has always been super-league at violence but only
minor-league at football. Until now. On Saturday this little
south-east London club, which has tried harder than almost
any other to overcome its hooligan problems, starts a new
life in the First Division. Is this a fairy tale unfolding,
or another football nightmare? Eamon Dunphy, former Millwall
star, schemer and stalwart, looks backwards and forwards
with affection and fear.
The last Saturday of the
1987/88 season was the greatest day in the history of
Millwall Football Club. After 103 years of striving, the
"Lions" were promoted to the First Division of the
English Football League.
Until that Saturday it had
seemed as if the club and its supporters would always remain
the poor relations of the London Game - the only League club
in the capital never to have reached the First Division. For
the residents of Bermondsey, Deptford and New Cross, the
game of football, as played valiantly but unsuccessfully by
their beloved Lions, was a handy analogy for life itself.
The First Division was like Mayfair - somewhere else,
somewhere tantalisingly close that remained always just
name Millwall, however, is known throughout Britain. To
newspaper editors, football fans and sociologists, Millwall
FC is synonymous with the social plague that is known in
this country asFootball Hooliganism, and throughout the
rest of Europe as the English Disease.
It is conventional wisdom
that football hooliganism was born at Millwall sometime in
the mid-Sixties. Even more damningly, there is
circumstantial evidence to suggest that the most malignant
strain of the hooliganism virus hangs in the air around The
Den, Millwall's home ground in the back streets of New Cross
- a part of south-east London tourist don't see as they make
their way from Westminster via Tower Bridge to Greenwich
Park, or out along the A2 to Dover.
It is with this stigma
that Millwall will travel to Birmingham on Saturday, to meet
Aston Villa in a First Division fixture which, for
generations of south-east Londoners, represents the
fulfilment of a dream. In the months ahead when the Lions
visit the rich mansions of the English game - Anfield,
Goodison Park, Highbury and Old Trafford - a smile of wry
contentment will settle on the faces of Millwall fans who
are more familiar with such venues as Darlington, Crewe,
Halifax and Bolton, where the dream is of survival rather
The visits to The Den of
the great English clubs, Manchester United, Liverpool,
Spurs, Everton and Arsenal, will see a simple sporting dream
realised even more gloriously. Sadly, however, English
football is no longer simply sport. Saturday afternoons are
the occasions of sin. In railway stations and carriages,
city streets and motorway service areas, the noxious fumes
of drink and incipient violence radiate from gangs of men
whose presence threatens everyone within their reach.
Season after season,
things get worse. Fears become reality, and the reality is
death, destruction and, most recently during the European
Championships in West Germany, national shame, as men who
learned the strategies of warfare on English Saturday
afternoons sought to conquer mainland Europe.
For all of this Millwall
stands, for many, as a symbol. And that is why its year of
sporting dreams may yet turn out to be a nightmare. Anyone
hoping to understand football hooliganism, and England's
failure to deal with it, should start at Millwall's Cold
Blow Lane, or in the narrow Victorian streets that lie in
I played for Millwall for
eight seasons from 1966-73. Football hooliganism as we now
know it began around 1966, the year England won the World
Cup. That the birth of modern soccer hooliganism should
coincide with England's finest footballing hour is but one
of many ironies in this story.
In March 1966, three
months before Alf Ramsay's team won the Jules Rimet trophy,
I played for Millwall in a vital promotion game at Queen's
Park Rangers. We were seeking promotion from Division Three.
Rangers, with their new signing, the young vibrant Rodney
Marsh, were a place behind us in the Third Division table.
Loftus Road was packed. Marsh scored his first ever goal for
QPR, who went on to slaughter us 6-1.
During the second half of
this match, an incident took place that became the subject
of one of the first "Football Hooligan" stories in
the national press. Some-one on the terraces flung a coin -
an old, pre-decimal penny which struck our centre-forward
Len Juliens on the head drawing blood. Len picked it up and
flung it back at the crowd.
disturbance, a QPR official warned via the public address
system that the match would be abandoned if there was any
more trouble. As this would have invalidated the game and
caused a replay, it constituted an obvious invitation to a
group of about 30 young Millwall fans, who promptly invaded
Comment:- Eamon is not quite right here. Most of the
QPR goals that day had been marked by celebratory pitch
invasions. The announcer had warned the crowd that if there
were anymore pitch invasion the game would be abandoned.
