Millwall: hard to like but some of their fans care

Before I say anything else, let me offer the thought that Millwall fans – decent ones, anyway, and please do not automatically assume decency and Millwall are mutually exclusive terms – have a point when they say a few missiles thrown by gormless hoodlums should not tarnish an entire club.

What happend during Millwall v Boro was nasty enough for the referee to want to abandon the game, according to both managers, who reportedly talked him out of it.

But the outbreaks of appalling behaviour that still pollute football are not confined to the New Den. Think back to the Birmingham derby or even our own derbies. Every football club has a yob element to its support.

It is also true that as a club, Millwall has tried hard to minimise the problem. And no excuses will ever be found on my lips for the Sun reporter who once based a hostile piece on a repeated chant he took to be Sieg Heil from Millwall neo-Nazis but was in fact Seagulls (from Brighton fans).

That said, there does seem to be something exceptional about Millwall and it has never in my long memory been a pleasant experience to go there as an away supporter.

A man who clearly regards himself as among the decent contingent rang a London phone-in programme to complain about media demonisation of his club.

He liked the passion of support at Millwall and felt perfectly happy taking his daughter to games. But no, he would never “grass up” a lowlife thug who lobbed a coin or other object at a player or official, no matter what risk of injury arose.

I may be naive but thought the term “grass up” was one used predominantly or even exclusively by underworld figures, in other words criminals. Well, Salut! Sunderland is happy to see most points of view – and supports the principle of innocent until proved guilty to the extent of condemning stadium bans on people “suspected” of football disorder but so far convicted of nothing – but draws the line at offering understanding and succour to criminals.

My first experience of Millwall’s passionate home support was at the old Den in the 1970s. Millwall deservedly won 2-1 but for a large bunch of Millwall “fans”, the football was an irrelevance: they just wanted to get at the Sunderland away support and would have attacked had there not been physical and human (police) barriers to their ability to do so.

When the New Den opened, I remember being held back for 20-30 minutes after a game so that police, as one officer put it to me, could clear the “animals” from the estate that lay between the ground and the station.

Later, a cage-like walkway was installed to make the walk from train to ground more secure, though it felt like being in a concentration camp to have to use it.

Just before Euro 2000, I interviewed by e-mail a Millwall supporter and semi-reformed yob who now wrote books (not the one shown above). He was not remotely ashamed of his disgusting past; indeed, he felt hooligans by and large created the passionate atmosphere appreciated by others and also thought the young men who followed England abroad – there’d be no cause to follow Millwall overseas, of course – for the sole purpose of making trouble were in fact the flower of English youth intent on teaching Johnny Foreigner some respect.

Another caller to the radio show talked about record sums donated by Millwall supporters, at their 2009 Wembley playoff final, for wounded servicemen. That’s to be applauded; it does not exonerate any of the same people or fellow Millwall supporters who act violently, join in happily if violence occurs or cheerfully help savages intent on GBH or worse get away with it.

Monsieur Salut

8 thoughts on “Millwall: hard to like but some of their fans care”

  1. As the original article admits; SAFC has a fair share of meatheads. Therefore I’m not really sure what additional point se8lion is making.

    Funnily enough Martin, I was “duped” in the same Millwall shares scam at what must have been the same time. I would make this about13/14 years ago. My barber told me that his son (who worked in the city) had a rumour that Chris Evans was going to buy Millwall. I went for it to the tune of about 250 quid or thereabouts. I still live in hope that they may be a club transformed in my life time, but I’m not holding my breath.

    Only went to the Old Den once and it wasn’t that bad in fact. They won 4-1 in what may have been the first game of the season. Must have been about 1991.

  2. Thanks M. Salut – I didn’t know there was a name for it! I just have a vivid recollection of how it all affected my colleague. I have heard about the acid case too. Bizarre but true.

    You’re right Mr Hedley – it doesn’t matter which clubs they support. Sure enough we have more than our fair share of thugs, but Millwall top the league and have done so for years. I’ve been to West Ham v Millwall games, and trust me, until you’ve seen it for yourself it’s difficult to grasp how bad they truly are. Sometimes they don’t go to games to watch them, they go to in mass numbers to top up their testosterone levels, to intimidate, bully, and fight! I don’t understand why their fans attempt to defend themselves, unless they are in total denial. One things for sure, if nobody takes control and tries to find a solution, they will always carry the problem, and as their song suggests, they are Millwall and no-one likes them!

