Marshall Cavendish were publishing an Encyclopedia in weekly parts
entitled "Book of Football". When they got to Millwall they
were scathing, Indeed it heralded the start of the No One Likes Us culture.
Life with the Lions
Twenty minutes from the end of the
Second Division match between Millwall and Preston at The Den on
Saturday 29 April 1972, the 20,000 crowd suddenly erupted, singing and
dancing and shouting. Nothing had happened on the field to cause such a
Club captain Harry Cripps thought it
meant that Birmingham were losing at Sheffield Wednesday. If that was
right, Millwall would be in the First Division for the first time in
their 87-year history.
Cripps jigged round the pitch.
"We're up," he told the Preston players. "We're in the
First Division." Millwall were leading Preston 2-0. There was no
danger of their losing. If Sheffield Wednesday could keep their lead for
a few more minutes Millwall, not Birmingham, would be joining Norwich in
the First Division later that year.
On-the-field skipper Dennis Burnett
was less convinced. "I wasn't going to believe it until I knew for
sure," he said. "Those last few minutes were agonising. We
played on in a dream. It was the longest 20 minutes ever for me."
The twenty or so journalists crowded
in the tiny press box were mystified. They knew the score from
Hillsborough. Birmingham were leading, not losing. Millwall manager
Benny Fenton, sitting in the dug out, also knew the score but his voice
could not be heard above the hubbub.
As the end of the game approached, the
crowd jammed the touchline, waiting to cheer off the Millwall players.
The pressure behind Millwall's goal was so great that the woodwork began
Centre-forward Barry Bridges ran back
to appeal to the fans to be patient. When the referee blew for the last
time - suspiciously early - half the 20,000 crowd stormed on to the
pitch. Cripps was carried aloft and some of the other players lost their
Fenton slipped round to the dressing
room. He knew that the headiest crowd scenes ever experienced even at
The Den were based on mistaken information. Millwall were still a Second
Division club unless Birmingham were to lose their remaining match at
Orient the following Tuesday.
Two minutes later the correct score
from Hillsborough was announced and the crowd fell silent and faded
In the Millwall dressing room Fenton
broke the news to his players. The tension Fenton had experienced in
that last hour - so near to a lifetime's ambition - came to the surface
in interviews with journalists, whom he accused of having started a
rumour to make a good story.
"Photographers came round to take
my picture," he said. "It was a put-up job. This is a cruel
game without that. Those boys of mine are in there now with broken
He almost came to blows with one
reporter, who walked out vowing never to come to The Den again. But
Fenton's rage was understandable, if misplaced. And the remaining
journalists were able to convince him that no such information was put
out from the press box.
How the rumour began will probably
never be known. But with a crowd such as Millwall's it is not hard to
picture a joker or two launching the false news for sheer devilment.
After all, worse things have been done by the fans at The Den.
Chairman Micky Purser vowed he would
not be going to Brisbane Road on the Tuesday to see Birmingham's last
match. "I couldn't sit through that," he said. But Fenton went
and so did some of his players. Orient manager George Petchey said his
team would be going all out to win, not to help Millwall, but to prove
to themselves they were a good side.
Birmingham, whose support in the
packed crowd exceeded that of Orient and Millwall put together, took a
lead and held it. Some fifty Millwall fans ran on to the pitch in the
second-half hoping forlornly that the match might be abandoned. Fenton
accepted his team's fate stoically. "Good luck to Birmingham,"
he said. "They deserved it."
The evening was not over however.
Minutes after the final whistle an announcement came over the
loudspeakers: "For God's sake get out of the main stand."
Police dragged people over the wall out on to the pitch. There was a
loud bang - a firecracker as it turned out. Police later explained they
had received a warning that a bomb was timed to go off minutes after the
end of the match. They could hardly afford to take any chances.
Millwall's tired players went home to bed, and that was the sorry end of
their best-ever season.
Had they really wanted to be promoted
with a staff of only 16 professionals? "Of course we did" said
Barry Bridges. "It would have been great."
Chairman Purser said the money was
available if Millwall had gone up. Weeks later Fenton paid a club record
£44,000 for Alf Wood, the Shrewsbury striker. Purser praised Fenton's
work. "He's all on his own you know," he said. "He does
the coaching himself and he's also the general manager."
Fenton, a former Millwall wing-half,
took over as Millwall manager in 1966. He was not immediately
successful. After one particularly bad result hooligans stoned Purser's
garage in the Old Kent Road. For the next few home matches police had to
guard the premises. Purser talked of quitting, so great was his disgust,
and this led to another unsubstantiated rumour, that singer Tommy Steele
was to become a member of the board.
New Cross, near London's dockland, is
one of the city's toughest areas and Millwall's fans do not exactly have
a good reputation. Dockers, not noted for their gentility, form a large
section of Millwall's support, and the dockland character reaches even
into the boardroom. Director Bill Nelan is the proprietor of a fleet of
Thames barges, three-quarters of which are named after Millwall players
and one is even called 'Promotion'.
