Adventures in Football #50: The Den (Millwall FC)
April 9, 2022
MILLWALL FC vs. BARNSLEY FC (Championship)
I wanted to do something cool for the big number fifty so here we are, going to Millwall, one of the most intimidating clubs in the world. When I was at school the kids would talk about Millwall in hushed tones, just in case there happened to be a Millwall supporter nearby, who would obviously be a six-foot-tall skinhead wanting to cave your head in. This was the 1980s to be fair, where Millwall’s firm had a rotten reputation. It does feel like this gets overblown sometimes but back in the day it was probably justified.
Millwall were formed in 1885 but were a southern regional team until joining division 3 in 1920. They’ve mainly existed in lower divisions but have been in the top two divisions of English football since 2001 (barring 2015-17), which is pretty consistent. They reached the Premier League (or rather division one) back in 1988 and spent two seasons in English football’s top division. Finishing P10 in their first season, ahead of Man Utd in the league. Chelsea and Man City were the top two teams in the second division that season.
A quick word on the ground; the Den. It used to be called the New Den but I guess things can only be new for so long. Millwall built the ground to replace the old Den in the early 90s. This was partially an attempt to eradicate Millwall’s off field problems and partially a financial decision. The old Den needed to be re-kitted for all seater stadia and it was easier to just replace it completely in a more spacious area. Millwall’s late 80s success in the league made it financially easier to do this. The Millwall Roar used to make the Den one of the most intimidating stadiums to visit in the country. The club was renowned for vociferous home support.
In the current season Millwall find themselves in P10, having initially struggled this season but turned the corner. Millwall have only scored three goals once in the league this season and Barnsley are in the relegation zone. So, we might not get the scorching hot battle I’m hoping for. Both teams seem to specialise in tight low-scoring affairs. The smart money is probably on a 1-0 Millwall win.
Also, for my 50th ground I have the pleasure of reuniting with my footballing son Josh, who moved down to the London area last year and I miss watching games with. Here we are, in the future, outside the ground. Aww.
But gentle reader, we need to go back in time to the morning of April 9. I’m up and about and caffeinated and off to Birmingham New Street. Where most of my journeys start. I get into New Street and hop onto the train 30 minutes before it’s due to leave and I’m literally the only person on it. This is easily the least hassle I have with trains all fucking day. I left my house at 9am and it’s 10.30am before we leave New Street. The timings on trains aren’t ideal at the weekends. It’s so much easier in the week. Also, because I’m a cheapskate apparently, I’ve selected the cheaper (IE slower) train and I’m on it for 2 hours.
Time to do some important research. Am I looking up teams and form and stuff? Not…exactly. I make the discovery that there are shitloads of breweries and taprooms near Millwall and this is the kind of thing that makes you want to get a season ticket. The sheer number of places is astounding. I have to make plans with the lads to come and do a pub crawl along here. The Bermondsey Beer Mile. If I used emojis in these things there would be one with heart eyes right here.
Back on the train it’s slowly tootling down to Euston. It’s largely uneventful, apart from the guy in front of me who falls asleep and misses his stop in Coventry. That panic when he realised the train was leaving his stop was palpable. I hope he found his way home! He ends up departing the train at Rugby and trudging down the platform, phone in hand, explaining his gaff.
Into London then and my word, it’s been a while since I was in Euston station. It’s not changed much. It’s still shit. I usually enjoy a nice stroll across London and if I’d taken a quicker train, I could do this. Instead it’s onto the tube and it’s packed. On my first platform I encounter a rowdy bunch of MK Dons fans and they’ve got a police escort. There’s about 12 of them and three coppers. What the fuck? Only three cops for the entire MK Dons fanbase? That’s surely insufficient. While negotiating my way through stations (Euston to Waterloo on the Northern Line, Waterloo to London Bridge) I pass a busker who yells “Everybody that doesn’t rock should leave London”. So, London dwellers, if you don’t rock, get the fuck out. I could have gone direct to London Bridge if the Northern Line wasn’t partially closed so naturally it’s incredibly busy.
Meanwhile Josh is off to the groin. Haha, he can’t even message me without doing something stupid. He’s incredible. One of a kind. I have my choice of taprooms down the Bermondsey Beer Mile but I’m craving an Ansbach & Hobday Black. I’ve had it before, but not from the source. It’s so smooth. If you’ve never had one and you like a stout, get yourself down there.
