As any Leeds United fan will remember well enough, the Football League can act with draconian viciousness when they deem it necessary. We started our first ever League One season fifteen points adrift at the foot of that division. The intention was to ensure a second successive relegation and to kill the club if at all possible. That we finished in the playoffs after briefly topping the table was an unbelievable achievement, thwarting the ill-wishers. But it’s also a fact that even such a hefty punishment is not by any means the worst the League can do.
Luton Town found this out for themselves when the League had them start the 2008-09 season a massive thirty points behind the rest. Rotherham and Bournemouth suffered 17 point deductions. The League were showing that they could play hardball – when it suited them.
These sanctions, though, had one thing in common. They were all for administrative offences, sins of commission or omission by those charged with the running of the respective clubs. When it comes to matters involving crowd control, the League appears to be curiously wimpish in its approach. And yet these are the offences that most affect innocent, match-going fans, intent on a good day out, whose plans are ruined by bands of marauding thugs.
Millwall Football Club are a case in point. Many clubs suffer the shame of odd, isolated outbreaks of wanton thuggery by adherents masquerading under the guise of “supporters”. The difference with Millwall is that these incidents are not isolated. They are tiresomely regular, and the minority of vicious, cowardly thugs in Millwall colours, charging at defenceless families and pelting visiting coaches with half-bricks, are repeat offenders who fail utterly to respond to the occasional weak slap on the wrist.
Those thuggish fans were at it again at the playoff semi final second leg at home to Bradford. As a result, the club is on the end of a charge of “failing to control its fans” – an accusation positively reeking with irony. Millwall has got nowhere near controlling its fans in the whole time I’ve been following football.
And yesterday, at Wembley, the scene of Millwall fans scrapping like jackals among themselves at an FA Cup semi final not so long back, those thugs shamed themselves and their club yet again, running at helpless groups with women and children, striking terror into the hearts of people who just wanted a day out supporting their team. On the day, Barnsley beat Millwall easily, which was punishment of a sort. But it’s nowhere near enough.
The fact is that football has had enough of stone-age behaviour like that of the Millwall fans. Mass violence and the wanton attacking of innocent, non-combative fans has no place in the game. That sort of cowardice didn’t even fit in with yesteryear’s casuals scene, now so passé. But Millwall fans indulge in this sick behaviour time and again. There is no sign of it stopping.
So, it’s high time the Football League got its collective finger out and did something about this. Get them banned or hit them with a points deduction, it’s the only language these people understand. And, for good measure, close their ground for the first few League One games next season. It’s been done before, and for much less – as we at Leeds know to our cost.
It’s time to stop treating Millwall with kid gloves. The League will have abjectly abandoned their duty of care towards fans of proper clubs and to the game in general, if they yet again turn a blind eye and cock a deaf ear. Make Millwall start next season 15 points behind and playing to an empty stadium. At the first repetition of mass violence or playing area incursion, deduct a further ten points. You know it makes sense.
Give Millwall a lesson they’ll never forget. The whole game will regret it if the Football League fails now.