  3. An outstanding if depressing account of human nature coupled with a frightening tale from the Dark Ages, Martin.
    The Stockholm Syndrome that afflicted your colleague is not the first example I have come across. Long ago, a big police investigation of a major drugs ring required some detectives to go undercover and pose as acidheads. One in particular went native. He simply preferred the new life he was leading. He, too, was deeply uncomfortable with what he had to do as the investigation reached its climax. Though he conscientiously did his duty up to the court cases, he left the force soon afterwards. I bumped into him some months later and he had grown his hair back to the hippy length it had been during his period of infiltration. He didn’t volunteer anything about what he was up to, but it was difficult to avoid having a quiet guess.

  4. Se8Lion is wrong it is not a high horse attitude but an unwillingness to discuss reality which allows such situations to prosper. jut as the last Government tried to brand anyone racist for trying to voice their concerns about immigration so too is there a danger that just because other clubs have similar problems means the difficulties at Millwall cannot be spoken about. I thoroughly enjoyed my trip up to SOL to watch the Spurs game but as I walked back to the car ahead of me a brain dead Sunderland fan was actively kicking a drinks can into the faces of children walking the other way, heedless of the potential danger to others even though they supported the same club.

    When I arrived back at the car a father of a young Spurs lad was explaining to his wife on his mobile how their young son had been attacked by a Sunderland fan and although his face was bleeding she was not to worry because it probably would not leave a scar.

    It really does not matter which clubs these moronic perpetrators of violence support because they are as sure as hell not fans of football, just of violent conflict. As long as our judiciary behave like limp wet spinach these thugs will continue to prosper.

  5. I don’t usually post about “other teams”, but I think I might have something interesting to share with you! I have more than a fleeting interest in Millwall, not least because they represent one of the worst financial decisions I have ever made! About 15 years ago, while I was working at West Ham, a friend with far greater financial acumen than myself talked me into buying Millwall shares to the tune of “two large”! He quoted the potential of the club, it’s geographical position – and undeniably, London clubs seem to prosper due their location in the capital, which brings them into the frame to be acquired by a go-zillionaire. It made sense to me, so I piggy-backed his idea! I thought I was getting a bargain at one flippin pence a share, but almost immediately they plummeted to 0.0000000000002 pence per share, and have never shown signs of recovery. That’s right – I’m a long-standing Footsie flop courtesy of Millwall FC!

    Obviously, Millwalls’ disciplinary record (or lack thereof) is more than mildly attributable to my somewhat less healthy bank balance! But I can tell you that the hooliganism epidemic spreads like a cancer, and those afflicted gradually become hopelessly addicted, buying into the mentality, the camaraderie, and the psychology. How do I know this?

    A friend and former colleague was selected to infiltrate the grass roots of a hooligan element, with the ultimate goal of naming, shaming, and bringing to justice the top brass, the orchestrators and war-mongers. He was your typical cheeky cockney, “jack-the-lad”, popular, street wise Johnny – hence his selection. The Governors put huge faith into him and his under-cover abilities. He was given carte-blanche authority to “go anywhere”, and “do anything” in pursuit of evidence, and the consequent bringing to justice of the head honcho’s.

    Obviously, he put himself at enormous personal risk, and I’m not sure to this day whether the powers that be gave due consideration to his safety. Probably not me thinks. Never-the-less – off he went, determined to bring down the empire, and return a hero.

    However, not even he could have foreseen what was to become an emotional roller-coaster adventure that took him deeper and more involved than was possibly fathomable.

    He would disappear for days, his only restriction being the courtesy-call back to the Nick to let the boss know that he was still breathing!! He did magnanimously grace us with his presence every few weeks, sporting a foolish pony tail, unshaven, unkempt and bedraggled, but all of our attempts to coerce him into spilling a few beans was met with fierce indignation! Our interpretation was that he was “in it to win it”, but we were not privvy to his innermost feelings after his months of relationship building with the brains behind repeated, gratuitous and vicious attacks on other human being’s – their only crime – to support a different club!

    To cut to the chase, when it came time to “grass-up” the bad boys, after gaining their trust, admiration, respect, and mutual freindship, my mate found himself at the crossroads, and had to summon every ounce of inner-professionalism to do the “dirty deed”. After being given the responsibility of forging relationships with these toe-rags, he hadn’t accounted for the intense connection with them, despite the ugliness of their purpose! When the time came, the feelings of callous betrayal and disloyalty were something he found hard to come to terms with, and consumed him more than he would ever admit to. He was caught between a rock and a hard place, with nowhere to hide, because afterall, he had an obligation to follow through, especially considering his oath to represent Queen and her subjects!

