Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything has often in the past railed against the casual attitude of the football authorities towards the lunatic fringe of Millwall fans, a band who seemingly act as they please with little or no fear of official sanction. At various times, the FA, the Football League, police forces around the country and apologists within Millwall FC itself have leant over backwards to excuse those loveable, chirpy cockneys for the mayhem, violence and misery they routinely inflict on defenceless and innocent match-going fans of other clubs – even, on one infamous occasion, involving children wearing their own colours at Wembley as the ‘Wall fans turned on each other during their semi-final defeat. Today, yet again, this blog finds itself totally vindicated by events in its view of Millwall FC and those who follow that club.
Now, after the latest disgusting exhibition of uncivilised brutality at Rotherham United‘s New York Stadium on Saturday, we hear that “the guilty ones will be caught”. Well, it’s way past time that they were. This is not, after all, a secret problem; everyone knows that the London club has far more than its fair share of thugs. And yet as recently as a couple of weeks ago, after another defeat at Leeds United, Millwall’s manager Ian Holloway was raging about the travel restrictions that kept the away following down on that occasion, complaining that this contributed towards his team being beaten and insisting the Millwall fans were reformed, reinvented, just the type of people you’d want to see your daughter bring home when the vicar’s round for tea, more or less.
The blind stupidity of such a claim has been adequately demonstrated, yet again and at the usual human cost, at Rotherham. Which begs the question: will Holloway now apologise for his ludicrous remarks after the Leeds game? Will he, in fact, reiterate the entirely more sensible position he espoused after the opening day fixture, when Millwall fans disgraced themselves by their habitual references to murders in Turkey? On that occasion, Holloway vented his disgust at the Millwall hate mob; his position since then appears to have been revised – but not in a good way. First there was his ridiculous rant in the press after the Leeds United loss – and after Rotherham? Well, he said he “hadn’t seen it”. Selective blindness, Mr. Holloway? Most convincing, I don’t think. Monsieur Wenger does it rather better, as he does most things compared to you.
It does rather make you wonder whether Holloway had cause after that opening game to regret lambasting his own fans. His volte face since then suggests that he may have come under pressure to lay off the criticism of the Millwall support, who are after all a group of people accustomed to attacking others both verbally and physically, and yet curiously sensitive to any hint of criticism directed against them. There is some speculation today about whether Holloway has “lost the Millwall fans”. If he has managed to do that – could he perhaps teach the rest of us the trick?
I know how those fans simply can’t abide any criticism from personal experience; after previous articles I’ve written to have a go at the least civilised group of supporters in the UK, I’ve had my Twitter feed clogged with hateful bile, venom directed at my family, earnest attempts to find my home address with encouragement from the sidelines to pay me a visit and “sort me out” – all that kind of childish, playground rubbish. And of course they’re always ready with a leer and a Galatasaray top or a Turkish flag, to have a laugh about the murder of two Leeds fans in Istanbul and pose for a malicious photo opportunity – all in impeccable taste and good clean fun, of course. Just today, I’ve had them attempting to poke fun at my Dad’s death – it’s par for the course with that lot, and it just goes in the spam bin. But it’s funny how it doesn’t happen with any other club’s fans – only Man U come anywhere near – and contrary to their paranoid and egotistical belief, I do have a go at other clubs from time to time.
For dishing it out and yet being completely unable to take it – and only for that – Millwall fans must be the top firm in the country. Their unwillingness to travel to Leeds in numbers, mumbling pathetic excuses about travel restrictions, tells its own tale of keyboard warriors who shy away from any actual old-fashioned confrontations with one of the more notorious northern sets of fans. They evidently felt a lot braver going to Rotherham, where the victims of these big brave lads included at least one female steward.
All in all, it’s not a very impressive picture and, despite the bewildered ravings of the manager, there is absolutely no sign of improvement. As long as there are soft targets, with almost zero chance of any real resistance, the Millwall troops will be up for it; it’s only when there is some inconvenience or danger involved that they stay nice and safe at home. Holloway, in his more recent comments, would have you believe that they are a much-maligned lot and should be given a break. But that kind of talk can be dangerous; it can motivate self-righteous and yet violently-inclined people to take the next safe opportunity to demonstrate that, yes – they see themselves as having been victims of an injustice, and that they’re going to wreak havoc in revenge.
And another thing: could the Holloway rant also have had the effect of persuading South Yorkshire Police to take a less restrictive line than their West Yorkshire Police colleagues had followed for the Leeds game? Certainly, the Millwall fans were far more numerous at the New York Stadium than they had been at Elland Road. That made for a tinderbox atmosphere; the violence and hatred only really became extreme when Rotherham scored their 85th minute winner, but it seems that it was bubbling under all afternoon.
It’s also a fact that Rotherham and the local Police did have intelligence that trouble could be expected; a Rotherham United club statement read, in part:
“We were aware that a section of Millwall supporters were planning on attending this game intent on causing disorder. Contingency plans were in place to deal with this outcome with extra stewarding and Police resources in place to deal with the anticipated threat. Despite the extra resources deployed this group made numerous attempts to seek disorder throughout the afternoon resulting in the despicable scenes towards the end of the match.”
So, why wasn’t more done to control the movements and travel arrangements of the visiting support? The events of the afternoon can surely have come as no surprise to anybody connected with either club, the Police, this blog – anybody at all, with the possible exception of the naive and credulous Mr Holloway.
It’s high time that this persistent problem was stamped out. The FA and the Football League have virtually unlimited powers to act against a club with a troublesome support, as we at Leeds have learned ourselves in the past for far smaller transgressions. Millwall are a little club who create problems out of all proportion to their size and standing in the game. That much is self-evident. So how many more times must their “fans” be allowed to besmirch the name of their club, their city and football in general, before something is done? Answers on a postcard, please.
Something needs to happen, and soon. It’s only a matter of time before this sort of thing costs a life, maybe more than one. No football club is worth the spilling of one single drop of blood, and it’s way overdue that Millwall FC realised its own continued existence is far less important than the safety and security of every single man, woman and child who attends a fixture involving it. But the first person who needs to apologise, publicly and profusely, on a charge of making light of a real problem and offering hope and succour to a band of degraded thugs, is Millwall manager Ian Holloway. That could conceivably start off a process whereby the problem might be acknowledged and addressed.
Defeat at Rotherham left Millwall six points away from possible Championship safety, a gulf that this blog earnestly hopes they will not bridge. That’s not in any spirit of wishing them onto League One; after all that division has done nothing lately to upset me. But the bigger sphere of the Championship has earned a rest from what comes along with Millwall, and it would be a happy day that sees their relegation confirmed. That currently looks more likely than not to happen; watch out for a celebratory blog post as and when.
Shame on Millwall FC, shame on their fans, shame, most acutely and deservedly, on Ian Holloway, a man who spoke long before he thought two weeks ago, and who surely must be regretting that now. Shame is the watchword where the Lions are concerned.
When you’re gone, you will not be missed.