By David Prole
lions after slumber”, wrote Shelley. Poets are none too thick
on the ground down in SE14, but this is the home territory of the Lions,
the popular name for Millwall, and they have echoed the words by
periodic risings after seasons of slumber among the also-rans of League
soccer. The time for another rise is at hand, for at the end of 1963-4 they were relegated to the Fourth Division.
the years Millwall have won a reputation for being tough customers. This
may not be entirely deserved, but mud always sticks if enough of it is
thrown, and Millwall certainly play hard: their supporters will not
tolerate anything less than 100 per cent effort.
Den is not a place where praises are easily won, and the crowd is
entirely without discrimination in its treatment of players, whether
signed at a big fee or picked up from one of the many local clubs. If a
man gives all he has, the crowd supports him. If he shows skill, so much
the better, yet even if he doesn't his wholehearted efforts will be
greeted with enthusiasm. But if a player shirks a tackle or indicates
lack of interest in the result, then he must watch out. The language may
not be that used in more polite circles, but it is far more pungent.
breed powerful lungs down New Cross way, and the derision penetrates.
You have to be a ninety-minute man to satisfy this
the spectators get out of hand, bringing F.A. action: warning notices
and even closure of the ground. Such incidents help spread the club's
reputation for toughness, which is a pity. Millwall have probably been
on the receiving end of as many hard knocks as they have given.
club was particularly hard hit by the outbreak of World War Two.
Champions of the Third Division South in 1937-8, a year after becoming
the first club from that section to reach the semi-final of the Cup,
they had been looking forward to Second Division success.
fared reasonably well during the war, reaching the final of the Southern
League Cup in 1945, but by 1946-7 the strong pre-war team had broken up.
Dave Mangnall, whose goals had made him the pride of The Den, had gone
to Queens Park Rangers; Reg Smith, the outside-left who had been picked
by England from the Third Division, had retired, and so had many more.
Only half-backs Benny Fenton and Tom Brolly remained of the pre-war team
when Jack Cock returned to the club as manager in time for the start of
football as it used to be. Cock had been a fine centre-forward for
England and Chelsea, Everton, Millwall and other clubs. Ever a realist,
he knew what he was up against when taking over a managerial role.
began their post-war life badly, being saved from relegation largely by
the efforts of Brolly. An Irish international wing-half before the war,
he switched to centre-half after it to bolster up a defence which was
often in trouble.
teams did well enough at The Den, where the twenty-one games were
equally divided between victories, draws and defeats, but Millwall
picked up some valuable points from seven victories and a draw in away
matches, and managed to finish safely in eighteenth place. The worst day
the defence had was at Bury, where full-back Eddie Quigley, switched to
centre-forward, scored five goals—the first time in history anyone had
scored more than four against Millwall. An even greater shock had come a
month earlier, when Port Vale, a mediocre Third Division side, won 3-0
at The Den in the third round of the Cup. This was one of many results
the vociferous fans did not take kindly.
more trouble was in store in 1947-8. The sale of Fenton to Charlton for
£5,000—a record fee for both buyers and sellers - left a gap at wing
half, and injury to Brolly deprived the defence of its mainstay. The
home record was exactly the same, 7-7-7, but this time there was little
profit from away games, with only two victories and four draws. One of
the home matches, incidentally, was played on the Crystal Palace ground
after unruly behaviour
among the crowd had led to the
F.A. closing The Den.
the season ended with the flourish of a 6-2 win over Coventry,
relegation had been a certainty for some time. Millwall and Doncaster
both had twenty-nine points, five less than Bury, and a goal average
fraction meant that the Lions finished bottom of the table. That Bury
should be as low as twentieth was barely credible after the way they had
punctured Millwall's defence in a 7-1 victory at The Den. Quigley had
gone to Sheffield Wednesday, but Bury now had two marksmen instead of
one. Jimmy Constantine and Tom Daniel both scored hat-tricks, which
enabled sub-editors to enjoy themselves with head-lines on the theme of
"Daniel in the Lions' Den". This defeat followed a spell when
Millwall lost successive away matches 6-0, 5-2 and 5-1—proof of the
way the defence missed Brolly. Injuries to other players did not help,
and trainer Bill Voisey, who had had charge of the England team many
times during the war, was a busy man.
in the previous season much of the forward play was inept, in spite of
the presence of Tommy Brown. A delightful ball-player, Brown was a
bigger version of that latter-day phenomenon. Tommy Harmer.
