An itch that had to be scratched…
As a West Ham fan I’ve been conditioned to dislike three clubs above all others. I’m fairly familiar with Spurs, as I live in North East London and my in-laws are Spurs fans. I haven’t been to Chelsea yet but due to their success, in recent times, I feel I know a bit about them. I know very little, however, about Millwall, other than their reputation. Experiencing a match day at The Den is a rite of passage for most fans, and as a supporter of one of their rivals I had to see it for myself.
Getting some background information was tricky. I don’t know any Millwall fans or, for that matter, anyone who’d ever been to the ‘new’ Den. My dad, however, had an interesting story of a trip to the old stadium in the 80s. According to him a group of home fans turned over a burger stand for the crime of running out of food, but that was the old Den and a different time. Eventually I looked at other blogs and supporter guides for my research.
I’d heard a little about the affect Lewisham Council’s compulsory purchase order, on the land around the stadium, could have on the club. It seems, however, that due to supporter-led campaigns many of these fears had been allayed – for now.
Competition: EFL Championship
Attendance: 12, 238
Refreshments: Bottle of Coke (£2.50)
Star player: George Saville
Getting to The Den is pretty easy on public transport. After getting to London Bridge I made, the one-stop, journey to South Bermondsey. The train was full, but the atmosphere on board was positive and friendly. Chanting was audible from several carriages as well as another train, on the adjacent platform, that left just before us.
As I arrived at South Bermondsey I followed the crowds, but the stadium was clearly sign posted. On the way home I opted for the 20 minute walk to Canada Water tube station rather than queue at South Bermondsey. On both routes I couldn’t help feeling like I was walking through the set of The Football Factory, or similar films, as I strolled past scrapyards, down inner-city paths, and under railway arches.
As I approached The Den I could easily see the four, equally sized, stands and the turnstile entrances that were clearly signed. There was also an outside bar at the Cold Blow Lane end that seemed to be popular with the regulars. My seat was in the Dockers Stand just to the left of the halfway line. The view was great and I felt on top of the action. As soon as I took my seat the guy in the seat next door struck up conversation. He was quite surprised Bolton hadn’t brought a few more away fans with them, and I was inclined to agree.
The most raucous home fans were, to my right, at the end of the Dockers Stand. They were as close to the away supporters as possible. With the exception of the North stand, which was given to the Bolton support, The Den was fairly full. The twelve thousand fans made the noise of a much bigger crowd and the atmosphere was good throughout.
The first half never really got going and despite already playing a couple of games, both sides seemed a little rusty. Millwall were the more tenacious side but Bolton were well organised. I was fairly surprised the home fans hadn’t noticed the two Bolton players who are on loan from West Ham. They did, however, recognise their ex-player Mark Beevers, and reserved some particularly choice words for the centre back. The main point of note of the first half was that one of the West Ham loanees, Reece Burke, was lucky to stay on the pitch after a wild challenge early on.
The second half was much a much more enjoyable contest. Saville scored early on for Millwall and the game came to life. For a while the atmosphere was buoyant, but the positivity was short lived as another ex-Lion, Filipe Morais, came on. The guy next to me spotted him immediately, and predicted that the Portuguese would come back to haunt them. He was unerringly prophetic as Morais curled home a free-kick to equalise.
Millwall pushed for the winning goal and the atmosphere became increasingly tense. The referee, opposing players and some of their own team felt the full force of the crowd’s anxiety. This is not unusual during a close game but the verbalised tension was being delivered with a rare ferocity. It finished all square, but most, including myself, felt Millwall should have taken all three points.
I really enjoyed the overall experience even if the game could have been a little better. I would imagine the experience of an away fan, however, might be a little different.