This was just to much temptation for some Millwall fans to
resist, who promptly invaded the pitch and sat down in an
attempt to get the game abandoned.)
Before the days of barbed
wire, spiked railings and cordons of policemen, pitch
invasions were child's play. On this March afternoon, order
was quickly restored when Millwall manager, Billy Gray, took
the microphone to urge the "hotheads", as we then
thought of them, to acknowledge Rangers as "the better
team on the day" and leave the field. They did.
But a minor wound had been
inflicted on Millwall - and yes, it is possible to argue
that it was through this small cut that the virus of
football hooliganism entered the body of English soccer. In
the next game at The Den, smoke bombs were thrown at the
Cold Blow Lane end of the ground. Millwall made the
headlines again …and yet again following an outbreak of
fighting at Oxford the following month.
I remember that day at
Oxford. For the first time in my experience the police were
out in force. In those days the team travelled by train, and
the fans travelled with us. The decent supporters, plus a
small group of young toughs, numbering no more than two
dozen, were met by about 20 policemen who escorted them on
foot through the town to the Oxford United ground.
On this day the hooligan
was noticed, his presence felt, and he grew a little in
stature. Saturday afternoon shoppers in a provincial English
town were ushered off the pavement by the forces of law and
order to allow the London Boys - the Millwall Boys - free
passage to our game. If Margaret Thatcher, or the Football
Association's chairman, Bert Millichip, or Colin Moynihan,
the Minister for Sport, want to understand the origins of
England's current national shame, then they might do no
better than reflect on that day in Oxford - what happened,
and what might have happened in another society or, perhaps
in the England of another year. This was Sixties England,
the Permissive Age. Thus a small band of aggressive young
men were not intercepted at Oxford Station and sent back to
where they'd come from, but rather permitted to go about
their business: to seek gratification through the incitement
of rage, disgust and fear in others.
In the beginning, football
hooliganism was about notoriety. The Millwall Boys found
that by banding together, being uncouth, "taking
over" a town centre like Oxford, pulling a
communication cord or two on the way home from matches and
chanting a few slogans, they could make national headlines.
They discovered something else as well: that society at
large was prepared to tolerate their behaviour - a tolerance
which was reflected in the hands-off policing, the fact that
football clubs were still prepared to accept their money at
the turnstiles, and the derisory £10 fines imposed on those
who found themselves before the magistrates. A tenner was a
small price to pay for getting your name in the papers.
Over the next few seasons,
gangs of football hooligans sprang up all over England. The
Millwall Boys had invented a new sport. They were pioneers
for a generation of comparatively affluent young men for
whom there was no war to fight, and no National Service; who
roamed from the ugly shadows of urban ghettos, where
alienation from the glossy materialism of the late Sixties
was a demoralising fact of life, to take their place in the
glamorous, then fashionable, world of the Glory Game. It was
Millwall's misfortune to be the first club infected.
The club was founded by
Bermondsey dockers in 1885 and had always had a rough and
ready image. This was south-east London, a shady province of
slightly dodgy characters. In the late Sixties the notorious
Richardson gang had only recently been removed from the
"manor" where popular myth had it they were folk
heroes. This was also the corner of London that spawned
Oswald Mosley, and where during its brief flirtation with
electoral success the National Front polled up to 2000 votes
in certain boroughs.
It was, therefore, not too
difficult for the popular press to make the case that there
was something in the air at Cold Blow Lane that was unique
to Millwall and its supporters, some generic link between
hooliganism and this some-what impoverished Second Division
club. The Myth that was to haunt Millwall had been born, And
like, many myths, this one proved to be self fulfilling.
When the bovver boys from Birmingham, West Ham, or any other
Football League club sought to prove their virility, it was
to Millwall that they turned.
Twenty-two years on, the
programme notes for Millwall's penultimate home game of the
1965/66 season - shortly after QPR and fortnight after the
Oxford incident - makes poignant reading: "Once again
we are seriously perturbed by the irresponsible behaviour of
certain groups of unruly teenage supporters. This sort of
thing must be stamped out for the good of Millwall and the
game. We are not exaggerating in any way the unruliness of
these young people. Even our own genuine supporters have
been shocked and shamed by their behaviour and unless it is
nipped in the bud now decent civilised supporters will stay
away and this is something we cannot afford to happen."
