Super Den: Successive Millwall Chairman unveiled plans to Develop the Den...
The Original Super Den Idea March 1979
In March 1979 Millwall Chairman Len Eppell announced that Millwall had agreed a £12 million deal with Asda to redevelop the Den and the adjoining derelict site of the old New Cross stadium which was demolished in 1975.
The Den Circa 1962 and the adjoining New Cross Stadium which was demolished in 1975

The Den would become a 25,000 all seater stadium, all under cover and parking for 750 cars. It would be part of a complex which would include a Leisure Centre, Ice Rink, two Cinemas and a 42,000 square foot Supermarket.

Planning permission was granted in 1980, but by October the project floundered due to problems in the shape of complicated pattern of land ownership, the cost of diverting a gas main (£400,000) and the deepening economic recession.

In March 1981 Asda announced they had pulled out of the scheme.

New Chairman Alan Thorne a property developer by profession tried to  revive the deal with Asda in a few months later.

The Lions and the Miracle by Colin Benson (Nov 79)

There is a breath of fresh air sweeping through Cold Blow Lane these days, a new feeling of optimism, an underlying belief that Millwall are on the verge of something big. And it is not just the teams encouraging start to the season that has given South East London fans a new lease of life.

Although the Den - sandwiched in a corner of London's run-down dockland - does little to stimulate any airs or graces of grander things to come, there is beneath the austere surface of a decaying stadium, a homely atmosphere cloistering a collection of people who love the club and understand its problems. These men of vision have dreams of the 'Lions' performing in a modern luxurious stadium, dreams that they are now on the way to fulfilling.

The development project proposed for the club is being done in conjunction with Associated Dairies who intend building Millwall an all seater stadium that will have a capacity of between 25,000 to 30,000 people.

Incorporated in the scheme will be a leisure Centre and a shopping arcade, which will virtually mean that the complex will be in use all week.

“If we get that it will be the miracle we need, not only to get up in the First Division, but to make this blinking place a great club,” declares George Petchey. 

The Millwall manager has done as much as anybody to make this vision possible. A sincere professional with a deep sense of loyalty, Mr. Petchey inherited a club cowering beneath the shadow of a hefty bank overdraft. His remedy was to sell a lot of the older established stars and concentrate on the clubs youth policy which was initiated by his predecessor, Gordon Jago

This strategy turned up trumps. The young Lions won the coveted F.A. Youth Cup last season and the Millwall boss says that he has got ten players he could put in the first team. As it is five members of that youth team have forced their way into the senior side already, Chris Dibble, Tony Kinsella, David Mehmet, Kevin O'Callaghan and Paul Roberts.

Now the need to improve the clubs facilities is of paramount importance, and the quietly mannered George Petchey highlights some of the frustrations he has to contend with when he says, "This club has been in existence since 1885 and we have not even got a training pitch.

You might laugh, but I find it absolutely incredible. “I can go to a 4th division club in Denmark and look around and wonder at their facilities. We played a club who had 86 members and attracted crowds of about 500. They have 16 pitches, at least 5 squash courts, sauna baths, everything you can think of that will help a football club to exist.” 

“Then you come back here to Millwall, probably one of the oldest established clubs in the country, and we have not even got a practice area. All we have got is what you can see, decrepit terraces that are falling down. I would not think that anything has been done to the stadium since they started.” 

“We are supposed to be very professional, know all about the game, have the best managers, the best coaches and the best league, yet you can go to all but the top dozen clubs in the country and you will find that they have not got the facilities.” 

Mr. Petchey's heartfelt sentiments are I am sure the feelings of countless managers all over the country. At least, at Millwall, it seems that something is going to be done about it, and at an estimated cost of £10 million it seems a sound investment for the future.

Lions enjoy this Thorne in their pad: The man whose heart and money is in Millwall   (Nov 81)

Alan Thorne, the chairman of Millwall, is about to spend nearly £1 million of his own money on the redevelopment of The Den. 

Mr. Thorne is obviously a very wealthy man, but even very wealthy men are loath to commit such sums to a business as precarious as football. I've long believed that the only way to make a small fortune in football is to start with a large one. 

Why then is Mr. Thorne devoting so much time and money to a club that came close to extinction a year ago? 

“You don’t do everything in life simply for financial reward,”  said Mr. Thorne, a life long fan who took over at Millwall last March. 

“Friends think I’m mad. As a kid I used to go to Millwall every week. There's always something about the place, something deep inside me...It's hard to explain. But I’ve always wanted to do something for the club." 


Thorne is a 54-year-old property-entrepreneur whose family has been associated with Millwall since the club played at the isle of Dogs in 1903. 

Despite his wealth, he remains first and foremost, a fan, whom one suspects would be just as happy on the terraces as observing boardroom niceties. 

I was at The Den for a recent match when the floodlights failed. The fans beneath the directors box looked up for an explanation and he immediately joined in the banter with cracks like "We've obviously forgotten to pay the electricity bill again !" 

In fact, the one thing he has done most diligently since taking over is pay the bills. Eight months ago the club had debts of nearly £500,000.

“I've cleared nearly all the debts," said Thorne. "The creditors have been paid."

"The only amount outstanding is the disputed figure of £83,000 which Fulham claim we owe them for Chris Guthrie”.

"When we bought Sam Allardyce recently we paid cash on the nail. It was £90,00,but I think more clubs should do business that way." 

Apart from his near £1 million contribution towards two new stands at The Den, Thorne has also personally guaranteed a bank overdraft up to £800,000 over three years. He is currently arranging to increase that figure to £1 million. 

He has told player-manager Peter Anderson that his ambition is to get the club into Division One within five years. Anderson no longer has to sell prayers to balance the books.

