Wednesday 26 August ~
Following crowd trouble at last night's League Cup game, West Ham and Millwall are in the news today. In WSC 89 (July 1994) Millwall fan Lance Bellers reflected on the aftermath of violence during a play-off semi-final against Derby
At any big game involving Millwall, two things are certain – one, that Millwall will lose, and two, that there will be disgraceful scenes which will appear all over the next day's press.
The play-off semi against Derby followed this familiar pattern. Words that spring to mind include "appalling", "reckless" and "deeply disappointing", and the fans weren't much better either. The wheeling out of Millwall's stock list of misdemeanours has taken on comic proportions as news editors take lumps out of previous versions to make way for the latest entry.
The point is, most fans have to tolerate poor performances by their team at the critical moment, but few have to put up with all the extra nonsense that accompanies my team's D-Days. It's all so predictable and depressing that you really have to start asking yourself at exactly what point would you decide you've had enough and call it a day? This season has included the usual amount of those incidents that start to make you really wonder. For example: the eternal racism ("We're glad we sold the nigger," sung by a few and aimed at Chris Armstrong); the father leading his seven-year-old boy by the hand after the Youth Cup final at Arsenal and singing at the top of his voice, "North London is full of shit, shit and more shit"; and two stories from a friend, who told of having to run for his life after visiting the New Den and also of someone he knew suffering a double headbutt after the Forest game, even though he actually supports Ipswich.
Millwall supporters must also rank amongst the only fans in the country who have cost their own side a penalty with a pitch invasion! Even though there were 30 or so people on the pitch at the opposite end, the referee still awarded Millwall a spotkick against Derby which was subsequently nullified at the restart 13 minutes later.
This goes some way to explaining the problems that blight Millwall – a lot of people just see big games as a prime opportunity to gain an extra dose of notoriety. To be fair, there were plenty of people roaring at the troublemakers to leave the pitch and I'm sure that there are thousands of Millwall supporters who are sick to the back teeth with the eternal problems at the club. The press were unusually even-handed in their analysis (with the odd exception), focusing as much on the new stadium and positive community attitude as on the pitch invasions and post-match destruction. Which really puts paid to the siege mentality that the fans have built up over the years – the media will really root for Millwall these days given half a chance.
So what exactly would it take to kick the football habit? Millwall's severe lack of form at the beginning of this season certainly had me thinking hard. After all, without a half-decent side to follow, what else did I have to entice me there? Of course, the real answer is that I probably will never give up going altogether. Football still supplies sufficient excitement, uncertainty and comradeship to prevent me from really ending it all. Am I alone in this? I suspect not.