We’ve got it over with early this season – our annual trip to the murky bowels of Bermondsey, wherein resides the most singularly awful football club, with the most viciously depraved and uncivilised fans, anywhere outside of Istanbul. Yes, we’ve been there and done that for another year at least – it’s a safe bet that everywhere else we visit, with the possible exception of Huddersfield, will seem like the acme of culture and class by comparison with the degrading experience that is Millwall.
Over the past few seasons, the menu has hardly varied. For starters, a few dribbling morons scattered around their soulless Meccano stadium, Turkish flags waving, idiot leers on ugly faces as they parade their specially-purchased Galatasaray replica shirts. Then the main course of rancid chanting, as the assembled cretins rejoice in the murder of two football fans far from home, over 14 years ago. And for dessert, an insipid performance from our own heroes, who should really be inspired into a defiantly effective performance by such naked hostility, but who seem instead more inclined to surrender meekly.
Then, usually, instead of coffee and After Eight mints, it’s some piteous, whining self-justification and excuses from Millwall staff who wish to avoid criticism of their club for the abject behaviour of its ape-like supporters. By and large, it’s not a good day out for Leeds fans down Bermondsey way.
This season, though, there has been a refreshing change. Most of the pre-ordained programme of events proceeded pretty much as described above – with a slight shift of emphasis from celebrating death to rejoicing over sexual abuse – but the post-match reaction differed from previous years, in one significant and encouraging respect. Ian Holloway, the Millwall manager and a man worthy of admiration both for his achievements and for his freely-expressed and pungent views on the game, actually came out and condemned the rabble that hang like a millstone around the neck of anyone trying to create a better image for the Lions. Reacting to the home fans’ chants about Jimmy Savile (chants that the more self-righteous Millwall fans probably think represent an improvement on the usual ones about Turks and knives), Holloway said:
“I don’t think the chants were right because they’re disrespecting [Savile’s victims]. What he did is an absolute disgrace. Let’s stop and think about what he has actually done, yeah?”
“That’s the most important thing and we don’t see it. ‘Oh it’s a bit of banter’. It isn’t funny, is it? I don’t think so. Nobody likes a laugh more than me but I’m respectful, and that’s what I’m trying to show to Leeds United. They’re a great club, they come here with so many fans and want to be treated the same as anybody else.”
This represents such a departure from what we had come to expect of the Millwall apologists in previous seasons, that you almost have to pinch yourself and read it twice. We’re so used to standard fare of sickeningly tasteless chanting from the Lions’ tiny but viciously-warped home crowd, with obligatory excuses to follow as night follows day, that such a refreshingly honest and candid reaction comes as a massive – albeit pleasant – surprise, even allowing for Holloway’s track record of honesty, common sense and straight talking. The Lions boss went on to say:
“It is a really, really important issue if football supporters think they can go into a ground and sing songs about someone who has had a crash and aren’t here anymore, how disrespectful is that?”
“It goes against what football is about and to me that is obscene. That brings football into disrepute. I’ve been fined for disrepute by the FA God knows how . But I try and get people to be respectful and that’s all I want to say.”
“I’ve said it before the game ‘please come to the game, please enjoy yourself, go home safely and here we go let’s have a look at how good our team is’. Surely that’s the way forward.”
Holloway concluded his remarks by referring to Leeds United again as “a great club”, something guaranteed to stick in the craw of any chip-on-the-shoulder home fan. “They’ve got so many fans,” he said. “If I had a chance, I’d have a beer with one or two of them if I could.” That’s a sentiment likely to be reciprocated by many of United’s following, for whom the usual bitterness of defeat at this unwelcoming venue will have been sweetened somewhat by such welcome remarks from the architect of our downfall.
It’s undeniably good to get the Millwall experience over with so early in the piece, and to move swiftly on to the rest of what promises to be a long, hard season for Leeds United. But wherever we might travel during the remainder of the marathon Championship campaign, we’re unlikely to encounter such frankness and candour as Ian Holloway treated us to after this New Den encounter. It’s to be hoped that enough of his club’s fans will listen to and understand what he has said, to maybe make a difference as and when this fixture rolls around again. That has to be doubtful; but the fact that the Lions now have a man in charge who will not subscribe to the usual mealy-mouthed platitudes expressed by his predecessors on other such inauspicious occasions – that has to bode well for the prospects of introducing some primitive level of civilisation to what is a deeply flawed football club with a body of support to match.
Well, anyway – we can always hope. Thanks, Ian – you’re a gentleman.