I continue my journey towards the ground, having eaten nothing today and one pint in. I feel quite nice. This sign on the side of a pub cheers me up too. BEER HERE, lit by the heavens. As I move away from the hipster vibes of the beer mile the area seems to take a darker turn.
There’s lots of spooky looking tunnels. The area is pretty cool though. It has a nice multicultural thing going on and I love how East London is so changeable from one quarter mile to the next. There’s been some gentrification down there, but it meshes with the other areas. It’s easily my favourite part of London. I’m running out of teams to do around there sadly.
This tunnel, leading under the train tracks to the ground, is a famous one. I imagine it’s intimidating to come through here in the dead of winter. I had a nice sunny day for it and the addition of graffiti reading “refugees welcome” kind of tells you what the real feeling of living here is like. There is a marked difference between the area around the ground and the fans who frequent the games. That’s not quite what I was expecting.
So here it is, Millwall FC. It’s packed outside by the Dockers Stand where we’re sitting today. There’s a beer tent playing Madness tunes and people singing along. It feels more like a festival than a football match. There’s a big blue bus that doubles as a pub.
I took this after the game because earlier in the day it was too crowded. There’s still people lining up for pints though. The club has a great connection to the fans and creating this party atmosphere outside is part of that. There were a few places to get food but I’m waiting for Josh to turn up.
I thought about waiting for him in ‘Arry’s Bar but entry is for members only. Instead I soak up the atmosphere and Josh suddenly appears out of nowhere. We take the selfie from earlier and head on into the Lion’s Den. I consider snapping a picture with the mascots as they’re roaming through the crowd and we’re right by them but we’re rapidly running out of time and I need a piss.
In we go and there’s a bloke on the turnstiles even though it’s a barcode reader so technically it could be unmanned. Considering I got patted down at West Ham last week there’s a surprising lack of security checks at Millwall. I guess it’s far less likely to be subject to terrorism. Millwall is a quirky club and they’ve got a child doing the tannoy announcements. In fairness, he’s really good and clear. It’s only strange the first time and then it’s accepted.
The warmup music is a tune with the lyrics; “we’re the best team in London. No, the best team of all. Everybody knows us, we’re called Millwall”. The crowd are quiet initially and the travelling Barnsley support outdo them. As the game progresses that Millwall roar is in full force though. Millwall also employ Hey Jude (“na-na-na-na-Mill-Wall”) and London Calling. I’m still convinced London Calling is only really appropriate to Fulham who literally “live by the river”.
Millwall’s reputation is offset by the stadium, which is a grand building with incredible line of sight. We’re in row T, which is the back row, and the view is perfect. The legroom is good too, which you expect from a new build but this was knocked up in the 90s so you can never be sure. My initial impression is excellent. Before we get to kick off, I do have a slight beef though and that’s Barnsley took the knee and the crowd booed. I’ve not heard a crowd boo the knee in person and it’s a bit icky. The chairman has addressed it publicly and Millwall has a zero-tolerance approach to racism but a group of fans don’t agree with the knee and feel the need to boo it. I don’t agree with them and Millwall, a traditional working men’s club, has work to do on this front. It’s hard to educate people about racism that just don’t want to hear it though. My overall impression of Millwall as a club was a good one but that booing was upsetting to hear.
Before the match I mentioned Barnsley and how shit they are. They started the game the better of the two sides. They seemed to move the ball better through midfield and sprung the offside trap quite often. Millwall’s percentage defending was mostly dealing with it though. Barnsley, as a struggling away team, did a lot of time wasting in the first half resulting in five minutes of first half stoppage time. Some of the bald gentlemen around me were getting agitated. “HURRY UP” the one fella screamed. If you’re not irrationally angry at something are you really a football supporter? It wasn’t all rage around me though. As the goalkeeper was pondering the distribution of his goal kick someone shouted “take your time, sir”, which made me chuckle. They’re not without a sense of humour.
I didn’t manage to capture a picture of it but there was a Brazil flag in the Barnsley end. I’m not sure what that was about. It might be a gag of sorts. “It’s just like watching Brazil”. Yeah, if Brazil got relegated from the Copa America into the Gold Cup and got thumped by El Salvador.