But who was to nip it in
the bud? On this crucial question, society at large and
those responsible for running in football were at odds.
Football men claimed the hooligans were society's problem,
inflicted on an innocent sport. Leader-writers and
politicians urged football to "get its house in
order". And thus, give or take a rhetorical flourish
here and there, matters still stand in 1988. Only the
hooligan have changed. For into the void where authority
might have stepped to enforce its will has emerged a new
breed of hooligan, a sophisticated urban terrorist as
different from the hotheads" of '66 as the SAS is from
the Territorial Army. By 1977, when mobs of Englishmen
wrecked the centre of Luxemburg, football hooliganism had
gone international. The route to the Heysel Stadium in
Brussels, where 34 people died at the 1985 European Cup
Final between Liverpool and Juventus, had been mapped out.
* * * * *
Jeff Burnige is
41, the owner of a property and investment company based in
Windsor. He has witnessed the destruction of English soccer
from a number of different vantage points. As a
four-year-old, he watched Millwall from the
not-so-grandstand at Cold Blow Lane. His father Herbert, a
successful chartered surveyor with a firm in Mayfair, had
been born in the old Guinness Buildings at Snows Fields, a
far from-salubrious comer of Bermondsey.
Herbert Burnige loved his
football, his Lions and their dilapidated Den. His Saturday
afternoon, every second week, was as much pilgrimage as
sport. Herbert's father had been a docker, and Millwall, the
docker's football club, was for this successful Mayfair man
a cause - a losing cause, but one that bound a community
together because the sense of loss was shared, as much a
matter of concern to Herbert as to the stevedores at the
Ilderton Road End.
In 1969 Herbert Burnige
accepted a seat on Millwall's board, and his son Jeff
watched the matches alongside him in the Cold Blow Lane
directors' box. Herbert was a quiet man, untypical of most
football club directors. He didn't seek the reflected glory
of press publicity but often took the players, whom he
regarded as friends, to dinner-boxing at the Grosvenor House
Hotel in Park Lane. The odd footballer in financial
difficulty would be quietly slipped a few quid to see him
through. Herbert was the ideal patron: in love with the
game, respectful of its practitioners, and unobtrusive. The
symphony he wanted us to write was not so much for him as
for the Millwall fans.
What he wanted was
promotion to the First Division. His son Jeff was rather
more intrusive, a young man who had opinions about the game
which he didn't hesitate to express. His passion sometimes
irked the hardened pros in the Players' Room: hell hath no
irritation like a director's son with an idea!
An era passed at Millwall
in the spring of 1972. Having won our final home match
against Preston, we thought the dream of First Division
football had been realised at last. Ten minutes from the end
of the match, as we were coasting home 2-0, news reached a
packed Den via someone's transistor radio that our promotion
rivals, Birmingham, were losing at Sheffield Wednesday. The
news spread like brushfire, and the celebrations - both on
and off the pitch - reached a crescendo as the final whistle
We were hoisted shoulder
high to the dressing room, where the champagne was noisily
opened. Outside, on the terraces and in the grandstand,
tears of joy were shed. Millwall would never again be
"the only London club never to have played in the First
Our joy was brief. The
dream lasted just 10 minutes. In the corner of the dressing
room, a radio broadcast the familiar signature tune of
Sports Report. We listened for the news from Sheffield to be
confirmed, set in a stone by the BBC. The voice was
deceptively bland. "Birmingham were still on course for
promotion," we were told. They had won at Sheffield.
Our captain, Denis
Burnett, picked up the radio and smashed it against the
wall. How typically Millwall to enjoy the briefest stay of
all time in the First Division.
Something died in each of
us, in every Millwall man that day. Within a year, most of
us had left the club. Another year passed before Herbert
Burnige succeeded Mickey Purser as chairman. Mickey was the
past. He owned a car showroom on the Old Kent Road, and was
slightly mysterious. From the terraces it seemed that Purser
represented the Millwall of tradition - the club that had no
real ambition, that always sold its best players (and bought
West Ham's cast offs); the club that didn't really want
promotion to the First Division because it would cost too
much money. Occasionally the plate glass windows in Purser's
car showrooms would be smashed late at night.