Unfortunately he often trapped himself in trickery, and a goal from him
was a rarity. He scored only three all season, and the miserable total
of forty-four was headed by centre-forward Jimmy Jinks with eight, one
less than he had obtained a season before.
so often happens in football, relegation meant a change of manager. The
decision to re-appoint Charlie Hewitt was taken in time for another
Third Division spell, in the hope that he would be able to repeat the
successes of his three previous seasons in the post, from 1936 to the
war. But like many relegated clubs Millwall were to find that the longer
the stay "downstairs", the harder a rise became. Strengthened
by Brolly's return the defence did well, but hopes of an immediate
return were soon dispelled. Away games remained largely unproductive,
and although only two home matches were lost, Millwall could finish
1948-9 no higher than eighth, seventeen points behind champions Swansea.
newcomers to the team were Constantine and wing-half or inside-forward
John Short from Leeds. Spectators remembered Constantine from the Bury
game the previous year, and he soon became a big favourite. Missing only
one match, he scored twenty five goals in League and Cup out of sixty
six, and only two of the games in which he scored ended in defeat. Short
came in November, soon after Brown had gone to Charlton for £8,500,
thus breaking the Fenton record for both clubs. Jimmy Seed's assumption
that Brown's ball-playing skill would flourish in the First Division was
fair enough, but the Scot never settled down and after eighteen months
went to Orient on a free transfer.
so often feared as Cup giant-killers, were now forced to start from the
first round, instead of being exempt to the third. In the 1949
competition amateurs Tooting put up a great fight, losing by the only
goal, and Millwall lost an equally dour battle with Crewe, 3-2, at the
up the 1949-50 season many writers called it a great year for London:
Arsenal won the Cup and Spurs swept to the Second
Division title. But it was not such a happy
period for the other teams in the city, and certainly not for Millwall.
years after dropping out of the Second Division they finished at the
foot of the Third, although the team was substantially that which had
held a comfortable place in the top half the season before. Defences
dominated the Southern Section, and only Notts County, led by Tommy
Lawton, averaged more than two goals a game. Millwall scored only
fifty-five, and although the total against, sixty-three, was only one
more than when they won the Fourth Division title in 1961-2, it was far
too many at this stage of history. Nine visiting teams won at The Den
and one drew, and there was no improvement in away form to offset the
regular loss of home points.
finish was tense, but disappointing. Millwall lost their last two home
games, the first to the equally desperate Newport County, while four
points enabled Aldershot to pull clear and a win and a draw took Walsall
to safety as well. Millwall finished two points behind these three,
paying the penalty for insipid forward play.
were plenty of workers, but nobody capable of holding the ball and
scheming openings in rugged defences. Constantine again headed the
scorers, but his total was down to fourteen—two of them in the only
Cup-tie, when Exeter won a 5-3 thriller.
the end of the season non-League clubs were more active than usual in
their lobbying for election, and there were some gloomy forecasts that
Millwall would lose their place. But there was never much danger of a
club with their past record being thrown out, and at the annual meeting
they and Newport were duly re-elected, the Division being extended to
allow for the introduction of Colchester and Gillingham.
again" was the motto for 1950-51, with Hewitt impressing on his men
the value of a good start. Reinforced by two valuable newcomers, the
team began well and maintained consistent form for most of a far more
satisfying season, which ended with fifth place.
reinforcements were Gerry Bowler, the Irish international centre-half
who cost £11,000 when signed from Hull, and centre-forward Frank Neary,
who also played for Queens Park Rangers, Orient and West Ham during his
career. Neary's forcefulness took him to many scoring positions and also
helped Constantine to cash in, so that between them they claimed
forty-six of the club's eighty League goals. Promotion hopes flourished
for two-thirds of the season, until a run of six away defeats, after
five of the first seven games on tour had been won, left the team with
too much to do.
and Reading were the only League visitors to win at The Den, but as
Millwall took only five points from eight games against clubs who
finished higher, they could not be said to be worth promotion.
was plenty of excitement in the Cup, with matches against three other
London teams. The first round brought an anti-climax of a fog enforced
abandonment after only thirty-four minutes of the tie with Crystal
Palace, but at the second attempt Millwall won 4-1 against the club
destined to finish bottom of the League.
at home by Bradford in the next round, Millwall won the replay, and then
beat Queens Park Rangers 4-3 at Loftus Road to qualify for a match with
Fulham in round four. This drew 42,170 spectators to The Den, where a
single goal gave the First Division club a rather lucky victory.
Nottingham Forest having won promotion, the four teams who had followed
them home in 1950-51 disputed the title the following year.
steadily drew away in the closing stages, and Millwall finished fourth
after leading for several weeks. Two particularly damaging defeats were
inflicted by Argyle, 5-0 at Home Park in November and 2-0 in the April
return, yet only Norwich conceded fewer goals than Millwall's rugged
rearguard, in which goalkeeper Fed Hinton, full-backs Alex Jardine and
George Fisher, and half-backs Short, Bowler and Frank Reeves missed only
twenty-two games between them. The scoring honours were widely
distributed, with Neary, Constantine, Stan Morgan and Johnny Hartburn
all reaching double figures, and many chances being made for them by the
other regular member of the line, outside-right Johnny Johnson. Formerly
with Stockport, he joined Millwall at the end of the war and played more
than three hundred games.