The club's history is dotted with
incidents involving troublesome spectators. The club have been fined
several times and even had their ground closed. The closures occurred in
1920, 1934 and 1950 after crowd disturbances, and in 1947 when a
spectator threatened the referee. Millwall supporters wrecked a train
returning from Norwich in 1967 and caused most of the coaches to be
taken temporarily out of service.
The Plymouth incident of January 1967
added to their reputation as bad losers. When Argyle came to The Den and
ended Millwall's record run of 59 home League matches without defeat,
the fans took it out on the Plymouth team, stoning them and smashing the
coach windows. The club were again reported to the League.
But the most publicised incident of
even Millwall's eventful history came on 14 October 1967, when referee
Norman Burtenshaw was knocked to the ground by a rush of spectators at
the end of the game against Aston Villa. Burtenshaw was assisted from
the pitch and later claimed to have been knocked unconscious. The League
fined the club £1,000, and Millwall agreed to raise the height of the
wall running around the pitch. The referees' association thought the
punishment was inadequate, and even threatened a boycott of The Den.
Download Interactive League Table for
Season 1971/72: Requires Excel 97/2000
Derek Possee, Millwall's
diminutive striker, soars above Bill Maddren of Middlesbrough
Not long afterwards (there were two
similar incidents not involving Millwall,) the pitch was invaded at
Plymouth and a woman attacked a referee at West Ham. In neither of these
cases did the League fine the home club. This, and other factors, made
the Millwall directors think they were being persecuted and they wrote a
protesting letter to the League.
Millwall's problems emerge nowhere
more clearly than in the character of their crowd's favourite
footballer, Harry Cripps. Despite the many fine players who appeared at
The Den in the sixties and seventies, despite the worthwhile efforts of
managers Gray and Fenton to give Millwall style as well as bustle, it
was still the boisterous, robust Cripps who unfailingly drew the loudest
Cripps has broken the club's
appearance record, has played for them in three divisions of the
Football League and has proved a match winner with his aggressive
running from left-back and his more recent appearances as tactical
No sight is awaited with keener
anticipation at The Den than that of Cripps jogging on to the field to
rescue Millwall from a sticky situation, no moment more noisily savoured
than Cripps inducing a panic-stricken melee in the opposing goalmouth.
The fans even invented a unique ape-call chant to accompany the more
frenzied activities of their hero. Many a side has been unhinged by the
Millwall have played at a number of
grounds. When the club, known as Millwall Rovers, was formed in 1885
they played at Glengall Road, Millwall. At the end of that season they
moved to Manchester Road. Five years there were followed by a move to
East Ferry Road, then to another ground within 300 yards of the old one,
and finally on to The Den at New Cross, their present ground, which is
across the river from Millwall itself. In the early days the crowd were
entertained by an old horned gramophone pushed around the ground on a
Millwall turned professional in 1890
and, four years later, became founder members of the Southern League,
which they promptly won two years in succession. Millwall were founder
members of the Third Division in 1920 and their early years were
In 1926-27 Dick Parker set up the
existing scoring record of 37 goals. The following season Millwall were
the Third Division champions with a record 65 points and 127 goals
(still the most they have scored in a season).
The outstanding players in that era
were Parker, Jack Landells, Jack Cock and 'Peanut' Philips, and, when
they left, the club fell back to the Third Division (1934).
Charlie Hewitt, the new manager,
stopped the slide in 1936-37 when Millwall became the first Third
Division club ever to reach the semi-final of the FA Cup. In four home
ties they beat Fulham, Chelsea, Derby and Manchester City, finally
losing 2-1 to Sunderland in the semi-final at Huddersfield.
The forties and fifties was a
depressing period for the club, and in 1957-58 they finished last but
one in the Third Division South and so dropped into the new Fourth
Division the following season.
Ron Gray took them up in 1961-62, but
they were relegated again in 1963-64. Gray was sacked midway through the
relegation season and replaced by another Gray, Billy Gray, the former
Chelsea and Nottingham Forest winger. The younger Gray was a tremendous
enthusiast and in 1964-65 he took the team back into the Third, and in
1965-66 up to the Second.
Gray had some good players on his
staff - like goalkeeper Alex Stepney, later to be sold to Chelsea for
£50,000, centre-half Bryan Snowdon and centre-forward Len Julians.
Between 1964 and 1967 Millwall set up that remarkable unbeaten home
But the unhappy fact was that Gray had
been unsettled for sometime before he left at the height of his success.
He was a man of strong moral principles, who would not even allow his
players to swear. He insisted that Millwall play the same educated
soccer that he himself had enjoyed with Nottingham Forest's 1959
Cup-winning side. The Den fans, strongly addicted to he-man tactics, did
not meet with Gray's approval, and the state of his relations with some
players was betrayed by disputes.
Since Fenton took over in 1966 he has
tried to give Millwall a new image. He has succeeded on the field.
"I've not got one kicker in the side," he said. "I won't
have anyone who won't play fairly."
But despite all his hard work, the
dapper Fenton has yet to erase the popularly held belief that going to
Millwall is rather daunting . . .really like going into the Lion's Den.
Alan Dorney thwarts the challenge of
Bob Hatton of Birmingham.