Millwall. The lazy target

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“Millwall fans and others too still behave like animals when they watch black players” Yasmin Alibiah-Brown in The Independent 22.10.12.

I must admit I did a double-take when I read my copy of The Independent last Monday. Apparently ‘Millwall fans’ – along with ‘others’ – behave like animals when they watch black players. And that includes me – and you. According to Yasmin Alibiah-Brown anyway.

Her inside knowledge surprised me, because I hadn’t previously had her down as a regular at The Den. But there we are, she has an in-depth knowledge not only of Millwall fans as a generalised group, but also of their utterly reprehensible outlook on race issues. You bunch of bastards you.

Of course the real truth is that she hasn’t got a clue about the club, the stadium nor the fans. In fact I’d lay good money on her not even knowing very much about football itself, let alone our small club tucked away in what is almost certainly (for her) a backwater of SE London. A place where she’d never dream of going.

All that she knows – and many other people too for that matter – is a cartoon version of Millwall. One based on fear, loathing and second-hand stereotypes. The self-same qualities that are found in people of prejudice the world over funnily enough. Hmm.

Yasmin’s comment formed part of a wider article about the current racism crisis in the game. The multi-million pound global sport of football is tearing itself apart over the issue, led from the front recently by a number of high-profile black players refusing to wear ‘kick racism out of the game’ t-shirts. Not enough is being done to combat racism in the sport they say – as does she too.

Millwall of course get dragged into this mix because of the Twitter allegations made by Bolton’s Marvin Sordell. A player who claimed to have been racially abused during the recent 2-1 win for the Lions at Zampa Road (06.10.12). ‘Claimed’ being the operative word because three weeks on now, no corroboration has been forthcoming from any other witnesses – neither police, players, fans nor stewards. All of whom were in the area at the time the alleged comment was made. Millwall FC has made it known that it has worked with the police and Bolton on the claim, but still no evidence. No proof. No anything … anything apart from a few tweets on the Bolton coach going home.

Oddly you won’t read that quite so prominently in the media.

Nor any of the good work that the club, fans and players do week-in, week-out on via the Millwall Community Scheme. No shock value in good news is there? Maybe something was said to Sordell. Maybe it wasn’t. Who can say unless they were there?

Certainly in a heavily CCTV, police and stewarded environment like The Den, anyone who fancied spouting Mein Kampf at the opposition players as they warmed up could expect to be seen and heard. And the club has been quite clear that anyone who does get caught making these kinds of comments can expect to be banned – and I dare say charged by the police too.

Anyway forget all of that ‘evidence’ nonsense. In the words of the old time Hollywood film producer Sam Goldwyn, when it comes to a battle between the truth and a great story – go with the story. Every time.

So in the eyes of the media and indeed the Great British public, Millwall fans have become a kind of shorthand for bigotry. A kind of send ‘em back 1970s museum piece where respectable people fear to tread.

And the truth of course is that it is indeed a ‘difficult place to come to’ for opposition clubs – to borrow the standard football term. Nobody is going to pretend that this is Chelsea Village or the Emirates Stadium. The day that The Den becomes known as a ‘nice’ away visit will probably be the day that most of us turn it in – once and for all. It is a ground and a support base that has … er character. Ahem.

You can never say never of course. But one thing The Den is not is a hotbed of racist abuse. It IS a passionate old-fashioned football stadium though. A place where the role of the away side is simple – to get beaten. Preferably in a blood and thunder style. In response to the Yasmin Alibiah-Brown comment, the club has invited her to come and watch the Lions at some future date and see for herself. Which could be amusing to say the least. Millwall v Leeds maybe? Hope she doesn’t sit next to me…

Despite what the media would have you believe. Millwall fans come from all backgrounds and all skin shades – from black, white to brown. More importantly than any of that though, they really don’t care about the colour of your skin – just the colour of your shirt. And to say otherwise is either lazy, dishonest – or at worst malicious.

The Archbishop

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