The Demonization of Millwall Fans (Jan 2002)
So how have Millwall fans become labeled by the press as notoriously racist?

By Gazza

Is it all some terrible conspiracy by the Press to heap all the problems of football at the door of one club? I was never a fan of conspiracy theories, believing more in the cock up theory. And this labeling of us does seem fall into the cock up category.

Lets get one thing straight before I delve deeply into the subject. Is there any racist chanting at Millwall? I would say very little, there are some people who shout racist things, but chanting is not what an individual shouts. Chanting is when several people in concert say or sing something. There have been some incidents of Monkey noises by a very small minority, mainly centred on Blocks 19/20 of the East Stand.

You don't hear renditions of chants such as "You black bastard" or "Day-Oh" down the Den anymore. They basically disappeared more than 10 years ago, around the time they disappeared in the rest of football.

One chant that has taken longer to die out, is only aired once in a blue moon nowdays is "Oh East London, is like Bengal, It's like the back streets of Delhi" The song is not only geographically wrong, Delhi is hundreds of miles to the Northwest of Bengal. It is also silly, as South London is not some racially pure area! Perhaps in recognition of this the final verse is more often sung as "Oh East London is full of shit, shit and more shit, Oh East London is full of shit."

Of late we, as Millwall fans, have been accused of racially abusing Black Gillingham and Palarse players. This abuse took the form of booing players. However it can not be denied that a handful of people rather than booing, made monkey noises.

I do not believe that this noise carried over the sound of booing at Selhurst Park, so the accusation form Palarse fans was over the booing, while Millwall fans in some parts of the ground would not of heard any monkey noises. The only 'racist' comment of note that I heard shouted at Palarse was an attempt at humour, "Oi Morrison, you Irish Cunt!" Morrison, of course, being about as Irish as Tony Cascarino was.

Perhaps like you I don't specifically recall what the chants were at every match I've attended in the last 20 years, but as Racist chants grate on me, they do tend to stick in the memory.

I would not include chants like the ironic "Stand up if you hate Curry" sung at Luton or "I would rather be a Paki than a Scouse", sung many years ago at Liverpool as 'Racist chants'.

A racist chant is not exclusively a combination of a swear word and someone's colour. It certainly includes anything that portrays people as sub-human based on their colour or race, such as making monkey noises.

Lets take a high profile match from the last 10 years where if racist chanting was rife down the den you would expect to have heard a bucketful. The 1995 FA Cup tie v Arsenal, Ian Wright simply got personal abuse, "Ian Wank-Wank-Wank", no hint of hating him for his colour, just hatred because he was a prat and an ex-Palarse prat to boot!

The Den, unlike some football grounds, has certainly not seen bananas thrown at black players, black players hounded out the club or even a chairman making racist statements or calling his star striker a cannibal.

So why are Millwall fans being highlighted as congenitally racist?

It is true that a minority of people down the Den do shout racist comments from time to time. So, it's not a complete fabrication, It is, however, a willful exaggeration of the problem.

There is also a confusion or blurring of the problems of hooliganism and racism. This stems from the exposť of a small element in Chelsea's firm having links with a Neo Nazi organisation called Combat 18. The press seem to assume all hooligan firms have similar links and as Millwall have a "hooligan problem" we therefore also have a racism problem. This stereotype of all hooligans as racist, rather than territorial, is reinforced when there is trouble at England matches; because it's against foreigners the motivation must be racist.

So when did this blurring or confusion start?

In 1977 the BBC Panorama programme was seeking to prove a theory: that football hooliganism was more than just mindless violence, that it was orchestrated by the National Front, and that it was rooted in Millwall Football Club.

The National Front's "national activities organiser", Martin Webster, was interviewed to lend substance to this claim, and pictures of his supporters selling fascist literature outside The Den - something never witnessed before or since- were transmitted to the nation in Nov 1977. This claim was rubbished by the Police, The Home Secretary and Millwall Football Club. However the first bit of mud had stuck.

In the aftermath of trouble at Luton, March 1985 in the FA Cup. There was no major monstering of Millwall as racist then, it was written up as a riot, plain and simple. Perhaps the press noticed the large number of black guys on the pitch that night throwing seats!