Cup brought three matches but only one goal, which was
sufficient to beat
Plymouth and provide some solace for the League rout the previous week.
In the second round Millwall fell 3-0 to Scunthorpe after a goalless
draw and so lost the chance of some welcome cash, for the winners met
Spurs at Tottenham in round three.
had the best away record in the League at the end of season 52-53 yet
still failed to win promotion. They won 10 and drew
seven of their away fixtures, but dropped seven valuable home points
through draws, although only Norwich and Northampton - who finished
third and fourth - succeeded in winning at The Den.
the end Millwall had to be content with second place, when three more
points would have given them the championship.
Finlayson, the burly Scot, now ousted Hinton and proved an
excellent goalkeeper: following his transfer to Wolves some years later
he was perhaps unlucky not to gain a Scottish cap. Worse players have
been so honoured.
He played in every match in 1952-3, and let in only forty-four goals:
Port Vale and Huddersfield alone conceded less. Bowler held the middle,
Short was the source of raid after raid from wing-half, and on the other
flank Irishman Pat Saward showed glimpses of the talent which was to
bring him many caps in future years.
club's total of eighty-two League goals was their best since the war,
yet the forward line was not without its weaknesses. Johnson and Morgan
were inconsistent, Neary was often injured, and George Stobbart from
Luton did not fill the bill. That Millwall finished runners-up was
largely due to a 21-year-old from Kensington who had spent part of his
early life in the grip of paralysis: Johnny Shepherd. Brought into the
team in October for the first time, he marked his debut with all four
goals against Orient.
was a storybook start, and Shepherd made the most of the run of the ball
to disguise his immaturity. In his first eleven matches he scored
sixteen goals, helped by hat-tricks against Aldershot, who were beaten
7-1 in the Cup after a goalless draw, Barrow (defeated 4-1 in the second
round after four goals had been shared) and in the League at Shrewsbury.
But not even Shepherd could break through the Manchester United defence
in the third round, when a goal by international inside-forward Stan
Pearson, seen by a crowd of 36,652, put a stop to Millwall's run.
afterwards Shepherd met the first of a sequence of injuries which were
to handicap his career, yet he still ended the season with twenty-one
goals in only twenty matches. Millwall took twenty-two points from their
last fifteen games and lost only one, but they could not overhaul
Bristol Rovers, who had opened up a big lead with a run of twenty-seven
matches without defeat—still the best in post-war League football.
During the season Millwall took three points from Rovers, and also
brought off their best post-war away win when beating Ipswich 6-1.
The effort of three successive promotion assaults had made great
demands on the side, which was not good enough for another in 1953-4.
Defensive failings contributed to a slide to twelfth place (although the
attack was not blameless) and injuries upset selection to such an extent
that seventeen men made a dozen or more appearances, with nearly every
one of the usual first team out of action at some stage. Shepherd was
hit hardest. By now he was a marked man, and—Third Division marking
being what it is—he was often put off his game by force rather than
subtlety. He missed nearly half the programme and his goals fell to six-equalled
by Jardine from penalty kicks. Stobbart was top scorer with sixteen.
during the season included 17-year-old Charlie Hurley, standing in for
his countryman, Bowler, on a few occasions. Signed from an Irish youth
team, Hurley was to become one of Millwall's best post-war servants
until economic necessity forced his sale. The composition of the team
was now changing rapidly, with four new forwards engaged in 1954-5:
Johnny Summers from Norwich, Denis Pacey from Orient, Gordon Prior from
Newcastle and Fred Ramscar from Northampton. Stobbart went to Brentford
and Neary to Sittingbourne, while in defence, with Short now
player-coach, Hurley superseded Bowler and Hackney-born Stan Anslow came
in at full-back, with the long-serving Fisher moving to Fulham.
new men met with mixed success, and although Millwall finished fifth
they were never real challengers for promotion. The Den was usually
proof against challengers—the champions, Bristol City, were one of the
three teams to win there—but Millwall were rarely a force away from
home. Prior faded after scoring in four of his first five games, while
Pacey and Summers were industrious rather than inspired, and Ramscar,
like Tommy Brown a few years earlier, failed to ally finishing power to
the end of the season surprising cracks began to appear in the defence,
which was beaten five times at Watford and by the leaders at Bristol,
and also conceded two fours.