Well at least we know who our enemy is now.
Lewisham Council’s decision to compulsorily purchase land around The Den and in doing so, to ignore Millwall FC’s plans to redevelop the stadium, certainly sets their stall out doesn’t it?
Where once the 1980s links between our club and the local authority were ground-breaking, now we are clearly seen as being a bit of a pain in the arse. One almighty hemorrhoid blemishing the Y-Fronts of the glistening ‘New Bermondsey’ depicted in artist’s impressions.
In this dreamy parallel world, the skies are endlessly blue. The Den appears to have been re-clad in some form of industrial-chic outer layer and rocking horse people eat marshmallow pies. If we allow ourselves a flight of fancy, we even might picture the Lewisham Council hierarchy pleasuring themselves over their tablet devices whilst perusing these LSD colorized images of the former South Bermondsey area. A kind of modern day Germania, all model cities and imaginings of a new cleaner world.
No more Millwall cafe. No more under arch car repairs. No more breeze block football stadium, with awful fans singing songs about Jimmy Saville. Only beautiful people drifting from coffee shop to organic restaurant, no doubt debating the latest French movie showing at the local media city.
Just like every other development across London right now.
Yep, drive from Silvertown to Surrey Quays and the former docklands that once employed thousands of hard bitten, raucous, cursing old bastards has been turned into a second rate Shoreditch. All yellow brick, glass fronted flats stacked on top of Tesco Metros in an exercise of high density tastefulness. You don’t need me to tell you that raw unforgiving places like The Den (and let’s say it, Upton Park too) have no place in this passive consumer world.
Where once football crowds were part of the end-of-the-hard-working-week drama, now they are foam finger buying, high-five leisure plastic consumers of stadium purchased shit. The kind of people who never, ever encroach on the field of play – and always applaud good form by both sides.
Millwall FC of course sticks out like a sore thumb in the midst of this boring new world. And in keeping with the current Labour Party’s bewilderment – mixed with hostility – to the stubbornly working class attitudes of its fans. Lewisham has shut its eyes wide open, held its nose and voted 6-1 in favour of offshore based Renewal totally transforming the area (and hopefully the club) into a second rate take on Arsenal.
Our chairman John Berylson has vowed to fight on though.
We will fight them in the public enquiries, in the media, on Twitter and – with gathering strength of statements of the fundamental goodness we have – in front of the government stooge.
The club have (apparently) their own set of unimaginative proposals to build flats, a hotel and gawd knows what else on the car park. This, we are told, will provide an income stream for the Lions that may, someday, enable us to feature more prominently on Sky TV’s transfer deadline day show.
So we are told anyway.
Myself I have supported Millwall since 1972 and have heard so many chairmen sell snake oil to the fans in that time, that I don’t take this idea just with a pinch of salt, but with a whole bleeding packet of Saxa.
In fairness to John Berylson however, he is one of our better club chairmen and, but for his funding, we’d be ground-sharing with Fisher in a public park in Rotherhithe. So thank you to John. Thank you for it all.
My spirits though have never been lifted by anyone’s business plan nor by an artist’s impressions of some tree-lined alternate universe.
Nope, my memories of the Lions over these past 44 years are filled with the sounds of the roar from the Cold Blow Lane end when Barry Bridges put us one up against Pompey in my first ever game. The spine tingling moment we walked out in the First Divison in 1988. The mental surge of adrenalin when Tim Cahill scored in the cup semi-final in 2004. The almighty first half performance up at Bradford in the play off last May. That kind of thing.
Like many intimidating places, Millwall is in fact one of the warmest hearted – to the insider anyway. We are now to be engaged in a public enquiry of some sort though. I feel a little like the British Expeditionary Force must have in 1940, bravely setting our faces toward a new form of warfare to which we are ill-suited.
I have offered any help I can to the club’s #DefendOurDen campaign, although truth be told, I really don’t know what factors that we fans can make will influence the hard nosed lawyering and accounting of all this. We can all only do our best.
I expect the fantastic work of the Millwall Community Trust, the opportunities for local kids given by the Lions Centre and sheer fucking boundless charitable contributions made by our fans, to be trotted out in the hearts and flowers section of the enquiry.
Part of me however wants to scream at all of them. The council – who lived on the reflected glory of all this work (and never truly gave a toss so long as Sir Steve Bullock got his votes every four years). The QCs who will earn fat fees arguing for and against both of these dreary schemes. And – to be frank – the club itself. Who maybe if they devoted as much effort to putting together paperwork for this so-called critical scheme, as they do supporting arrests for match-day misdemeanours. might not be living in the world of shit they now find themselves.
But hey, what do we ordinary fans know?
We are led by the great and the good. We put our faith in our social betters don’t we? On the one hand we see Lewisham Council wringing their hands telling us this was a ‘difficult decision’. On the other we watch aghast as Millwall show up at the council chamber with just Fan on the Board Peter Garston and the blue bus packed with a selection of Lions Centre users and brave little Harvey Brown. No club hierarchy at all.
We can only hope that was part of some genius masterplan plan on what we were told was a critical night. Er … can’t we?
Me, I have as I have said placed my services in any way I can at the disposal of the Millwall FC #DefendOurDen campaign. Well what else would I do? After 44 years we are bound to each other like Bill and Hilary Clinton.
I hope that across the fanbase. And indeed across the many friendly messages of support from the wider football world gained during failed Lewisham aspect of this strange battle for long term survival. That all of us will do whatever we can to support our ragged club.
It’s the only one we’ve got after all.
But the next phase of this battle will be fought in the dry atmosphere of that lawyer’s paradise, the government enquiry. If Millwall’s ultimate survival in what remains of Old Bermondsey – now rebranded as ‘New’ – is really to happen, then we need a campaign run far more professionally and coherently than what we’ve seen to date.
We have (somehow) built up a bank of goodwill ranging from our local MPs, Tom Watson deputy Labour leader (still), Gary Lineker and some big voices in the media. So we do have some cards to play here.
But if we are to matter locally, I would like to see us exploit that goodwill with some really imaginative proposals for the area. Let’s see some sums that add up on the commercial front, all mixed with a decent chunk of much needed and truly affordable housing.
No not public schoolboy Boris’s 80% of the market rent style Bermondsey, but something really payable by moderate waged working people. Something that reflects both our club’s – and for that matter football itself’s – origins.
That’s what I hope. No doubt what we’ll get is a Hotel Millwall premier inn and a mix of market-rent flats built over a Subway sandwich shop.
Up the Lions.