Post election thoughts: no fairy stories in real life …

“Labour hold” says the BBC News election page, which doesn’t quite do it justice really. The sitting MP Heidi Alexander did a bit more than ‘hold’ the seat, she increased her majority by over 12% bringing in more than 32,000 votes…

 

Our brave Willow Winston by hard contrast garnered just 355 votes. A tough result when so much effort went into the campaign by her and the Millwall Community generally.

 

Well done to Heidi Alexander. The extraordinary national trend toward Labour from the Conservatives clearly played out in the Lewisham East constituency as much as across the nation. Almost everywhere non mainstream candidates took a whupping as the great Muhammed Ali used to say.

 

Looking through the other local results, only the BNP’s 738 in Eltham came close to the four figure private target that I had hoped for back when Prime Minister Theresa May called her – now disastrous – snap election just two months ago in April. How the world turns upside down nowadays , as her hopes of annihilating Labour blew up in her face.

 

From the Millwall Community perspective, I have to be honest in feeling disappointed not to have reached the 1000 vote mark. That said, we generated a huge amount of media attention for both the club and indeed Willow’s cause. From The Sun to the Guardian, from the Evening Standard to Sky Sports, the spotlight was very much turned on to the shabby and indeed bullying treatment meted out to local residents by Renewal-Lewisham Council.

 

This blog’s Twitter feed alone has had some 832,000 views in the course of the last 28 days.

 

The campaign displayed the potential loss of our beloved club to the borough for the the world to see, as well as the murky Lewisham Labour elite’s links to this highly questionable developer.

 

So was it worth it?

 

Absolutely it was. The speed of the election caught us all unawares, none of us are politicians and to say this was a steep learning experience is an understatement. Yes there were a number of areas where we would look to improve if we do it again.

 

Will we? Well let’s just say that we are looking at the local Lewisham council and mayoral elections of 2018. Having dipped our toe in the water in 2017, we will approach things with a different mindset next time around.

 

Would we prefer to have a strong bond and understanding with the ruling Labour group at Catford Town Hall? Yes, very much so. Our door is open to anyone who wants to work toward a real South Bermondsey community based regeneration.

 

Finally, a big thank you goes out to Willow. She was a magnificent candidate and made a wonderful representative for all that is best about our club. Our best wishes collectively go out to her.

 

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Eve of election thoughts

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So here we are then.

It’s just six weeks since Theresa May called a snap General Election and we are finally at the last evening of campaigning.

As you might have gathered, a huge effort has gone into our Lewisham East campaign on behalf of South Bermondsey resident Willow Winston. And I want to thank everyone for their help – including of course Willow herself.

How will we do?

Truthfully, I haven’t a clue. I’m sure you’re not supposed to say this, but we’re not professional politicians and the correct approach is never to admit the possibility of defeat.

But we have to be realistic don’t we? We have to say that our challenge to the sitting Labour MP and former Shadow Health Secretary Heidi Alexander is an ambitious one.

Some have called it mad – but they tend to be few and far between. And, more often than not, rattled Lewisham Labour loyalists.

This has been a wild card move to enter to election. And events more generally will play their part when voters enter the booths from Blackheath Village to Downham Way.

To what extent will the sad events of the last week impact the Lewisham East election?

Who knows? If the pollsters can’t tell us, I am sure a football fanzine can’t either.

We may get anything from 200 to 2000 votes, possibly more (or less!) Expect the worst and hope for the best as we say down The Den…

To dip our toe into the murky world of local politics however has been quite an interesting experience.

I will let you into a secret, our entry into the Lewisham East parliamentary election was not in truth something that we planned.

Shocking, but true.

Why are we doing it then? Well our target starts (and ends) with persuading (or forcing) Lewisham Council to see a future for Millwall FC in the South Bermondsey area.

That’s all we want.

Solve that – and the Millwall Community challenge would fade away.   It takes a certain kind of arrogance though not to grasp this kind of simple solution.

Lewisham Council have shown a breathtaking level of high-handedness and a complete disregard for anything other than theirs and their cronies’ wishes.

As ever, the ruling clique at the top of the Lewisham Labour tree has proven clumsy, arrogant and incompetent in equal measure.

The sooner new blood comes into the Cabinet room and clears away the deadbeat Mayor Bullock and Deputy Alan Smith, the better.

Hence our election challenge to the former Deputy Mayor and Cabinet member for Regeneration Heidi Alexander – it was just too good a symbolic chance to pass up.

So yes, we hope for the best tomorrow. We hope more than anything though, that the value of community assets like Millwall can start to be seen for the value they truly bring.

