That may very well be too loaded a question to ask, or perhaps it is being asked in ignorance given recent fan violence between Lions and QPR supporters, but in the interests of venturing forth from conventional stereotypes, it is a matter worth exploring at least superficially. This query originates from watching the recent match between Millwall and Preston North End at the New Den and observing those featured in the stands. On multiple occasions, the television camera operators made a point of zooming in on families enjoying the match, fathers with their sons and daughters or an aunts with their nephews.
Aware of the reputation for hooliganism both outside the grounds and inside wherever Millwall have called home, it begged the question as to whether the current crop of Millwall supporters have been unfairly tarred with unwashed brushes from the past. If that many families felt safe enough to bring young children to the New Den, smiling and engaged in the match rather than looking over their shoulders for potential disturbances in the stands, surely there is something missing in the narrative of Millwall fan behaviour.
Indeed, as American chairman John Berylson and Millwall Holdings PLC have been in control of the club since 2007, there has been a renewed emphasis on attracting young cub supporters to the Den. Pushing the family of fans to the foreground, Millwall moved its Family Club section to more attractive seating in 2009, bumping long-term season ticket holders from their prime seats. This likely explains the number of family scenes witnessed during the Preston match, as this area is close to the touchline in the West Stand nearest the players’ tunnel and would be in a prime location for camera operators to highlight quickly without missing action on the pitch.
Further, a determined agenda to distance the club from its Millwall Bushwackers history has led to increased activity out of its community scheme. As the Premiership was shirking its obligations to communities and grassroots football through fuzzy maths, the Millwall Community Scheme was being honored as the only sports organisation short-listed for the 2010 Mosaic Talent Awards. Mosaic was initiated by the Royal Family and specialises in educational and social programs for young Muslims in economically-deprived areas around the UK. From working with schools in the Lewisham and Southwark communities on sports programs and participating in local anti-racism initiatives to supporting neighborhood clear-ups and offering free tickets to volunteers, Millwall seems to be working on delivering the promise that it is the family club its MCS director claims.
While this is all well and good for the Lions, it doesn’t quite answer the original query. Sprucing up a city block or giving talks to schoolchildren on race issues is admirable, but this sort of charm offensive doesn’t address whether the club’s supporters should still be labeled as hooligans. Forgoing a rehashing of the club’s more infamous brushes with anarchy, let’s focus on more recent events that have coincided with this new “warm and fuzzy” Millwall. The most prominent of violent incidents attached to the club was the 2009 Carling Cup match with West Ham which resulted in a Lions supporter being stabbed outside Upton Park. Despite most of the guilt later being apportioned to West Ham United’s fans upon investigation, the initial scuffles were reported to have been planned, which means there was at least a small group of Millwall fans who colluded in dancing with the devil.
Perhaps these were the same “fans” who ripped seats out of the KC Stadium earlier in that year during the FA Cup match with Hull City.
More recently, there have been acts of violence when Millwall traveled to Loftus Road earlier this Championship season. The reverse fixture in March resulted in further inappropriate behaviour among individuals associated with both clubs, prompting Lewisham Inspector Chris Wood to exclaim, “It was atrocious and could have led to fans and families being seriously injured.”
So, while some 300 traveling Millwall fans reportedly behaved admirably upon the club’s return to Hull City this March, it appears some of those lurking about the New Den still have a lesson to learn. This would also include those who allegedly hurled racial abuse at Preston North End player Nathan Ellington during the very match that beget the initial question. Claiming he was subjected to monkey sounds and racist comments, Ellington intimated that those happy family scenes caught by the cameras were also capturing adult Millwall fans educating young Lions how to verbally assault a player of colour, remarking, “There were kids hearing this and shouting the same things.” Currently, the FA are awaiting confirmation if Ellington will be pursuing a formal complaint against the club.
Backing away from these individual, more sensational incidents and instead comparing Millwall fans’ general behaviour with other clubs, it does appear progress is being made. In the most recent tabulations from the Home Office, the number of banning orders imposed on Millwall supporters from November 2009 to November 2010 was sixteen, just slightly above the Championship league average of 11.6. Despite having a rather high number of supporters banned in the overall figures, it looks as if Lions fans have been a bit better behaved recently than those from Leeds United and Cardiff City, whose fans continue to keep them above Millwall on the naughty list. As for fan arrests, it looks a bit high in comparison to other League One clubs during the reporting period, but this could be partially attributed to the size of Millwall’s supporter base in comparison to other League One sides in the survey.
Big picture then, it would appear Millwall and its fans are cleaning up their acts and trying to move on from their hooligan history. While there have been flare ups recently, more of the unseemly elements attached to Millwall in the past are being left there. As the banning order and arrest statistics demonstrate, all clubs big and small have unsavoury contingents, and the larger a club is the more likely those numbers will rise as the opportunities for morons itching for a fight increase. Few of those other supporter bases have been scrutinised as much as Millwall’s has over the years though, so perhaps it’s time for a fresh look at the southeast London side run by a former US Marine and on the rise up the league table. While the hooligan element might never disappear from any club, Millwall looks to be making some amends by reconciling its past with its present and future.
As for an answer to the original question? Yes, Millwall bricks are probably still being made–but perhaps they use fewer newspaper sheets these days.
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