There’s no denying it, I was scared about going to the game. Whether you grow up football-obsessed like myself or the if beautiful game is not of concern to you, there is no escaping Millwall’s reputation- one of violence and thuggery, dating back to the club’s earliest years with its hard working class dockland roots found on the Isle of Dogs. This reputation has only been fuelled by the actions of Millwall fans, from Millwall’s Old Den being closed down five times to the vicious nationwide exploits of Millwall’s Firm F-troop, and their rumoured association with the national front alongside alleged incidents of racist chanting. However, as I left Champion Hill my fear was replaced by excitement, excitement in anticipation of visiting one of the country’s most historic grounds. I once read a tweet calling Millwall ‘the biggest small club in the world’– quite a fitting paradox for this albeit famous club that never reached the big time.
Stepping off the train at South Bermondsey was like stepping into a new world. The vibrant lights of the city are replaced with a gloomy darkness. The streets lined with industrial allotments and council estates, this side of London on any other day of the week would be unsettling, however on this particular Friday night Bermondsey was brought to life by the distinct glow of floodlights in the distance. These lights are a physical reminder of the role Millwall plays in this area. In a largely working class community, Millwall forms a focal point, providing facilities such as Walking Sports and football for children with Down Syndrome.
At a capacity of 20,000 the Den is by today’s standards a small stadium. However it was nonetheless truly a sight to behold. It’s not a modern, ‘convenient’ or lifeless bowl, rather a classic four sided stadium with the potential to generate a raucous atmosphere while still maintaining a traditional feel. The authenticity is only enhanced by the pre-game music, usually consisting of chart-toppers like Oasis, the Stone Roses and Kasabian.
The game then kicked off and within moments Junior Hoilett slotted home a drive from the edge of the box to give Cardiff City the lead, and celebrated in front of the Cold Blow Lane end. As he did so, about a dozen or so baying Millwall supporters charged down the steps of the lower tier making profane gestures and presumably uttering obscene language. Other stadiums also ooze with passion but this was of an entirely different kind. A kind fuelled by angst and sheer animosity towards the opposition.This is not passion in its traditional sense, it is Millwall’s unique way of supporting their team on the pitch by being the ultimate nuisance off of it. A first-half equaliser on the brink of half time showed that the Den faithful would hold up the other end of the bargain, as they exploded with the enthusiasm of a last minute winner. That was the final goal of the game and to a large extent the rest of the game was forgettable.
What made this night memorable was the atmosphere which persisted from start to finish. Repeated renditions of their famed ‘No one likes us, we don’t care’ chant were a particular standout. As a spectator joining in with chant after chant it was a welcome contrast to sitting silently and being serenaded by the away end. No matter what the game, the Den roars with its own unique form of aggression. So albeit strange, a match day at the Den makes you crave even more.