If we can extract that from Lewisham Council, then we will have succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.

One last question that people have asked me: will we need to make a similar stand in the Mayoral and council elections of 2018?

We shall see. Certainly the votes required to make an impact against the Cabinet members who voted against us will be less than those needed to be an MP.

One thing the Lewisham Cabinet should note from the sad events of the London Bridge attacks and mark well, is that the Millwall Community makes a great friend – but a fierce enemy …

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Fuck you, I’m Millwall

“Millwall fans get a bad rap, a lot of it very deserved, but there are times that you really want a lot of Millwall fans – and that was one of them” Piers Morgan 06.06.17 ITV

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If you’d have asked Millwall fan Roy Larner whether he was a hero last Saturday night, just as he sat at the bar of the ‘Black and Blue’ restaurant and having ordered his first beer, you might have drawn a funny look.

Possibly even asked if you were taking the piss or something?

From the battlefields of history, to the modern pleasure palaces of the Borough, few heroes set out to be such at the start of their night.

Instead events plunge them into life or death decisions without any preparation. A night out turns to horror, forcing bravery (or its opposite) in the hyper-reality of frame-by-frame micro-seconds.

Three Islamic terrorists hacking their way into innocent bystanders in a maelstrom of horror is a situation that most of us would run from – but not Roy Larner.

No, he did ‘what he had to do’ when the murderous scum launched their attack.

As staff and customers scattered, the 47-year-old Roy shouted back, ‘F**k you, I’m Millwall’ and counter-attacked with whatever was to hand.

Pint glasses. Stools. His bare fists. Anything.

All against three deranged fanatics, who let’s not forget were potentially wearing explosive belts as they stabbed.

Now don’t ask me where the dividing line between courage and madness lies. I really don’t know how I would behave in that mayhem.

Maybe Roy can say, because he braved the machete blades, saving others’ lives and forcing the terrorists outside into the street. Out into the police hail of bullets that thankfully ended their lives, just eight blood soaked minutes after their assault began.

Raw courage. No other words will do. He deserves the George Cross in my emotion driven opinion.

‘Fuck you, I’m Millwall’ is rapidly going viral as a phrase, thanks to the power of the social media.

We’ve even got commentators as diverse as Piers Morgan, Tony Parsons and John Simpson praising Roy’s actions as an example of the people fighting back. The people not being terrorised. The people not giving in.

It’s akin to the Blitz spirit. Something that (still) lives on in the as yet un-gentrified streets of Bermondsey.

Call me a lemon, but I see something more at work here. Something class driven.

For how long has the name of Millwall and its fans been associated with being old-fashioned, stuck in the 1970s and out of step with the modern world?

A fanbase with an almost dinosaur image?

Forever is how long…

Along with the denigration of the working classes generally, Millwall and its fans are regularly held up as examples of ‘all that is wrong with society’ and out of step with the right-on sport that football has become.

Millwall fans are seen as lunatics who are always likely to invade a pitch. Sing a naughty song. Or take the piss using inappropriate language. Always being a bit … out of control … you know how the script goes.

All very working class isn’t it?

The modern world though is waking up to the fact that there is maybe virtue in the people it has ridiculed for so long.

Millwall supporters in particular, being so close to the alien world that London has become, have been seen as ‘dispensable’. Just witness our battles with Lewisham Council who would love to turn Bermondsey into a hipster paradise.

As Kipling might have put it, it’s Millwall this and Millwall that and throw him out the brute! But it still seems to be walk this way sir, when the guns begin to shoot.

The example of Roy Larner’s fierce and instinctive bravery in the face of a terrifying attack, offers a glimpse of the true strength of our country.

The much maligned working classes have once again shown that you don’t have to run, hide nor tell. Our island home really can be defended on the beaches, landing grounds and in the streets. As it was before, so it can be again.

It requires courage. Just like Roy showed us. And there is a price to be paid – his severe injuries are testament to that too.

But maybe, just maybe ‘fuck you, I’m Millwall’ can become a rallying cry. These terrorists depend on one thing – the ability to terrify. Take that away and they really are nothing…

It is in all of our interests that we are not cowed – just as Roy wasn’t.

So thank you Roy. Your words spoken in the heat of battle have carried far beyond what you will have expected mate.

We all owe you a pint…

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Interview with Micky AMS Group – latest update on the #Lewisham4 crisis

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Interview with the Millwall Cafe and Zampa Fish owners

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I Left My Heart At Cold Blow Lane

As you may have noticed (er… you have noticed … haven’t you?), we haven’t produced any issues of CBL Magazine this season. And if I am honest, I can’t see me doing so for the remainder of this season at least.