Although in a follow up piece, Nigel Clarke of the Mirror (who's dad played for Millwall) couldn't help resist the temptation to blacken the name of Millwall fans further. He said that perhaps 1,500 of the average crowd of 6,000 were sympathisers of the British Movement or National Front and that there were a dozen members of London wing of Klu Klux Klan. He of course could not substantiate such guesswork. He was not quite damming all of us, just a quarter!

Fast forward three years to January 1988 and Millwall's FA cup against Arsenal is labelled the Battle of Highbury and sited as a reason for the continuing ban of English Clubs from Europe. The fact that the hysteria surrounding the match was whipped up by the Mirror with their silly Nick the Clock story, is ignored even when CCTV footage showed the trouble was nothing more police overreaction to crowd surges caused by overcrowding.

Although the press don't try and Label Millwall 'Thugs' as racist the "Please God don't let Millwall win promotion" headlines and linking of the story to possible trouble in Germany for the forthcoming Euro 88 starts to blur the distinction. The press had been full of stories about how right wing groups were planning trouble in the summer and how right wing fans were in contact with similar groups on the continent.

The crowd trouble that erupts during the 1988 Euro finals is firmly ascribed by the British press as orchestrated by Right wing masterminds and this idea of organised and politically motivated violence is a theme the press take up as the angle on all new football violence stories.

With Millwall securing promotion to the old First Division, Reg Burr and Peter Mead went on a charm offensive, wining and dining Fleet Street editors and reporters and putting over the positive side of the Football club. This worked for a while, some positive stories appeared about Millwall's Community scheme.

Even old enemies such as the Evening Standard's Peter Mckay write some nice words. "One man who was more calm than the others said Millwall's hooligans were no worse and no more numerous, than yobbos who attached themselves to other clubs. The difference was that Millwall was a relatively poor club; its area was run down and unfashionable. No-one outside minded sneering at Millwall and its population of old working class Londoners. This sounds sentimental, but I think there is some truth in it." Mckay had tapped into the source of Millwall's No one likes us siege mentality and got it.

Millwall's two-year spell in the top flight passed off without much in the way of sensation headlines as the only major outbreak of trouble at Millwall coincided with Poll Tax riots.

For a while, Millwall slipped out of the Press headlines, more often than not instances of violence were reported as a matter of fact and not hyped up.

Then in 1993, Millwall moved to a New ground and the profile of the club was again raised. Articles such as "Architecture soothe the savage beast" appeared in the Broadsheets with Reg Burr claiming to have cured the problems of hooliganism at Millwall by providing modern facilities for the Fans. It was a silly statement to make and was bound to be thrown back in his face as soon as something went wrong.

1993 was a pivotal year in Millwall's relationship with the press. Millwall as a football club had started to be considered as genuine contender for top flight football again and was being held up as a role model for other clubs to follow. The start of the 1993/94 season also saw the launch of the "Kick Racism out of Football" campaign which saw 85 of the 92 league clubs sign up. One notable absentee was Neighbours Crystal Palarse. Reg Burr interviewed for Television at the Kick It Out Launch stated "That racism has been all but eliminated from Millwall".

Two other notable race relation events happen in 1993. In April a teenager called Stephen Lawrence was murdered and then on the 16th September a Council by-election victory of Derek Beackon for BNP in the Millwall Ward of Tower Hamlets with a vote of 1,480 a winning margin of just 7 votes.

Steven Howard of The Sun made a special visit to the Den the Saturday following the by-election to report on Pat Van Den Hauwe's home debut, and a real piece of character assassination it was too. But to cap it all he tagged onto the end of his article the following jibe: "Not long ago, chairman Reg Burr claimed that 'racism has been all but eliminated from Millwall'. How odd then that the fascist British National Party have won its first seat in Tower Hamlets last week, in the Millwall Ward!"

A curious remark indeed; Howard hadn't mentioned any racist chants or shouts in his report, but still smeared Millwall and its supporters by mentioning an irrelevant council by-election in another part of town that just happened to have the same name as the football club-- Millwall -- but had no actual relevance at all.

Of course, the damage was done, the vast majority of people outside or, indeed, inside London would have no idea that Millwall FC where based nowhere near Millwall, and would immediately associate the BNP with the football club thanks to Howard's remarks. One could not help but feel if the by-election had been in the Woolwich Arsenal Ward, there would have been no negative publicity put Arsenal FC's way. No one mentioned that Bermondsey's MP was Simon Hughes, there simply isn't any mileage in labelling us a bunch of Liberals.

