Last season’s relegation strugglers Millwall have been granted the best possible reward for their achievement in avoiding the drop back into League One. Despite the undoubted attraction of a local derby against ex-Premier League Fulham in the season’s second week, it is the visit of Leeds United on the opening day of the campaign that has the Lions salivating. There’s nothing like a Cup Final to bring out the fans, and Millwall will confidently be expecting a bumper attendance for what is the biggest home fixture for any club in the Championship.
Millwall veteran Alan Dunne – sent off a record nine times in his Lions career – happily confirmed that the opening game simply could not have been any bigger for the tiny London outfit. “To start with a game at The Den against Leeds is exciting,” the defender said. “It’s the perfect opening day game. The fans will be there in numbers so it promises to be a cracking atmosphere. As a player you look to all the really big games.”
It’s an attitude that Leeds United will need to be wary of, having slipped to defeat at the New Den last season, despite the fact that Millwall proved themselves over the course of the league programme to be one of the weaker teams in the division. A tendency to slip up against inferior opposition was a hallmark of United’s failure to make any impact on the promotion race and, along with the lesser Yorkshire clubs, the Pride of Bermondsey have long been a thorn in Leeds’ sides – passionately encouraged by a small but violent following for whom a victory over the Yorkshire giants counts as Christmas, a few birthdays, a knees-up with Mother Brown and a first date with a close relative, all rolled into one.
Taking into account all the factors that normally affect this fixture, Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything will predict the following: a score draw at best for the travelling Whites to open the seasonal account; at least a dozen grinning apes proudly wearing the shirt of a club in Turkey which is Millwall’s broad equivalent in terms of sickness and violence; Millwall club officials standing by and doing nothing while this goes on, as the illiterate hacks in the local press turn a blind eye also; and lastly, Millwall’s highest gate of the season as early as this opening day, with a steady decline thereafter as the Cup Final recedes into memory.
Leeds for their part will hope for a win in what should be one of the easier away fixtures on the calendar, but as we have seen, other factors come into play. A point would be a decent haul, especially as a routine victory can be expected in a St. Valentines Day massacre of an Elland Road return, where the brave Neanderthals who so faithfully follow their team around the country can be expected to muster no more than a dozen or two, against a chorus of the usual excuses about “bubble” fixtures.
So, a new season draws that bit closer – and, even while the World Cup is still being played for in Brazil, thoughts at home are already turning to the league battles ahead. Just ask Alan Dunne, who simply can’t wait for the massive Leeds United game – and perhaps a chance to hit double figures in his red card tally? Time alone will tell.