Watford fans have become somewhat accustomed to finishing the season later than most. Play-offs are just part of the fun; the inevitable show-piece end to a season that normally shows so much promise. But we have grown up and moved on, much like the allegorical teenager after University, to bigger and better things. The same cannot be said for Millwall.
No-one Likes Millwall and That’s The Way They Like It.
Millwall thrive in the face of adversity. Come Sunday, I become one of the masses with their back against, or should that read for, the ‘Wall.
With Watford’s season over and little else to do until the Euro bus rolls into Paris on June 10th, my father rules the roost so to speak. Conversations are little more than a wall of sound. He has forgotten the respectable disguise he has worn as a season ticket holder for the Hornets this year and has reverted to his true state.
The Monk Chant is his native tongue and blue is his colour.
Born and bred in Lewisham, my father followed Millwall up and down the country as a boy. From the 60s onwards the Lions became his family, the Den his home, and suffering his dinner (Millwall have only achieved top flight status for two years in their history). He tells me little of what went on back then but the club and community continues to weigh heavy in his heart.
He is proud of where he came from and where he has got to, but on big occasions – trips to Wembley and matches against Watford – Millwall envelops his being. Fortunately, this is a rarity and my affiliation can be muted. However as a football fan one cannot help but be attracted by the excitement of a Play-Off final, allured by the infatuation with a club such as Millwall.
Millwall are synonymous with football. Founded in 1885, the formerly known Dockers derive from the canning and preserve factory in the Isle of Dogs. Millwall Rovers, as they were known until 1889, helped found the Southern Football League and won the first two years of its existence. They moved to The Den in New Cross in 1910 and the club continues to this day to remain true to its roots. The ‘new’ Den sits a quarter of a mile from the old ground and although average attendances have ranged from 7 to 13,400 since Zampa Road became home in 1993, the fans always know where home is.
A near sell-out contingency from Millwall will greet Neil Harris and his side on Sunday afternoon and it goes to show you the power of community. Millwall isn’t just a club for its supporters, its a way of life.
The Den remains an enduring symbol of a bygone era that saw fans fill the stands, rather than customers. There is no ‘prawn sandwich brigade’ – or if there is then it is very well hidden – and there is no fluffy watered-down entertainment. You go to The Den to watch football, and if that doesn’t entertain you then cue the chaos. There is no excuse for the hooliganism but it helps to explain what football means to the people of Millwall. Success is a middle finger up to the patriarchy that they feel has oppressed them and anything less is the world against them.
Fortunately for 38 year-old Harris, he has had a successful first full season in charge. Millwall were expected to fulfil mid-table expectations but Harris has built a strong and resilient side that more than represents their surroundings. With old heads like David Forde and Carlos Edwards in the side, albeit unlikely to feature on Sunday, Harris has constructed a side in the image of the club. These are passionate men with something to prove; fighters and dreamers.
Lead by 27-goal Lee Gregory and 19-goal Steve Morison, the Lions carry a strong attacking threat. But it is the defence that has drawn the most praise. Structured yet aggressive, Millwall have conceded 47 goals in the 46 league games this season; just 13 in the last 18 games and since the start of February. With Beevers, Webster and Martin ahead of Jordan Archer, Millwall have a tall and imposing back line that will look to redeem themselves following defeat home and away in the regular season to Barnsley.
On Sunday the Millwall faithful will expect nothing less than victory but the manner in which that comes matters little. However a goal like that Gary Alexander goal wouldn’t be unwelcome. Millwall fans will sing loud and proud for their football club, their community, their home, and Barnsley can expect less than a warm welcome in the League One Play-Off Final.
For this is why I love Millwall. Yes I am a Watford fan and always will be but Millwall are an old-school football club and that means a lot in twenty-first century football.
Football isn’t about being wined and dined. It isn’t about supporting the team that wins the most trophies or has the best players, or even the best stadium. Football is everything from tradition and history, to the culture and ambitions of the club. Millwall get that and embrace their identity.
The club channel the dislike into a siege mentality that is reflected in their performances on the pitch and in the stands. Ticket prices may be on the rise but the heart of the club remains the same as it did in 1885 and if that isn’t reason enough to get behind them then I will never know what will. But maybe that’s the whole point.
Millwall don’t want to be liked.