Soon after one of a growing list of 'Race equality' busy bodies who seem to have no motive but to cast Millwall fans is the worst possible light sent a copy of his correspondence with Reg Burr to the Fanzine When Saturday Comes. His name was Jakko Jakszyk. He said that he had heard Reg's Burr claim that Racism had been all but eliminated from Millwall and went on to recount the experience of his visit to the old Den in Feburary. He decided to embellish his tales in a fashion that would be come familiar to us. I have no doubt that he may have heard an individual or two shout racist abuse. But to pretend that someone was shouting "Burn him, Burn him" meaning to set fire to him, rather than someone encouraging a winger to take him for pace rather undermined the credibility of the piece. He loses further credibility when he complained of men openly selling racist literature outside the ground, showing he just assumed that the Lions Roar and No one likes us not to be respectable fanzines. He ended his letter stating he would not bother going to the new ground ironically named Senegal Fields.

Reg Burr's reply went down in folk lore. Perhaps he just had enough of prats like Jakko. "The open space sports field upon which we built our new stadium is owned by the London Borough of Lewisham and was named by then Senegal Fields."

"I do not think we will miss you at the New Den and I must say I feel sorry for somebody who seems to be as sick as you are."

Millwall finished season 1993/94 in third position and so entered the playoffs for a place in the Premiership. The team was to under perform and lose the first leg 2-0 and within minutes of the start of the second leg were 4-0 down on aggregate with the game effectively over. A couple of pitch invasions ensued, one of which seemed to cost Millwall a penalty as the referee decided that the game was interrupted a few seconds before the offence.

After the second pitch invasion The Derby Manager subbed both black players in his team, Paul Williams and Gary Charles. The game restarted a few minutes later, to play out the remaining few minutes and after the final whistle there was more trouble outside the ground.

The next day the papers were full of sensational headlines with tales of mobs of 1,000 on the rampage (40 odd had invaded the pitch!) The papers were demanding Millwall's blood. They made no mention of the vast majority of the crowd chanted to the hooligans to get off the pitch. The next day papers picked up on the race 

issue using the quote from Derby Manager Roy McFarland "Both players were taken off after being targets from a racial point of view."

That night against Derby there was no crescendo of racist chanting. In fact the night fell rather flat after Derby scored their second goal after 20 minutes and much of the rest of the game was played in eerie silence.

The fact was that all the Derby players received abuse, in the grand old musical hall tradition of heckling to put a player off his game. Marco Gabbadini, as an ex-palarse player, and notably NOT black, perhaps bore the brunt of the abuse. It might be forgotten now that Derby that season had spent an unheard sum of money, £10 Million, on their team, whilst Millwall had often fielded a team that cost nothing.

For middle class fans that have crossed over to football from rugby or cricket watching backgrounds, it is impossible to understand this tradition. Most traditional working class fans can easily identify with the Palace fan who shouted at Eric Cantona and set off his violent retaliation. They also thought "good on you, Eric", when Cantona landed a kung fu style kick on his baiter.

Perhaps the quote of the event was from Ken Gorman of the Daily Star: "To watch Millwall is to journey into a valley of hatred. Tragically their fans remained in the gutter. Walking towards that spanking new stadium to watch Millwall play Derby was a nerve jangling foretaste of the stomach churning events to come. Venturing past the pub near the ground, all you saw was a sea of scowling vengeful faces bounded by beer fuelled loathing for any outsider. To talk of hatred in people's eyes is not to exaggerate the most evil stench of wretchedness I have ever encountered." Oh contraire, exaggeration is exactly what this piece is!

Poor old Reg Burr was monstered for trying to defend Millwall fans against these accusations of racism, trying to say that Williams attracted stick because of his rough playing style.

Just when the storm seemed to have subsided, ITV's Sport in Question aired on the Monday evening. Jimmy Greaves spent the entire programme Muttering Send them Down, whilst Ian St John in the anchor chair tried to get a discussion going where only Steve Coppell talked any sense. Racing Pundit, John McCrirrick disgraced himself by saying Millwall should be relegated on the grounds of racism alone and then when only four members of the audience agreed with him, he called them all "gutless Simpletons"

From that date on Millwall was always on the agenda when programme makers wanted to highlight the race issue. A few years later a BBC2 documentary made by their Black programming unit decided to investigate racism in football and the efforts of clubs to combat it. It highlighted Millwall's use of high-tech bugging equipment that had been used to obtain a ground breaking conviction of Kevin Ryan for Racist chanting under section three of Football Offences Act. It was the first such conviction, no other club had tried so hard to prosecute offenders. It had taken the co-operation of the Club, the Police, Millwall's Anti-Racism Committee (yes we had one long before other clubs thought about one) and the Police Community Consultative group.

