The usual suspects?
At the very real risk of offending Millwall fan and fellow regular Two Unfortunates contributor Stanley, allow me to saddle up my high horse and gallop headlong into some reflections about goings-on at The Den on Saturday – and the dreaded H word…
Be honest: if you had to pick a Championship side whose fans would come close to getting a game abandoned by lobbing missiles in the direction of the visiting goalkeeper, Millwall’s would probably be right at the top of the list. But is that fair?
The main quote extracted from a subsequent club statement and given prominence in the original version of this BBC story implied that the Lions felt otherwise, that the unsavoury reputation of their supporters is false and primarily a consequence of negative reporting and deliberate media mischief-making: “Newspaper reports and TV coverage made little mention of football – once again the name Millwall was linked in people’s minds with hooligan behaviour. This has to stop“.
Evidence of a persecution complex? Well, no – not in this instance, at least. Ironically, the way the quote itself was used resulted in unfair misrepresentation (which has now been addressed, though the quote remains within the article). Abstracted from its context by the BBC reporter, it suggested Millwall felt the media were to blame – but the full statement tells a rather different story.
There is unequivocal condemnation of “the actions of a handful of mindless idiots” and a general tone of exasperation and anger, counterbalanced by a steely determination that mob rule won’t be permitted to prevail: “We have an excellent manager, a developing team and an ambitious board, all of whom are working very hard to see the club competing with the best. This cannot be allowed to be undermined by a minority who apparently believe they can do as they like.“. No burying heads in the sand or shamelessly trying to deflect attention and blame elsewhere.
Indeed, the statement takes pains to point out that such incidents do damage to more than just the club’s image: “We had planned to open the lower tier of the North Stand for one of the big games we have coming up at The Den. In the light of what happened here at the weekend we will not be doing so, which hampers our attempts to increase our attendances and hits us financially“. In other words, some Millwall supporters might take pride in their unpopularity and belt out that old terrace staple “No one likes us, we don’t care“, but incidents like Saturday’s will have a detrimental impact on their finances and, ultimately, their ability to compete in their current Championship surroundings. It’s not hard to understand the club’s exasperation at elements of its own fanbase.
Millwall’s association with hooliganism is of course long and well-documented, but since the nadir of the 1970s and 1980s, the club has clearly made significant strides in tackling the problem. In the wake of clashes sparked by Millwall’s play-off defeat to Birmingham in May 2002, an extremely violent but relatively isolated incident, then-chairman Theo Paphitis introduced a membership scheme to try and weed out the troublemakers – but he also declared that it was unreasonable to hold the club responsible for the actions of so-called supporters. That he had a point was recognised by the Metropolitan Police, who withdrew mooted plans to take legal action against them for the injuries sustained by police officers and horses.
What more, you wonder, could Millwall and clubs like them do to combat the problem? I’m not sure – though, in reference to Saturday’s events in particular, they could start by having a manager who doesn’t trot out nonsense like the following: “I’m not condoning it, but I do like the passion and enthusiasm. I didn’t think it would have been the right decision [to stop the game] but I told the ref to ask the Boro keeper. We felt that things would settle down, which they did. From our fans’ points of view, perhaps they felt aggrieved at one or two decisions which didn’t go their way. And some of the decisions we’ve had lately have been tough“. Condoning the missile-throwing? Kenny Jackett seemed intent on going further and justifying it. I suspect the club statement was a hasty attempt to redress this jaw-dropping example of foot-in-mouth.
And what of the fans – the genuine fans? No doubt Stanley is as sick of the thugs as Millwall are. Tarnishing all of a club’s supporters with the same brush is unfair: not all Pompey fans are bell-ringing clowns; not all of us Newcastle supporters are shirtless tattoo-ink blotters with pendulous moobs; not all Man Utd fans are Sky-Sports-pub-frequenting plastics (just most of them). Neither was The Den the only ground to witness trouble at the weekend – the FA are also investigating whether a smoke bomb was thrown at West Brom fans from the Wolves end.
Nevertheless, hooliganism remains a big problem for Millwall. The stats don’t lie – in a table showing banning orders per 1000 fans (based on average home attendances), the Lions rank second. Top, surprisingly, are Chesterfield, but also in the top five are Leeds and Cardiff. The usual suspects, you’d be permitted to call them.
(Thanks to Will for the banning order link.)