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There are a few reasons behind this, strangely none of which are football related. This maybe seen as surprising by some, given our current position. But as a veteran of the late 1970s and early 1980s, there really is nothing that Neil Harris and John Berylson can do to me that hasn’t already been done. Indeed done with far greater devastation and long-term mental scarring by those crimes against humanity committed by Peter Anderson and George Petchey in those dreary years. Anyone who lived through that era has already seen the white tunnel of near-death, with your whole life replaying before your eyes. (I am visualizing the Toy Story scene where the toys collectively hold hands to face the incinerator here. You get my drift).

 

Nope. I just find myself with too many balls in my juggling act; and too little time to do it all justice.

 

So sadly something has to give; and I have decided that that something is CBL Magazine.

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The whole writing, production and then selling of the magazine is an intensely physical process. One that I find I just don’t have the mojo for at the moment. Maybe that will change, I kind of hope it will. Equally I am also enjoying not having to do it each quarter. Especially with the cold and rain of winter a-looming. And as my wife would tell me, you have to listen to your body Nick. So I kind of expect it not to change.

 

My apologies for not writing this sooner. I have in truth struggled with this email, rather as one struggles with a break up letter to the girl you still secretly hold a candle for.

 

As Lynyrd Skynyrd once sang though, the big wheel keeps on turning and I would like to thank my writers, photographers and sellers for all their help, contributions and support. They all know who they are and they know how much i appreciated their work.

 

A big thank you too to Neil Andrews. A truly talented designer who gave the magazine a professional feel and, more importantly, prevented me from producing a punk rock DIY looking Sniffing Glue mark 2 style fanzine.

 

Is the age of the football fanzine done? I hope not. Modern technology is taking us all in different directions. There will however, I hope, always be a role for the paper magazine at the game though – and maybe a new generation will take on the fanzine burden. Maybe. That would be heartening if so.

 

I will close by saying that, over the years, we helped raise a lot of money for very many charities and indeed the club. CBL Magazine donated over £9,000 from 2012 -16 and if I add in the work we did with NOLU from 2009-12, the sum goes up to £17,500+ for charity and £4,500 in various kit sponsorships.

 

So all in all, I think we all did our bit for Millwall society. We should be proud of what we all achieved. Thank you all for buying it and I hope enjoying our efforts.

 

Byyyyyye for now…

 

Nick

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New Bermondsiania

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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.

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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.

The Archbishop

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Defend our Den (again)

Once again, very late in the day, the poor bloody infantry of the Millwall support is being asked to come to the rescue of the club by persuading Lewisham Council not to compulsarily purchase sections of The Den’s land to enable major developer ‘Renewal’ to begin the regeneration  of South Bermondsey – a seemingly endless storyline. This is my email sent to the Mayor of Lewisham Steve Bullock and the Lewisham Cabinet members:

 

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Dear Mayor and Cabinet of Lewisham Borough Council

On Wednesday this week you will make a decision which will have a huge impact on both the future of Millwall Football Club and the Millwall Community Trust and which may put the Clubs’ survival in doubt.

At a time of crisis in the game in this country. A period with the richest clubs benefitting from the vast TV incomes now available – and the smallest struggling to exist in their shadow – your decision will be momentous. Indeed if you decide to allow the compulsory purchase orders to proceed, it may mean the long term end of Millwall Football Club’s existence in Lewisham.

I hope this matters to Lewisham Council. I hope that by working with the club, that the historic links between Lewisham Council and Millwall FC can be reinforced.

I ask that the council considers imposing a long term covenant that provides the area subjected to the current stadium lease as ‘home ground to Millwall FC’ for as long as the club exists. Such a move will give vital reassurance and also instill confidence in the fan base that that the club will not be forced out by developers.

With regard to the wider issue of the community facility, I would urge the council to re-open discussions with the club to a) ensure a long term future for community development work and b) allow joint plans to be brought forward and developed jointly with the council.

This email comes late in the day but as fans we have not been directly invited to be part of the discussions and negotiations. We are, without doubt, the largest single group who the plans will affect and our voices should be heard. The club and its fans very much see the current ground and associated facilities as home and as such believe that we should have been asked for our views a long time ago.

Thank you for taking the time to read this email and for considering the long term best interests of both the South Bermondsey area and Millwall FC. I believe both go hand in hand and hope that you will see this issue in the same way.

