Perhaps it is appropriate that, at the end of a week that reminded many of us of the terrible state of English football during the 1980s and how close we came to all being exposed to our civil liberties being dragged through the mud, chewed up and spat back out at us, we were handed a throwback to those times. This afternoon at Wembley Stadium Wigan Athletic achieved a unique achievement, the first club to reach the finals of both the FA Trophy and the FA Cup, but there will be few headlines devoted to that club tomorrow morning. Instead, just as they are on these pages this evening, tomorrow’s football headlines will be hogged by Millwall Football Club – or, at least, the proportion of the club’s support that seems more than happy to treat any occasion of this nature as an opportunity to pick a fight with somebody, for some reason, presumably.
It’s easy, at this stage, to point fingers at the concept of “Millwall”, but the scenes beamed across the world from Wembley this afternoon are something that the majority of supporters of the club – as well as the club itself, we might well presume – would want nothing to do with. Perhaps, for most of us, to try and rationalise the behaviour of those that get themselves into such situations is to chase up a blind alley. The logic of “defending a home turf” coupled with the “no-one likes, us we don’t care” corner into which the club has either been shunted or shunted itself is a series of thought processes that make little or know sense to may of us, but we can at least say with a degree of certainty that this is a mentality that has proved to be enduring. It has been going on at this particular club for more than three decades now, and there doesn’t seem to be anything that will stop it.
If there is an answer to the conundrum that this club has been for such a long time, it will surely only come from somewhere between or completely outside of the two extreme ends that usually assemble whenever something like this occurs. On the one hand, it should be patently obvious to anybody that not all Millwall supporters act this way, and that to cone down like a tonne of bricks upon the club or its supporters as a whole would be a hysterical response which would at best achieve nothing and would more likely would further entrench the bunker mentality which surrounds the club and may be a contributory factor behind incidents such as this. On the other hand, however, the softly, softly approach that has been taken with regard to the club in recent years hasn’t prevented occasional outbursts such as that seen as Wembley this afternoon and, moreover, there were no other parties to blame today. This was, as far as we are aware, Millwall supporters turning on Millwall supporters. There are no excuses, there is no vindication and there is no justification for it.
And the bitterest irony of all concerning it all is that whilst the reputation of the club is tarnished again, those concerned, who chant their spit-inflected grunts about “loyalty” whenever handed the opportunity, will probably not be at The New Den on Tuesday night when Millwall resume their fight to stay in the Football League Championship against Watford. Big matches have a tendency to attract their residual support for their bigger matches, and perhaps in the case of Millwall – although it is worth pointing out that this didn’t happen to any significant extent when the club reached the FA Cup final itself in 2003 – that residual support contains an element with little interest in much other than their perception of Millwall, their perception of loyalty and their desire to get into a fight, even if they don’t need much of a reason to do so. The fact that there was disturbance within the stadium itself indicates that tickets were so to these people, and in view of this Millwall will likely have to review the processes that it has on place for selling tickets for such matches. If this who purchased them had previously evaded the attention of the police and the club, though, there is perhaps little that the club could have done in order to prevent today’s scenes. At least, however, they should be easy enough to identify from CCTV and television camera footage. It is unlikely that there will be too much sympathy got them when they get what is surely now coming to them.
Ultimately, though, there is a truth which sits at the centre of today’s goings on which is undeniable. What we know of Millwall Football Club is that this has long been an element to the fabric of the club, and that attempts to diminish it have not been entirely successful. Perhaps the fact this seems to have been Millwall vs Millwall, however, may prove to be a tipping point. It has been argued that the culture of the club has been too geared towards a certain type of supporter and that, in the name if misguided loyalty, the club and other elements of the support base have not been quick enough to turn on their own people I know the past. It’s their call, of course, but all other attempts at regulating the less ruly element of their occasional support have thus far ended in failure. Self-regulation on the part of those would suffer if sanctions were to be imposed upon them and their club as a result of what happened this afternoon may be the only way of tackling one of the more persistent problems that English football, its clubs and its supporters has had to put up with over the years, both recent and otherwise.
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