It comes as no great surprise that there was crowd trouble at the match between Millwall and Leeds United on Saturday, but this doesn’t make another flaring of violence any more depressing. The timeline for these activities has become fairly predictable. The clubs’ supporters spend a week or two getting themselves worked up on social networking sites and message boards. Then, on the day, there are enormous amounts of rather feeble looking posturing, a few things get thrown around and everybody sings vile songs about each other. In the case of Millwall and Leeds, Millwall sing songs about Istanbul and Leeds sing songs about Neil Harris’ testicles.
At the end of it all, everybody goes home and fulminates over how the other side is “scum”, seemingly without realising that they have more in common with each other than either side would like to admit. The one things that Leeds and Millwall have in common more than anything else is a bunker mentality that is best summed up by the familiar Millwall song: “no-one likes us, we don’t care”. Ironically, however, the “no-one likes us” part is something that supporters of both clubs could probably do something about if they chose to, but the “we don’t care” part indicates that they have no particular desire to improve their image or, more importantly, their actual behaviour.
The reaction of Millwall would be encouraging if it wasn’t exactly the same as they have said every time something like this has happened over the last fifteen years ago. They repeat the familiar mantra – that anybody arrested will be banned from the club for life – and then nothing happens and nothing changes. At least, however, Millwall have at an institutional level made efforts to alter the public’s perception of them. At Leeds, Ken Bates has revelled in the bunker mentality, pulling off a unique double whammy of fleecing Leeds fans (the first thing he did upon taking over at Elland Road was to push up ticket prices so that they became the most expensive in the Championship) whilst persuading them that, well, no-one likes them and that they shouldn’t care.
The return leg on Thursday night may or may not be a more sedate affair. Neil Harris had the last laugh on the Leeds fans taunting him by scoring the only goal of the match on Saturday, but perhaps some of the venom that this match seems to attract will be dissipated by a bigger crowd (over 38,000 are expected at Elland Road on Thursday). Millwall’s owners will certainly be looking mournfully at the crowd figures for Saturday’s match. Just 13,228 turned out for a match that one might have expected to fill the 20,146 capacity New Den, and the club have just cause for wondering how many people that might have turned out to support them were put off by the baggage that this particular fixture carries around with it.