The programme although mainly fair, did slip into the odd bit of Tabloid trash reporting. They used secret filming to show the attempts of a Black actor trying unsuccessfully to hand out a free anti-racism fanzine to Millwall fans. The fact that he did not carry a stack, merely trying to give away one copy, probably struck people as odd and marked the guy down as a "Jehovah's Witness" type missionary nutter. The other club featured was Charlton and the filming was allowed at their match v Nottm Forest. Of course great delight was taken in showing White Ensign flags with NF emblazoned on them. Of course no direct mention was made of these flags or indeed a wider shot which would have shown NF FC was on the flags.

The programme also failed to mention that Charlton had refused the police permission to use the bugging equipment on the grounds of infringement of civil liberties. It also featured a few players talking about grounds where they had received stick and included Man City's Terry Phelan talking about the Den. It failed to point out he had never played at the New Den, the game he talked about was 8 years pervious, a local Derby v Wimbledon in which he got the crowd favourite, Teddy Sheringham, sent off while feigning injury from a rather robust tackle that merited a yellow card at worst.

However as we know all too well, even a good story about Millwall, just reinforces the idea that there are worse problems at Millwall than elsewhere! We got no brownie points for admitting there was problem, because other clubs kept out of limelight by sweeping their problems under the carpet. By doing something about the problem, the club had put its head above the parapet and was there to be shot at if its efforts failed or appeared to fail.

The riot by England fans in Dublin in February 1995, was perhaps a real example of a politically motivated riot. Of course the Press linked it back to a number of clubs with hooligan reputations. It was just Millwall's bad luck that someone attended the match with a Union flag with Millwall emblazoned on it. The Evening Standard had found the perfect picture for their front page.

Then in 1998 after a couple of highly charged games at The Den within the space of a month (v Man City and Fulham) Theo again went on the charm offensive and appeared on Ian Payne's afternoon radio show on radio five live. Theo was stitched up again when asked to take a call from a fan. The fan turned out to be another in the long line of Race equality' busy bodies who love to rubbish Millwall. Introduced only as Mark a Black Fulham Fan, it failed to say that he had previously corresponded with Theo and various Fanzines.

He said "The first thing that struck me was there was still lots of people from the British Nationalist Party handing out leaflets outside the ground, that seem to go on unchallenged. And as far as the game was concerned, you must have seen the reception Rufus Brevett got every time he touched the ball." 

It still amazes me that away fans see these hoards of fascist handing out leaflets, yet in 20 odd years following Millwall and seeing just about every home game, I have never seen them! The closest I have seen to a fascist group handing out leaflets was the UK Independence party before the May 2000 election. Is it that he simply mistook the Fanzine salesmen for BNP workers? Is this not a reverse form of racism, assuming things and making judgments?

The Fulham game was one of the most raucous matches in recent times at the Den. This was mainly due to the referee, who sent off Jamie Stuart and booked many Millwall players. One of the reasons for this was that Rufus Brevett was diving all over the place.

Was Mark assuming that all the abuse hurled at Rufus was racist? Was some of it because we felt he was cheating. Are we not allowed to shout at a black player, if we believe he is cheating, just because someone else has made a racist comment.

By now however the mud had well a truly stuck. The media played up the race card whenever possible, with the odd venture into blaming the evil internet for organising the trouble at Cardiff. (This was novel as the press had spent years building up the image that hooligans were all illiterate knuckle dragging morons!)

Soon, Millwall's name was used to embellish totally unrelated race relation articles. February 1999 saw the Lawrence inquiry at it height and the Guardian and Independent decided to indulge in trash tabloid tactics.

The Guardian's David Pallister wrote: "Like many of the local people who followed Millwall and tolerated or supported the activities of the National Front and the British National Party, the boys hated black people." The Independent's Lim Sengupta wrote: "No one like us, we don't care, they chant on the terraces of Millwall Football Club, a few miles from Eltham, the scene of Stephen Lawrence's murder."