Millwall has two lion mascots. Zampa and Bolina. It’s implied by Zampa’s social media that the pair are knocking boots, which is a bit different to the usual brother-sister dynamic at other clubs. Maybe an attempt at drawing furries into supporting Millwall? They strolled around a bit outside and around the pitch pre-game but that was about it. Minimal effort compared to Peter Burrow, Sammy the Stag, Hayden the Womble and other elite tier mascots. I don’t think Millwall would be interested in that nonsense though.
Onto the action then and Barnsley could have been 2-0 up early doors after twice springing the offside trap. Twice the keeper saved Millwall. Millwall broke the offside trap themselves on 31’ and a clever dummy allowed full back Danny McNamara to slot home for 1-0. It was harsh on Barnsley whose game had been disrupted by an injury to the keeper.
It’s around then I noticed you could see the tunnel from where we were sat. I tried to get a train going across it, but I was too slow. After the break Millwall doubled their advantage. A cracking cross headed in at the far post by Danny McNamara. The full back, now on a hattrick, was encouraged to shoot from this point on regardless of his position on the field. Some of those cries coming when he was in his own half. No sooner had Millwall extended their advantage they were pegged back. Going to sleep defensively to allow Romal Palmer to fire home. It was a good finish but it came against the run of play. 2-1 Millwall, game on.
Cold Blow Lane is appropriate for how chilly it gets in this stadium. It was a nice April day, and I was feeling the chill on the top of the Dockers Stand. It was a tough day to dress for. I had a t-shirt, a hoodie and a jacket. But most of the day I was boiling and in the second half I was freezing. Millwall retook a two goal lead when the keeper didn’t deal with a cross and it was poked home by Oliver Burke. 3-1. Game over. Before the game I pointed out Millwall had only scored three goals once this season. Make that twice! Matters got worse for Barnsley as they didn’t deal with another long ball and it was headed down to Benik Afobe who slotted home on the angle. A good finish and Millwall’s biggest win of the season. 4-1.
Josh had to leave early but he got lucky, as he always does, and missed no goals. He’d managed to schedule himself at a party in the evening and forgot about it. “I thought someone would remind me” was his excuse. I might buy him a calendar. With the game over I walk back to London Bridge. I had considered taking the tube but I wanted to grab something to eat along the way. I got back to Euston Station well early for my train home, which was probably for the best because it was cancelled! I hopped on an earlier train to Crewe and was back in my lounge around 9.20pm. 12 hours out watching football. That’s about standard.
Final Score: Millwall 4 Barnsley 1
Right, let’s see how Millwall compares to the other grounds I’ve been to this season!
It was a bit muted to start with and I was worried but as the game progressed everybody got lowder. The Millwall Roar is an actual thing where they just make noise. Like an extended “aaaaahhhh”. I liked it. “No one likes us, we don’t care” is a great chant too. They were nice and loud all the second half. Solid stuff. ****
It was £27, which is about normal for this level. I mean, shit, I’ve paid £20 for non-league this season. For that we got five goals. I can’t complain. ***½
The game had a load of goals. I’m not convinced the football was all that good. It’s surprised me how many Championship teams aren’t very good. I frequently see poor performances in this division. ***
EASE OF ACCESS:
I can’t imagine this is an easy ground to drive to. You’d probably have to go through central London. I think we’d have parked at the Old Kent Road car park, which is less than a mile from the ground. I could see that working. For tube users the ground is very close to South Bermondsey. ***
My biggest concern about Millwall is they still have a small minority of people who don’t like being told what to do. That includes the knee and the response to it wasn’t really acceptable. I didn’t take my wife to this ground deliberately and there’s still a problem here. For the most part It was an enjoyable experience but that took away from it somewhat. **
This is a solid score and it would be higher if that minority of supporters didn’t boo the knee and make people feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. Just don’t be twats. Not hard lads. Otherwise, as a ground, it was great. The line of sight is perfect. The ground is well maintained. The toilets were disgusting and the sinks were full of cigarette butts, which is just weird as there is a smoking area, but everything else was good.
As you can see Millwall slot into the blue zone, placing at P23 on my league. Just ahead of Liverpool and Coventry. It was a fun day out. I’d definitely recommend trying to tie in some of the Bermondsey Beer Mile as part of the day. If I’d had time I would have crawled along there and probably got a hotel before going home the next day. Unfortunately, I had a medical appointment the next morning so that was impossible. Next time. Even if you don’t like Millwall, I think the Den is enough of an experience that you should go at least once. And if you don’t like Millwall, they don’t care. There’s a song about it.