet, and another foothold in the clamber towards promotion. Under former club legend Neil Harris, Millwall have not been beaten in almost three months, and kept nine straight clean sheets until a win over MK Dons last weekend.
The dream lasted just 10 minutes.
In the corner of the dressing room, a radio broadcast the familiar signature tune of Sports Report. We listened for the news from Sheffield to be confirmed, set in a stone by the BBC. The voice was deceptively bland. They had won at Sheffield. Our captain, Denis Burnett, picked up the radio and smashed it against the wall.
How typically Millwall to enjoy the briefest stay of all time in the First Division. Something died in each of us, in every Millwall man that day. Within a year, most of us had left the club. Another year passed before Herbert Burnige succeeded Mickey Purser as chairman.
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Mickey was the past. He owned a car showroom on the Old Kent Road, and was slightly mysterious. From the terraces it seemed that Purser represented the Millwall of tradition - the club that had no real ambition, that always sold its best players and bought West Ham's cast offs ; the club that didn't really want promotion to the First Division because it would cost too much money. Occasionally the plate glass windows in Purser's car showrooms would be smashed late at night.
Herbert Burnige set out to change things once and for all. He began by hiring Gordon Jago, a bright young football manager with progressive marketing ideas. Together, Jago and Burnige tackled the "poor relations" problem, and and the by now well established myth that something dark and ugly lurked beneath the surface at Cold Blow Lane.
Jago even suggested that a name change for Cold Blow Lane, to Montego Bay, because he said it projected the wrong image. When that proved impossible, he tried glasnost. By , football hooliganism was fundamental to English Saturday afternoons. The disease had been exported to Europe and was a recurring item on the news pages - and always the name of Millwall was somehow invoked.
Jago's three years at The Den had transformed the club's image. There was little of substance to this - just a general sense of cleanliness, a smart new strip, a bright newsy club magazine and a manager who was articulate and plausibly ambitious. The vibe was good: Millwall's supporters were perceived to be among the best behaved in London and there had been no outbreaks of hooliganism for years.
Jago saw the Panorama documentary as an opportunity to kill the Millwall Myth. Alas, the BBC was seeking to prove a theory: that football hooliganism was more than just random violence, that it was linked to the fascism of the National Front, and that the malignancy in English football, which by now was infecting the nation at large, was rooted in Millwall Football Club.
The National Front's "national activities organiser", Martin Webster, was interviewed to lend substance to this claim, and pictures of his supporters selling fascist literature outside The Den - something never witnessed before or since - were transmitted to the nation. When the club and local policemen saw a preview of the film they begged the BBC not to transmit it. The story was false, a perverse and sickening distortion of the truth. Glasnost proved disastrous both for Millwall and for Jago, who resigned shortly after the Panorama programme was transmitted.
Myth and reality finally fused for Millwall three months after the broadcast. Fighting began on the terraces, then spilled out on to the pitch and into the narrow streets around the ground. Bottles, knives, iron bars, fists, boots and concrete slabs rained from the sky. Dozens of innocent people, real Millwall fans, were injured. Among them was Joe Hale, a year-old Den regular who stood, blood pouring from a head wound, a bemused and broken symbol of a club and a sport terminally ill.
For Herbert Burnige it was too much.
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He resigned as chairman, saddened beyond words, though he kept his place on the board. He died in - a decent man whose lifespan hadn't been prolonged by his love of Millwall Football Club. During the last five years of his life, Herbert had seen Millwall, disgraced and demoralised, tread the old route between Divisions Two and Three, bleak territory rendered even more desolate by the barbed wire and spiked railings that now surrounded his beloved Den, and by the penury that threatened the Football League in general and Millwall in particular.
Herbert never conferred a directorship on Jeff, his passionate son. Nepotism was not his way.
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It was up to Jeff to observe and learn, and graduate to the boardroom on his own merits. In the course of doing this, the young man coached Ulysses, London University's second team, to some considerable success in the hinterland of the amateur game. A year before he died, Herbert had found a wealthy builder and property developer, Alan Thorn, who was seduced on to the board by dreams not dissimilar to those which, 13 years earlier, had drawn Burnige himself to the Glory Game.
Thorn vowed to spare no effort - and no money - in realising the First Division dream that was now 98 years old. By March , immense progress had been made, at immense cost. An able manager, the former Scottish international George Graham, had led the club to the top of the Third Division. Promotion looked assured. And Millwall had reached the quarter-final of the FA Cup, an achievement that evoked two images in Millwall's past: the dreadful carnage of the Ipswich game in , and a more glorious and inspiring day in when the club reached the Cup semi-final by beating Derby County at The Den.
It was on the latter that imaginations lingered as the Millwall fans travelled hopefully to Luton on Wednesday evening, March 13, The date will be recalled in any history of English soccer ever written. The glory at Kenilworth Road that night, a distinction of unimaginable horror, belonged to a mob some several hundred strong, the elite of London's football hooligan gangs who infiltrated the 17, crowd.
They arrived in Luton early, drunk and armed with weapons now familiar in every town and city on the bloody Football League map. Even more deadly, they brought with them a conviction in the strength of their own authority, a sense of belonging to, and identifying with, the game of professional soccer. Theirs was the presence against which all other things paled - the pitiful pleas of Football Association and Football League, the wringing of Westminster hands, the strictures of the leader pages and the deep probings of the sociologists. A grim fortress had been erected, but the barbed-wire, steel fencing and video cameras which were designed to keep the hooligans out served only as props in their theatre of violent fantasy.
Whitehouse scored from 25 yards and near the end Whitehouse was on hand to score his second after another by Fulham keeper Macedo. The replay on the Monday drew a crowd officially logged at 31,, 10, greater than the game at Craven Cottage, but probably 15, greater as around 5, fans gained free entry via a broken gate. Some nuisance value he turned out to be as he latch onto a mis-hit Rowan shot to put Millwall into the lead. There were so many satisfied customers hundreds of fans who had gained free entry through the broken gate sent the entrance money by post!
The result was a triumph for Manager Billy Gray who plotted Fulham downfall by allowing Cohen space to get forward as often as possible, tightly marking Robson on his deep runs and once they lost the ball, playing the ball quickly into the spaces the illustrious pair left behind. The team spent the entire week perfecting it in training and it payed off in the match. After the game Robson, unable to believe what had happened told reporters: "It was thoroughbreds against donkeys.