Best wishes.
Nick Hart
CBL Magazine and Achtung! Millwall podcast

 

 

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Johann Cruyff 1947-2016

“There have been four kings of football – Di Stefano, Pele, Cruyff and Maradona – and the fifth has not yet appeared. We are awaiting the fifth, and it is sure to be Messi, but so far he is not among the kings” — former Argentina and Barcelona coach Cesar Luis Menotti.

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They say that you reach a certain point in your life where the familiar landmarks that have guided you so far, all start to crumble or fade away. It’s why old people often look so bewildered. The modern world bearing so little resemblance to the days of their youth.

Worryingly the last few months have started to have that effect on me. Dull certainty dictates that ‘the end’ will come to us all, it’s just that some people seem to stand above ordinary rules. By the very audacity of their life, they seem to rise above the ordinary mortality that governs the rest of us.

Except of course that they don’t.

Rather like my other teenage hero David Bowie, Johann Cruyff embodied a certain time and certain place in my life. Both seemed to have an alien other-worldliness. A trait that made their ability to do strange things beyond the understanding of normal men, seem like their kind of normal.

Three European Cups in succession for Ajax Amsterdam? Yeah. A World Cup runner up, when his opening minute run into the danger zone led English referee Jack Taylor to award a penalty in the first minute? Yep. And all good sense saying that the Total Football Dutch would go on to win with ease? Gotcha.

Except of course that they didn’t.

The vivid orange shirted Dutch, captured my suburban teenage imagination watching that 1974 tournament in West Germany. In one of life’s humdrum coincidences, my Dad had bought our first colour TV shortly before the competition. As was his own Cruyff-like way, he didn’t fuck about when the shopfitting game was going well. So he bought a Bang and Olufsen for £800 – equal to something stupid in today’s values. Rules being for other people.

The reason that Dad went to town so , was because of my interest in the game (he was never too bothered by comparison). The new TV was combined with an industrial strength roof aerial fixed into our Mottingham council house roof and pointed straight at Crystal Palace tower (no permission sought, no fucks given and it’s probably still up there.) The German TV images were  razor sharp by the side of the old black and white set top job that previously occupied the corner of our front room. “They do love a public address system out there” I remember my grandfather interjecting as the West Germans struggled against their Eastern brethren in a game that I now realise was loaded with political significance.

Rob Rensenbrink. Johnny Rep. Johann Neeskens though? They seemed to laugh and breeze their way through. Strange names, cool accents and pop star looks. That Dutch side could easily have doubled as the Beach Boys on tour. Only Johann Cruyff, my hero, seemed to be impervious to the demands of the everyday world. In fact he seemed ever so slightly bored by it all – even his own talent. I imagine Leonardo Da Vinci being the same, though less skilfull with the ball. The famous turn? Yeah so what? Cruyff could just do it, get excited if you want to. Or maybe even try and do it yourself?

Except of course, very few could.

Johann Cruyff was always his own man. Never afraid to play or walk away if he wanted. Whether to Barcelona, from the Dutch national side or to the USA he did what paid and what he liked. His call – always.

Was he a genius? Well he always felt like my genius and maybe that’s all that counts. But let’s give the last word to a man that knows: the Sweden defender Jan Olsson, victim of ‘The Cruyff Turn’ at the 1974 FIFA World Cup.

“I played 18 years in top football and seventeen times for Sweden, but that moment against Cruyff was the proudest moment of my career. I thought I’d win the ball for sure, but he tricked me. I was not humiliated. I had no chance. Cruyff was a genius.”

The Archbishop

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Gerd Muller

 @BBCSport Bayern Munich and Germany legend Gerd Muller is receiving treatment for Alzheimer’s – 06.10.15

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We live in a world of seemingly torrential bad news. War, strife, hunger. The internet driven daily news is filled with conflict, tragedy and disaster. In fact, it’s almost too much for one human mind to absorb. So maybe that’s why this small post on the BBC Sport twitter feed caught my eye. The former West German striker Gerd Muller was receiving treatment for Alzheimer’s. In a sea of desperation, one small familiar island somehow ‘counts’.

Irrational I know.

And unfair too, but we are seemingly geared to only be able to deal with news that has some personal quality to it. Personal? I never met the man. Yet Gerd Muller was part of my youth. Very much so. He will never know it, but his feats in the white shirt of West Germany and the red of Bayern put him on a superhuman pedestal in my early ‘70s world.

Not that I ever met him. Nor would I really know what to say if I did.

I actually know very little about him in truth – other than the fact that he scored goals. Particularly goals against England.

Was he actually ‘the greatest’ goal scorer of my lifetime?