Herbert Burnige set out to
change things once and for all. He began by hiring Gordon
Jago, a bright young football manager with progressive
Together, Jago and Burnige
tackled the "poor relations" problem, and and the
by now well established myth that something dark and ugly
lurked beneath the surface at Cold Blow Lane.
Jago even suggested that a
name change for Cold Blow Lane, to Montego Bay, because he
said it projected the wrong image. When that proved
impossible, he tried glasnost.
By 1977, football
hooliganism was fundamental to English Saturday afternoons.
The disease had been exported to Europe and was a recurring
item on the news pages - and always the name of Millwall was
Jago decided on a bold
initiative; he invited the a BBC Panorama team investigating
the English Disease to bring their cameras down to Cold Blow
three years at The Den had transformed the club's image.
There was little of substance to this - just a general sense
of cleanliness, a smart new strip, a bright newsy club
magazine and a manager who was articulate and plausibly
The vibe was good:
Millwall's supporters were perceived to be among the best
behaved in London and there had been no outbreaks of
hooliganism for years. Jago saw the Panorama documentary as
an opportunity to kill the Millwall Myth.
Alas, the BBC was seeking
to prove a theory: that football hooliganism was more than
just random violence, that it was linked to the fascism of
the National Front, and that the malignancy in English
football, which by now was infecting the nation at large,
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.
When the club and local
policemen saw a preview of the film they begged the BBC not
to transmit it. The story was false, a perverse and
sickening distortion of the truth. Glasnost proved
disastrous both for Millwall and for Jago, who resigned
shortly after the Panorama programme was transmitted.
Myth and reality finally
fused for Millwall three months after the broadcast. In
March 1978, a full-scale riot broke out at The Den during an
FA Cup quarter-final against Ipswich. Fighting began on the
terraces, then spilled out on to the pitch and into the
narrow streets around the ground. Bottles, knives, iron
bars, fists, boots and concrete slabs rained from the sky.
Dozens of innocent people, real Millwall fans, were injured.
Among them was Joe Hale, a
72-year-old Den regular who stood, blood pouring from a head
wound, a bemused and broken symbol of a club and a sport
For Herbert Burnige it was
too much. He resigned as chairman, saddened beyond words,
though he kept his place on the board. He died in 1983 - a
decent man whose lifespan hadn't been prolonged by his love
of Millwall Football Club. During the last five years of his
life, Herbert had seen Millwall, disgraced and demoralised,
tread the old route between Divisions Two and Three, bleak
territory rendered even more desolate by the barbed wire and
spiked railings that now surrounded his beloved Den, and by
the penury that threatened the Football League in general
and Millwall in particular.
Herbert never conferred a
directorship on Jeff, his passionate son. Nepotism was not
his way. It was up to Jeff to observe and learn, and
graduate to the boardroom on his own merits. In the course
of doing this, the young man coached Ulysses, London
University's second team, to some considerable success in
the hinterland of the amateur game.
A year before he died,
Herbert had found a wealthy builder and property developer,
Alan Thorn, who was seduced on to the board by dreams not
dissimilar to those which, 13 years earlier, had drawn
Burnige himself to the Glory Game.
Thorn vowed to spare no
effort - and no money - in realising the First Division
dream that was now 98 years old.
By March 1985, immense
progress had been made, at immense cost. An able manager,
the former Scottish international George Graham, had led the
club to the top of the Third Division. Promotion looked
assured. And Millwall had reached the quarter-final of the
FA Cup, an achievement that evoked two images in Millwall's
past: the dreadful carnage of the Ipswich game in 1978, and
a more glorious and inspiring day in 1937 when the club
reached the Cup semi-final by beating Derby County at The
Den. It was on the latter that imaginations lingered as the
Millwall fans travelled hopefully to Luton on Wednesday
evening, March 13,1985.
