My Letter to Millwall FC regarding the fans and the match day experience
EDIT: I have since written a blog about the response by the Millwall community to this letter find it by clicking here 10/07/2014
A few months back I visited The Den, the home of Millwall FC, for the fist time. The funny thing is that everyone I’ve told about our visit has looked back at me with surprise. Surprise, that A) we went and B) that I’m infact surprised by my experience.
Millwall have an awful reputation of hooliganism and racism historically. At most clubs in the UK this kind of behaviour in this day and age has thankfully been widely eradicated to a certain extent (a lot more can be done). In the past few years i have watched football at the following places Aston Villa, Bristol (City) Fulham, Leicester, Leyton Orient, Reading, Southampton, Southend, Tottenham, West Ham, The new Wembley as well as Barcelona, Milan, PSG, Real Madrid and Valencia. In all this time i have not really come across a club like Millwall. Maybe I was naive, but Millwall was an eye opener. If you go to football regularly or even if you don’t you will be surprised. If you take your kids to a family friendly run club you will definitely be surprised (since this Millwall trip i took my lad to Southampton at easter, wow what a contrast!). But then maybe due to the reputation Millwall have you won’t be.
I have been writing letters (sent by post) to players, managers, chairmen, chief executives, FA’s and TV networks which i display in this blog for some 24 months and I think this letter is one of the best possibly since the first letter that i wrote regarding Glasgow Ranger ‘s demise that inspired this blog. This letter tackles a real problem and a real issue. At the time of publishing this blog i have not had a response from Millwall FC. Shame on you.
My simple statement to Millwall and their fans –> It’s not 1973.
Please follow me on twitter @teekoseyart
Outside the stadium
Our view from the stands (Pretty good)
Mr Andy Ambler
Millwall Football Club
19 March 2014
I recently visited Millwall Football Club for the home fixture vs Brighton & Hove Albion. Whilst not supporting the club my son, brother and I were looking to catch some football in London on the day in question and ending up opting for your club. As a football fan of 25 years I was well aware of the reputation that Millwall has, which would appear to be one of the worst in the country. Please entertain me whilst I tell you about my experience of my first visit to the club and we can summarise at the end whether the reputation is just and fair.
We arrived early before the game started, so we had plentiful time to collect our tickets and grab a bite to eat before walking around the Millwall FC grounds. We ate in the ‘Millwall Café’ and had some chips, which were trying to persuade me despite their anaemic appearance that they were in fact cooked, however their argument was somewhat untenable. Walking around the ground there was not much going on apart from a large bar area for the adults. This area was packed with beer drinkers. I noticed a halfhearted petition to prevent local land being sold to developers. This on the face of it sounds like a good idea and I hope you are successful.
I bought a programme and then we entered the stadium. We bought a couple of soft drinks and made our way to our seats. My brother opted for hot chocolate, which was essentially boiling hot water with clumps of powder floating on the surface. Suffice to say it was not consumed. Our seats were relatively good and the view was pleasant for football. I had selected seats half way up relatively close the half way mark. The only issue I found was that the legroom even for a football ground was rather small particularly if you consider the age of the ground. When the guy in front of me sat back his head was a matter of inches from my genitals, which was somewhat uncomfortable for both parties I’m sure.
You may say the above is fairly petty and typical of many grounds and to a certain extent it is. I have included this just to help build a picture of the day. Before the game began I took the chance to read the programme to familiarise myself with the team and what going on with the club. One item stood out immediately. There was an article about football v homophobia. Your secretary Mikey Collins makes the bold claim within the article that he is ‘proud that once again Millwall are taking the lead’ and continued that ‘we need to get across to the fans that homophobic language in a football stadium has no more place than racist language’.
Now, it may very well have been unfortunate that we opted to visit when the team were competing against Brighton, an area of the country that widely associated with having a large demographic of homosexuality, but I can tell you for a fact that it did not seem like Millwall were taking the lead. As the game began there were choruses of fans singing ‘does your boyfriend know you’re here..’ which, I should not really admit, but it did bring a smile to my face in what appeared to be playful banter. This was until there were repeated chants of ‘you take it up the a**e’. Interesting.
The game continued and to be fair was quite enjoyable, only really spoiled by both teams being decidedly toothless upfront. I would like to intersect at this point and say that the atmosphere was generally quite good on the face of it. There was constant noise, chanting and an interesting incessant screaming noise that I can imagine the players quite enjoy. This is a positive as there are many stadiums out there that are particularly quiet.