Truthfully, I don’t know how Gerd Muller’s numbers stack up against the Peles, the Cristianos and the Linekers. I deliberately haven’t fact-checked anything to write this short tribute. Probably there are others who supersede him.

The reason I haven’t done that, is because I wanted this to come purely from the memory. I wanted to describe the impact that Gerd Muller had on me. A 13 year old growing up in a suburban council estate in South East London. I wanted to capture something of the mythical quality that Muller held in my mind – and still does to this day.

Gerd Muller represented a one man slayer of the British Empire that I had heard so much about, yet had never known. Not only that, Muller was a German slayer. A representation of all of the bad guys of the Sunday afternoon war movies so beloved of my Mottingham home in 1973.

Only in this Commando comic … it was Fritz – not Tommy – who pulled off the daring victories.

I was too young to really know or understand what the 1966 World Cup win meant. I was vaguely aware of the 1970 Mexico tournament, in which reigning champions England were defeated by West Germany (as it was then – and still is instinctively in my aging mind). A defeat blamed on stand-in goalie Peter Bonetti, but really due to the goal-hungry machine that was Gerd Muller. Whose close range volley sealed a two goal comeback in a game that England should never have lost.

On such small moments, huge changes in (football) history can turn.

Instead of being World Cup semi-finalists, with an expectation to be in with a chance of winning the thing, we became a nervous-breakdown country who struggled to qualify for successive tournaments all through the 1970s.

If there is such a term, I became ‘football-aware’ from about 1972 onwards. The advent of colour telly and discussing who supported whom at primary school, serving to fuel my interest in the game. This, just as England were beginning a long-term wane and West Germany were on the rise. Two trends incidentally that I would argue continue to this day.

The European Championships of 1972 stick vividly in my mind. England and our German nemesis had been drawn together in a home and away two-leg quarter-final.

First up being the Saturday night floodlit leg at the old Wembley Stadium. This to be played out in vivid colour in our front room, thanks to my Dad who had had a good run at work. Pockets full, he bought Bang and Olufsen TV from a specialist shop in Bromley – as was his wont when times were good. He even rigged up a super-duper aerial in our loft, pointing straight at the Crystal Palace TV tower. Let’s just say that the picture, by the standards of the day, was razor sharp.

Memories of the match itself at this far remove are scanty. The green of the Wembley pitch. The green of the German shirts. The green of my envy as Gerd Muller, short and squat, seemed to spin like a top on the edge of the English penalty area and slide home what we called a daisy-cutter shot at school. This past the imploring arms of our great Gordon Banks in goal.

I can still see that moment now, as I write this. Green shirts. Yellow arms reaching out. Muller’s arm raised aloft in his trademark. Disbelief as England crashed out 1-3 at home.

Admiration too.

That was something that I never expected. To lose so devastatingly and yet find the mental space to admire the qualities of the opposition. Was I traitor? I never spoke of it back at Castlecombe school on the Monday. Instead the talk was how England might yet win the second-leg by three clear goals – as kids do. We can still beat ‘em! Hande hoch!

Of course we didn’t.

Press the fast-forward button by two years and there was Muller again. Winning the 1974 World Cup with a reflex strike inside the Dutch penalty area.

The fiendishly well organized Germans defeating everyone’s favourite football romantics, in a crushing display of real politik. All played out in what looked like a space-age stadium in Munich.

Again, it was hard not to feel admiration, jealousy and fear in equal measure. How could we English ever match up? Maybe we never could … or maybe we could, with hard work and application. Hmm, big life lesson there.

As for Muller? he followed the classic path of hitting the heights – and then taking the path down the mountain to hell. Down, down, down.

Alcohol. A poorly judge period in the USA chasing money. Alcohol. More alcohol. Most of us lost track of him as he disintegrated of the footballer. We all know how the story goes…

Yes, such is the power of football that Gerd Muller, the German goal-scoring machine, did leave his mark on my life. Thanks to Gerd, I learned that the stereotypes of my youth were essentially hot air. That yes, you could lose a game, yet admire your opponent’s skill. Of great value it has been too as a Millwall supporter.

I learned that despite seemingly devastating losses, they were in fact only football matches that counted for everything and equally counted for nothing. Certainly  the sun still rose tomorrow.

I learned that sometimes, the only real response is to try to learn from the approach of a nation who had suffered an immeasurable wartime defeat just 30 years before; and were now able to rebuild themselves into something better. An amazing achievement.

Gerd Muller inspired an interest in me for Germany that lives on to this day. Not only would I like to thank him for that, but I also want him to know that yes, he really was the greatest striker of my lifetime.

A man who made his mark – and then some …

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