    I can tell you that when he finally presented the evidence and lay his buddies to the sword, he wasn’t able to contain his tears. And he was one tough S.O.B. let me tell yer!! So – it goes to show that human unity in any form is a powerful addiction, and betraying mutual respect is an awfully hard thing to do.

    Notwithstanding all of the above, planned violence at sporting events cannot be condoned under any circumstances, and the sickening kudos that runs rampant amongst the perpetrators is a mentality that has to be confronted and discouraged by mass condemnation and tough penalties.

    When I was about 9 years old I went to see Sunderland v Man U, and at the time United were the kings of hooliganism. After the game, my dad chose an alternative route back to the car so to avoid possible confrontation with “fans” of Manchester. Alas, he called it wrong and we found ourselves in the path of hundreds of rampaging United fans, intent on violence. My brother was only 5, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the look of fear on his face, nor that of my dad. You could tell in his eyes that he didn’t know what to do for the best, and that he had little or no chance of protecting his sons.

    He put his arms around us and tucked our heads into his body, in the vain hope that we would be sheltered from the impending onslaught, and hoping that the fact he had children with him might somehow invoke a charitable response! Then came the abuse. We were surrounded by a throng of indoctrinated thugs, intent on victimising anyone not connected with their team – in the name of what??? My dad was threatened in a way I hadn’t heard before, and I distinctly remember my brothers muffled screams. The intensity of their contrived hatred is difficult to put into words, but my dad was reduced to a quivering wreck and his words will be etched into my mind until I depart this mortal coil. “You can hurt me, but don’t hurt my boys”.

    My dad died in ’07 but I will always remember his courage, and his commitment to protect his children, at the expense of himself, in what I now know to be a “fight or flight” situation. In truth, he couldn’t do either, so he (cleverly) offered himself as a sacrifice. I say cleverly because it did the trick. This sounds like I am exaggerating, but in truth, I am understating.

    After more abuse, the blood thirsty thugs departed in search of more capable opposition, while we gingerly made our way back to the car. For me it was the biggest lesson of my life so far. It was a rude awakening as to the injustices of mankind!

    The point is this. Human beings are easily led. I believe you can lead a horse to water and you CAN make it drink. They teach each other that it’s ok to hate supporters of a different team, and to punish them mentally and physically for doing so! WTF??

    It is unthinkably ridiculous, but it is what it is. Millwall FC have sporadically attempted to deal with their issues, but in truth they should have sorted the problem long ago. Nowadays we have the technology and the where-with-all to deal with it quickly and efficiently, but their ‘measures’ have not been tough enough, and until they step up to the plate.

    I can’t SE8Lion get’s 4 thumbs up, unless he’s paid them to do so. It is what it is. Millwall have a history, but they haven’t changed, and until they do I’m always going to be the poorer for it.

  6. As a wall fan I can remeber not feeling particularly safe at Roker. You have your idiots too so get off your high horse.

  7. I was at The Den on the opening day of the 1974/75 season when we won 4-1. A huge fight broke out in the Main Stand and there were scuffles all over the stadium. On the way back to New Cross Station, with my head down, I was tapped on the shoulder by Steven Hopper and Billy Watt, who had left Broom Cottages Secondary Modern in the July.
    I never had any problems with Stephen, who was and is a lovely lad. But Billy, who was a farm boy from Hett, had given me some tough times and had made it clear that he didn’t much care for teachers.
    He spoke for the two of them; “Mr Sixsmith (first time he ever called me that), can you get us back to the station, I’m f****** sh****** myself”. You could see the fear in his eyes; Ferryhill Market Place on a Friday night was nothing like this.
    I told him to keep his head down and not to look at anyone and under no circumstances speak. We got back to the station – they were heading up to London Bridge, I was going the other way to Sutton.
    Billy had two younger brothers. I never had a minutes bother out of either of them. He died a few years ago. Stephen is still a Sunderland supporter and a very competent Northern League referee.
    I know that Millwall as a club have tried to eliminate this hard core of violence, but they will have to live with it. I don’t think that Kenny Jaclett’s comments were very helpful eother; better to say nothing.
    Great choice of FA Cup tie by ITV; empty seats and a rout by City. No doubt they will choose a couple of beauties for the quarter finals – none of which will probably kick off at 3.00 on a Saturday.

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