The date will be recalled
in any history of English soccer ever written. The glory at
Kenilworth Road that night, a distinction of unimaginable
horror, belonged to a mob some several hundred strong, the
elite of London's football hooligan gangs who infiltrated
the 17,470 crowd. They arrived in Luton early, drunk and
armed with weapons now familiar in every town and city on
the bloody Football League map. Even more deadly, they
brought with them a conviction in the strength of their own
authority, a sense of belonging to, and identifying with,
the game of professional soccer. Theirs was the presence
against which all other things paled - the pitiful pleas of
Football Association and Football League, the wringing of
Westminster hands, the strictures of the leader pages and
the deep probings of the sociologists.
A grim fortress had been
erected, but the barbed-wire, steel fencing and video
cameras which were designed to keep the hooligans out served
only as props in their theatre of violent fantasy. The
police the extras in this show, a challenge to the heroes
manhood - like the props essential to the plot but easily
goaded and easily overcome.
The statistics of the
night don't serve to convey the truth of what took place. Of
the 81 people injured, 31 were policemen. Thirty-one men
were arrested, appearing at Luton Magistrates Court the
following morning the majority of them identified selves as
"fans" of London clubs than Millwall.
The game was halted as
early as the 14th minute, when the referee, David
Hutchinson, himself a police inspector took the teams off
for 25 minutes when trouble (mainly fans escaping
overcrowding and spilling onto the pitch) behind the
Kenilworth Road saw hundreds of spectators on the playing
area. The match was finally completed - Luton won 1-0 in an
atmosphere that was heavy with a sense of impending
violence. It erupted when the final whistle blew.
An elite squadron of
London thugs drawn from all corners of the capital invaded
the pitch as the players sprinted for the dressing room. The
scenes that followed were described in a live report phoned
from the Luton press box to his London newspaper by James
Murray: "As a life-long Millwall supporter I could
stand in disbelief as I watched the riots And I felt like
crying. Children around me clung to their parents in fear;
women and pensioners vowed never to go to a football match
"Seats were torn out
of the stand and hurled on to the pitch. They became weapons
for the invading fans who hurled them again at police. The
scenes before me were ones of open bloody warfare."
"Police who had fled
from the rushing fans regrouped, drew batons and charged in
waves until the enemy had been driven back into the terraces
and in to the stands."
"And as the police
began winning that battle, more so-called Millwall support
began tearing out seats in the opposite stand and hurling
makeshift plastic spears on to the pitch."
"As I watched
policemen led off the pitch, dazed and bleeding, and a
superintendent lying in the centre circle writhing in agony,
I was reminded of the Brixton riots."
"As a true Millwall
fan it was impossible not to feel shame, not to feel sorrow
for the game of football. And not to despair at how low life
had sunk; for these were not fans, they were not people,
they were animals."
These were the pictures
shown on British Television that night, and subsequently
around the world. The hooligan had enjoyed his finest hour.
In 20 years he had grown from the yob breaching the Saturday
afternoon peace of Oxford to a character if international
renown - wanton, brutal, threatening and insatiable.
For the pictures that
night showed policemen fleeing for their lives, Sergeant
Colin Cooke was one who didn't escape. He was caught in the
centre circle of what had once been a sports arena, and
beaten on the back of the head with a concrete block. He
stopped breathing but was resuscitated by a colleague, PC
Phil Evans, who courageously stopped to the kiss of life.
Evans himself was hit by the concrete, and kicked and
punched even as he tried to save his friends life.
Just as Joe Hale, the
pensioner bloodied after Millwall's previous FA Cup
quarter-final in 1978, had symbolised his time, Policemen
Cooke and Evans offered football and the watching world an
image of social evil that was even more compellingly wicked.
Next day, Neil Kinnock blamed government policies and
unemployment. Margaret Thatcher spoke of Victorian values,
apportioning blame to family backgrounds and lack of
discipline in schools. David Pleat, Luton's manager whose
team had reached the FA Cup semi-finals, was left
The Football Association's
was the most absurd reaction of all: Its commission of
inquiry was "not satisfied that Millwall FC took all
reasonable precautions in accordance with the requirements
of FA Rule 31(A)(II)" and was therefore guilty! A fine
of £7,500 was levied and various other largely irrelevant
measures imposed. (Though some semblance of common sense was
retrieved when the financial penalty withdrawn on appeal.)