These two attacks were the culmination of long process of demonization of Millwall supporters. The writers choose to ignore the closest club to Eltham, Charlton in favour of smearing Millwall. The fact that five defendants on trial for the murder of Stephen Lawrence were not Millwall supporters rather they seem to be Charlton supporters and that Eltham is hardly a hotbed of Millwall support, much more you armchair supporting hinterland.

The hysterical reaction of other club officials also doesn't help. Contrast Joe Royle's "we could have got a late winner but I don't think we would have got out of here alive (they equalised in the 93rd min!) Are the fans allowed to threaten players on the pitch regularly and spit at them while they take throw in?" with Ken Chapman's calm words after the Cardiff home match: "There were about 90 seats damaged by Cardiff fans after the match in the North Stand and they trashed the toilets. That will cost up to £15,000 and the revenue coming in from Cardiff fans won't cover that. But there were some decent away fans and I'm sure they were as appalled at the damage as we were." Perhaps, Ken should have used a better word than some, say majority, but at least it showed we do not tar all with the same brush.

Then we come onto the current season (2001/02). We have seen Palarse fans willfully misrepresent booing of Clinton Morrison as racist and now we have another in the long line of Race equality' busy bodies who want to rubbish Millwall, in the form of an anonymous Man City supporting Journalist. He wrote an article that described an atmosphere that 99.99% of those at the game would not recognise as an accurate account.

After his article was ripped to shreds credibility wise, the writer replied

"Regarding Millwall's black players, I'm sorry for this error although I wasn't actively looking to spot black players in Millwall shirts. I also couldn't tell you what colour hair Stuart Nethercott has or whether or not Steve Claridge still sports a mullet. Skin colour shouldn't be an issue and the fact that it is at the New Den is just as disturbing whether or not Millwall have black players in their squad."

"I'm not tarring all Millwall fans with the same brush. However, if I supported Millwall I would find it very difficult to sit and listen to such overtly racist comments week after week without doing something about it. I suspect I'd have to stop going because it appears to be a long, lonely fight"

However his explanation of the fundamental error in his article doesn't wash. A journalist is by trade a trained observer and writer. To fail to spot the colour of three players when watching for 90 minutes and then writing an article about race is such a bad error that it totally undermines his account.

His point that he couldn't tell us about Nethercott's or Claridge hair is silly, because that is fine detail, rather that Colour, Build Height which he seems to be able to pick out alright on other players.

To try and say that "I'm not tarring all Millwall fans with the same brush" is dishonest, when in his original article he said "Oo, oo, oo, oo, oo, chanted approximately half the crowd". So it's not all of us he has tarred, just half.

At the end of his reply he makes assumption that there is "overtly racist comments week after week". How would he know? I though he had hardly missed a Man City game in 40 years?

The funny thing is that the Irony of sweeping generalisations and Stereotyping Millwall fans he has never met as racist is completely lost on him.

Should we be bothered about this Racist Label?

Of course we should as it scares off potential supporters and possibly local football talent from our FA Academy. But there is also a personal dimension. We have long had the tag of Hooligans. However when, work colleagues, or acquaintances see you can hold an intelligent conversation or even a knife and fork they see through that stereotype. However the Racist tag is more difficult to disprove. Racism is a hidden trait and normally only expressed to people of similar ilk and its victims.

I suspect many Millwall fans take a perverted pride in the Hooligan tag, as it conveys a hard macho image, but how can anyone take pride in narrow mined bigot tag.

In the end it boils down to a simple comparison. Racist abuse of black football players has decreased dramatically everywhere in Britain. As a Millwall fan, I can say from experience that the level of abuse is a tiny fraction of what it was 20 years ago.

So has it decreased more slowly at Millwall than elsewhere? I'm not in a good position to say, as I don't attend that many games non Millwall games as a neutral. However if the media coverage of the racism problem at Millwall is as exaggerated as the hooligan problem then I would say it has decreased at the same rate.

The problem is not so big at Millwall that it can't be solved quickly and it's no worse than at most other clubs. It's a problem caused by a small number of individuals, not the crowd as a whole. At least Millwall football club and its fans have shown that they are not prepared to tolerate these individuals. This, unfortunately for Millwall's image, does not sell newspapers.

See also updated version......

 

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