The atmosphere changed when Millwall gave away a penalty, which was dispatched. It was clearly a debatable penalty even from the stands and you would expect a certain degree of noise vocalised by the home side fans in exchange. What was experienced was really unacceptable. I heard people shout to the player who ‘won’ the penalty, Jesse Lingard, a number of things and these are as follows. ‘I hope your car explodes on the way home’ ‘F*****g immigrant’ ‘I hope you die’ ‘Inbred c**t’. I could go on and it was not isolated instances.
The interesting thing is that the fans appear to have selected racism. The fans were happy to chant in support of Danny Shittu the clubs black Nigerian centre half. Possibly it was because he seemed to be one of the better players in the side and despite being a defender looked to be one of the few that could influence the side. However, it may just have been more that he looked as if he could handle him self physically when/if necessary that endeared him to the fans.
At half time my son needed a lavatory break so we walked down and entered the facilities. We were met by a room full of gents smoking. One of the cubicles opened and two guys walked out. If I had to guess what they were up to I would bet that they were not participating in the act their fellow fans had been chanting to the Brighton fans earlier. After a matter of seconds and without completing the object of entering the toilet my son walked out complaining of feeling sick. I wasn’t surprised and we looked for alternative facilities. Outside the facilities in the gangways there were pools of actual sick, which added to the unpleasant atmosphere. At that moment I looked across at a steward and we shared a moment. A moment where he gave me a look that said a thousand words, words such as ‘Sorry i know’ and ‘please do not talk to me’ ‘there is nothing I can do’ and ‘even if I wanted to I’m too intimidated to even try’. I felt sorry for the lad, everyone has to earn a crust. The back of the programme has a statement advising anyone who hears foul, abusive or racist language to inform a steward, police officer or to text the information to a number provided. I find it hard to believe that anyone does and if they did that the stewards would be willing to do anything about it. I don’t blame them, I wouldn’t want to try. Especially if I’m only get paid about £20.
We returned to our seats and enjoyed the second half. However the appalling language continued. There were a couple of females a few rows behind. If I told my grandparents what they were saying they would not believe me that there are women who speak how they did, lets leave it at that! Sitting next to me were a group of four. It appeared to comprise of a guy in his late 30’s with his son and father along with another guy of a similar age. Eavesdropping as you do he seemed to have sound views of the game and how it was progressing until he stood up and turned the air blue. The reason I have brought these guys up is as follows. When the guys disappeared mid way through the half, presumably to sink a few beers, there were chants by the fans of ‘fat c*nt’ to the referee. The young lad who looked 5 or 6 joined in. The grandfather stopped him and raised his arm and told him in no uncertain measures that just because there singing it, doesn’t mean you can, if you do you’ll have one of these!’ Well, there’s a lesson there, somewhere. As I said my son was present, he is 11 and I must be lucky that he is sensible and he is able to dismiss the comments without bringing them into his own vocabulary. But when that kid joined in my son was shocked.
To summarise the fans I will leave you with this. The most common chant or phrase shouted at players was either ‘Hit him’ or ‘hurt him’. So that was my experience. It was definitely an eye opener. I’m not a season ticket holder of any club but I do watch football fairly regularly and I have visited many clubs in the UK as well as a number in France, Italy and Spain. It seems to me that without success or any serious investment the club has relied and relies on looking after and appeases it’s current fans and struggles to bring in new fans that are not simply the new generation of the ones before them. Therefore there has not been that natural shift in what is acceptable that almost every club has gone through. The five-year-old kid is a perfect example. Subjected to appalling language of a racial and homophobic nature. Seeing his family shout this in public he will think it is acceptable. His father was probably the same 20 years ago and so was his. Trust me I am no prude. I use profanity on a regular basis, who doesn’t? But there is a line of what is and what isn’t acceptable. This club has a real problem.
Honestly I do not know what the answer is. You are in a difficult situation whereby destroying this appalling culture may lead to a significant loss in attendances and therefore revenue, which I appreciate is unacceptable for a club of this size. However, if match day experiences are like this every week surely something needs to change, as it is definitely unacceptable. You can’t rely on the fact that the current fan’s children will follow the club. I genuinely hope they see sense. Following your local side is to some extent a thing of the past. The top players will distract today’s children so unless you do something to entice new fans you could be in trouble. I actually feel sorry for Ian Holloway, I’ve always thought he was an interesting character in football. A man with strong principles, family values and real passion for what he believes in. Surely it must be hard for him to be the figurehead of this club and I hate to say it but he is now tarnished by association.
Do the right thing and make a genuine target to be the family club of the year. Plan for a bright future. Had you already made strides to do as such, it’s possible you wouldn’t have this issue with the council selling the land close by and you would be able to provide community facilities yourself as an important and valued part of the community. I felt compelled to write to you to explain this experience instead of just sweeping it under the carpet. The reputation is fair and just. Do the right thing. Please.
Back page of the programme