Luton finished Alan Thorn,
as the Ipswich match had finished Herbert Burnige. He was
now in bad health - a circumstance "not helped",
he now reflects by the emotional strain of running Millwall
Football Club. He was also emptying his personal bank
account, to the accumulated tune of several hundred thousand
pounds. For what?, he began to wonder. Within 12 months,
Alan Thorn left Millwall and England for a peaceful life in
Ironically, Millwall won
promotion to Division Two just six weeks after the horror of
Kenilworth Road. Around the same time, having reflected on
the riot that wrecked his club's football ground, and when
it surged through the town later that night, smashed cars,
houses and shops, forcing people to cower behind locked
doors, David Evans, Luton's chairman announced a
members-only scheme that would effectively ban all away
supporters from Kenilworth Road. If for evil to prevail it
required only that good men do nothing, Evans wasn't going
to be one of those who stood aside. This sane, courageous
response assured that Evans, then a prospective Tory
candidate, and his club, would be harassed and pilloried by
football's other 91 League members, and those who chronicled
the game's affairs on the back pages of newspapers.
The sense of football as a
sport domed by a combination of its administrative
ineptitude and darker forces in society was heightened in
the weeks after Luton: 56 people died when the Victorian
grandstand at Bradford erupted in flames during the club's
last home league game of season. This tragedy, too, was seen
live on television, providing a watching nation with
shocking proof that professional soccer offered not merely
the prospect hooligan violence but the even deadlier threat
of accidental death in grounds that were hopelessly unsafe.
Football's despair was completed by the tragedy at the
Heysel Stadium a few weeks later.
Millwall's celebrations of
its new Second Division status were muted. New safety
regulations would cost the club £lm, much of which would
have to come from a bank account already worse than empty;
Alan Thom would soon be leaving, George Graham, the manager,
would have no money to buy players. Indeed, as Thorn had
decided to recoup some of the money he had invested, players
would have to be sold. When John Fashanu, the team's best
player, left to join Wimbledon towards the end of a
difficult season, Graham accepted the offer to manage
For a few weeks in early
July 1986, it seemed possible that Millwall FC would simply
disappear. The debt was £4.9m. There was no manager, and
only eight signed professionals. Alan Thorn, considerably
poorer, had bought his one-way ticket to Spain.
One man who still cared
was Herbert Burnige's son, Jeff. He went to reserve team
matches, followed the youth team's progress, knew about that
promising youngster who'd signed last year.
Now, in the summer of
1986, he applied the kiss of life to Millwall. He persuaded
Alan Thorn to leave the club debt-free in return for some
land adjacent to The Den. Reg Burr, a city financier friend
of his father's, and Brian Mitchell, a London public
relations consultant, joined Jeff to form a new three-man
board with working capital of £100,000.
John Docherty, a
"resting" coach with a record no more than
competent, was appointed manager. And thus, with a young
inexpensive team, survival was achieved in the 1986/87
Jeff Burnige shared with
his fellow directors a conviction that there was a way
around the hooligan problem - giving the club back to the
fans by involving the local community in a radical new way.
Enter, in the summer of 1987, the London Borough of Lewisham
and its Leader, Councillor David Sullivan.
Between 1984 and 1987
Millwall had been sponsored for £20,000 a year by the
London Docklands Development Corporation, who saw the deal
as a way of gaining acceptance in the local community.
Lewisham capped them with an offer of £70,000 a year for
four years, and thus became the first local authority in
Britain to enter a sponsorship agreement with a professional
On Millwall's part, the
deal involved opening a crèche on match days at The Den,
wearing the council's logo on the team shirts, distributing
250 tickets for home games among the old and needy in the
borough, sending players to visit schools and community
associations, and participating in Lewisham's anti-racist
drive. The arrangement also gave the council a seat on the
club's board. Lewisham's nominee was Councillor Sullivan.
Millwall also acquired
£600,000 from another new director, Peter Mead, an
advertising man from the London agency Abbot, Mead, Vickers.
Like his fellow directors, Mead was a fan and a believer in
the idea of community football.
