As the mist rolls in from the Thames, we step into the Lions’ Den with a visit to the famous Millwall FC.
The very sound of the word “Millwall” conjures up impressions for football fans. According to research, this is more often than not a negative impression. Ask any away fan visiting The Den and they probably have a story, but are perception and reality aligned?
The Den is a conspicuous absence from my groundhopping CV. The family tradition of supporting Millwall was not passed on to me, as the original Den, a half-mile from the new 1993 model, was not the best place to introduce a child to football in the 1980s. As a commuter slinking through London’s southern suburbs, I have passed The Den thousands of times from both sides, sometimes catching a glimpse of match day action through the uncovered corners. But I had never actually been to the ground.
The experience at Millwall FC
“No one likes us, we don’t care,” is a famous Millwall slogan, and the club’s infamy was known to two Dutch friends of mine over from Amsterdam and keen to catch a game in London.
The original ‘Millwall’ is on the Isle of Dogs, south of the now exclusive Canary Wharf. As a dockers’ team, Millwall FC – founded in 1885 – has a long-standing and often combustible rivalry with the other Thames dockworker team, West Ham United.
The club moved south of the river to the (Old) Den in 1910, where the club’s famous ‘roar’ intimidated oppositions for nearly nine decades. Despite its partisan support, the club only spent two seasons in the top division of English football (1988-1990), with a team that featured Teddy Sheringham, Tony Cascarino and Jimmy Carter.
The team has mainly yo-yoed between the second and third tiers of English football throughout its history, despite its wonderful facilities.
There’s a proper old school football feel approaching the ground as legions of fans filter out of the surrounding estates and into the stadium. Built in the early ‘90s as purposed-built all-seater, The Den is a neat, tidy, uniform ground with fantastic acoustics. It can hold 20,000 but is unlikely to ever need to unless the club gets into the top flight or draws a big team in a cup competition.
For the mid-table League One (English third tier) clash with Gillingham FC we attended the crowd was 10,821, with around 500 vocal visiting fans.
We sat in the upper tier of the lateral Barry Kitchener Stand by the halfway line and paid a princely £30. I feel this is about £5 overpriced for the quality on show. To our right, the Cold Blow Lane Stand seemed a particularly apt title on a chilly December evening.
The atmosphere was great from the start, mostly prompted by Gills fans. Millwall fans reposted in predictable fashion, and the action on the pitch helped stoke the fervour, with a 13th minute goal for on-form Millwall striker Lee Gregory.
The second half had some needle to it. Gills played the better football on the deck but their attacks faltered around the edge of the box. Gills’ veteran defender Paul Konchesky was sent off for a second bookable offence with Millwall 2-0 up and it seemed like game over. The visitors’ most creative player, Bradley Dack, thumped in a 25-yarder to make the last ten minutes a tense affair before his own over-enthusiasm cost him a second yellow at the death, to the delight of the home fans.
It finished 2-1 to Millwall, and I think my Dutch guests were impressed overall, commenting on how “into it” everyone around us was, compared to a third tier game in the Netherlands.
“Let ‘em all come down to The Den,” the club song implores. It’s definitely worth a visit. [Continues…]
How to visit The Den, Millwall
South Bermondsey is the nearest overland station – one stop from London Bridge. The service was strike-affected when we went so walked 20 minutes from Bermondsey tube on the Jubilee Line.