The manager, John Docherty, and his assistant Frank
McLintock, used the money
wisely and to remarkable effect. One afternoon in May this
year I joined 15,000 other Millwall fans at The Den to
celebrate a remarkable sporting achievement: 103 years after
they set out, two years after almost ceasing to exist, the
Lions made it to the First Division. Promotion had been
assured on the previous Monday night at Hull. This last home
match of the season, against Blackburn, was the party.
Men cried, including this
one. No story is more poignant in its simple sporting
context. It is the story of Jeff Burnige and his father, and
generations of others like them, lovers of a cause that
means much more than sport. Football is about communities,
families, identity, a sense of place, a sense of being.
Even today, even in
English football, this is true, and nowhere truer than at
Millwall... except, perhaps, at Luton.
David Evans and Luton Town
stand isolated in the Football League of 1988, a club which
has restored the sense of family and community to soccer by
banishing those who would desecrate one of lifers most
innocent pleasures - a day of recreation shared by father
and son, boyfriend and girlfriend, workmates and neighbours.
At the end of a season
during which society spent an estimated £30m in a vain
attempt to combat the menace of football hooliganism, the
officer in charge of policing at Luton, Chief Supt Glyn
Spalding, of Bedfordshire Police, said he was "bemused
and frustrated" by football's unwillingness to accept
the evidence of Luton Town's successful members-only
One of the most
disingenuous among the many reasons advanced for not
adopting Luton's scheme is that the hooligans will go
elsewhere within the community to satisfy their lust for
violence. Chief Supt Spalding disputes this. Once there were
no visiting hooligans, he says, the local thugs "lost
their reason for existing" in Luton, and "there
has been no general increase in hooligan-associated crimes
elsewhere in our community". Luton once more is a
peaceful place on Saturday afternoons.
So, for a while, was
south-east London on the day Millwall held their party last
May ... until nightfall and drink changed the mood. Every
Millwall home game sees up to 400 policemen deployed to keep
the peace, and there were heavy reinforcements on the
streets of Deptford, New Cross and Bermondsey on promotion
night. For a few hours, the lid was kept on. At 8pm, Jeff
Burnige and Alan Thorn's son Byron, with the manager John
Docherty in an open-topped car, paraded the Second Division
Trophy in triumph along the Old Kent Road.
They saw no violence. But
they didn't hang around. If they had, they might have
noticed the couple of pups smashed up at the end of the Old
Kent Road the police couldn't cover. (As it happened, the
pub landlords didn't want to talk about these scenes. Next
year First Division football will bring bigger crowds to the
area If you talked, you became a target. Know what I mean?)
Nether did they see the £1,100-worthof damage done to the
tiny Kentucky Fried Chicken shop in Tower Bridge Road, or
the beatings inflicted on its staff.
Last January, Millwall
appointed John Stalker to advise them on policing matters.
Stalker is not convinced about the Luton solution, although
- unlike most others in football - he does acknowledge that
it is worthy of consideration. He foresees another scenario
in which, as they have been all along, Millwall are the
victims of football's institutionalized hooligans. One
Saturday in the coming season, he fears, the self-fulfilling
prophecies about Millwall and its fans will produce a major
outbreak of violence on the Luton/Ipswich scale. As a
result, the club of ill repute will be banished from the
First Division, and maybe even from football itself. The
Football League will thus be seen to be Doing Something. On
June 27 this year the Millwall board met to consider this
and other possibilities. They decided to follow the majority
rather than Luton, and set great store on their relationship
with the Borough of Lewisham. Councillor David Sullivan
agrees with them. He was present at the critical board
meeting, and I asked him afterwards if the welfare of his
community might not be more important than the First
'The hooligans would go
elsewhere to do their damage," he said. The Luton
experiment was "a victory for the thugs". Football
had to think "positively and constructively". And
promotion night? "It was like any Friday night down the
Old Kent Road," said Councillor Sullivan.
One might have been
listening to Bert Millichip, the FA chairman, who presides
over the game's cherished consensus. Or worse, reading an
article published in The Times a few weeks ago, written by
Conor Cruise O'Brien, a liberal/socialist thinker from the
permissive age that gave birth to football hooliganism.
O'Brien proposed that football hooligans should be given the
run of empty stadia, provided with free drink and allowed to
fight to the finish.
Thus do facile voices
offer us the logical extension of what we already have:
Institutionalized violence on an unthinkable scale.