The benefits are obvious. The club is, currently third in Division Three and my guess is that they will still be there, challenging for promotion, in five months' time.

The redevelopment at The Den involving Lewisham Council , and the Yorkshire based Associated Dairies, took root before Thorne's reign as chairman began.


But it has been his vigor, ambition and attention to detail that has seen the project develop from the planning stage to the point where work is due to start next April-June.

As he had taken all the risks he felt, understandably, that he should have a bigger shareholding.

“I had 51 percent of the shares and negotiated with my fellow directors to increase my holding to 90 per cent," he said. 

"I took over the debts that had arisen before my arrival. I felt that it wasn’t right that I had to find all the money and take all the risks and have only 51 per cent of the club.” 

This means, of course, that in the future, Thorne could offer shares to other businessmen if he  wanted to strengthen the existing board of directors. "I'm not saying I would do that," he said. "It's just an option." 

• THORNE......the man who pays the bill

Quite frankly, Millwall's future looks rosier than it has done for years. ASDA are building a surperstore, carpark and roads, the council are contributing £800,000 towards a recreation centre and Millwall are building two new stands.

"The recreation centre is going to be a terrific amenity for the local community”, said Thorne. 

“Millwall will be granted a lease on the centre and it will be run by us. Our new West Stand will probably hold 3,000 seats and at the opposite end, we're going to have another all-seat stand for 7,000. They should both be ready by the end of next year.” 

“I just want to we the club rise in stature. My relations helped build the ground. I'm just bringing it up to date.” 

“It's a very exciting time for the club and the local area. The sickening thing will be if, at the end of the day, we are still getting only 5000”. 

In fact, Millwall's crowds this season  reflects the growing  mood of optimism at the club. 

They are nearly 50 percent up on the corresponding period last season.

Millwall, the unfashionable club from London's dockland, have never played in Division One. That may sound an improbable dream-but it's one that the tenacious Mr. Thorne could turn into reality.


Super Den 1981: Statement by Chairman Alan Thorne in Programme v Brentford 28th December 1981

Associated Diaries will also this time commence construction of their new Asda Superstore together with an extensive car park with spaces to accommodate 740 cars.

The recreation centre will be administered by Millwall and its inclusion in the ground improvement scheme in this way is the result of close co-operation between Lewisham Borough Council and the Club's directors. 

All these new facilities will be available for the use of fans, sports enthusiasts and of course shoppers by the end of the 1982/83 playing season.

The scheme should bring in much needed revenue and help Peter Anderson in particular buy any extra players needed to strengthen the team which hopefully by then will be in the Second Division and have its sights set firmly on Division One.

I know many of you are concerned that you will have to pay more money for the new seats and I would like to reassure you here and now that this will not happen. If this appeal is successful and we get a good response from our supporters. 

I have made up my mind that with the continuing increase in attendances there will be no increase for season 1982/83, but if we do increase charges these will be kept to a minimum.

We are one step nearer to achieving our dreams of the 'New Den’. After many months of protracted negotiations with Asda and the London borough of Lewisham, I am now optimistic the project will actually start April/June 1982. 

Agreement has been reached in principle between all parties and contracts are now being drawn up which hopefully will enable us to sign on the dotted line shortly.

All Lion’s fans have been kept in suspense since the scheme was first announced more than three years ago and in fact at one stage Asda even pulled out because of the current recession. 

However, happily we are now back on course and I believe that after so many disappointments the scheme will at last now go-ahead.

An immediate start will be made on the new Recreation Centre/West Stand complex with accommodation for 4,100 spectators to be known as Phase One and this will be followed by the new North Stand to be known as Phase Two, which will accommodate 7,600 spectators, all seated.

The North Stand will probably form the administration offices of the club and provide modern changing and other facilities for the players. At the special request of Lions supporters the Cold Blow Lane end terracing will be retained.

The final scheme will reduce the capacity of The Den to 22,000, but will give facilities for a new era at Millwall football club.

Like you I am keeping my finger's crossed that we achieve our own 'double' this season - promotion and a start made on the ground development. 

The latter incidentally will assume even greater significance if we go up. The Den in its present state will not meet the safety requirements laid down by the Football League for the Second Division and this would certainly involve us in considerable expense to bring it up to the necessary standards.

I promise in an earlier programme this season to keep you fully informed on the scheme. I am confident that the next news I have will be to tell you the actual date when the project starts.
 SUPER-DEN II      (Nov 83)
Millwall chairman Alan Thorne has disclosed a new bid to revive the club's Super-Den dream. The Lions chief is locked in talks with Lewisham Council aimed at getting the go-ahead for his all-new plans.

Thorne told me, "I have completely re-thought the original scheme. The new ideas are now going through. the planning permission stages" He added, "I hope to have agreement within the next three months."

Proposals to re-build the Den were unveiled by former chairman Len Eppel in 1979 and collapsed when backers Associated Dairies (ASDA) pulled out two years later.

Plans for the new look Den include:

• SPORTS CENTRE to be run by Millwall for the public;

• SHOPPING facilities housing a superstore and do-it-yourself centre

• PARKING for almost 700 cars.

The Ilderton Road end of the ground will also be re-built. Thorne explained, "I have spoken to many supporters and most tell me they prefer to stand behind the, goals."

"So the plan is to have terraces at that end, but they are designed to take seats easily if demand changes."

Thorne's first major hurdles is getting the scheme approved by Lewisham's planning committees which will discuss it on November 15 1983.

If Thorne gets the go ahead his next objective will be to persuade a retail outfiyu#'t to come in on the scheme.

He is preparing a detailed survey on the commercial possibilities of the area in an attempt to attract backers. A major stumbling block to the old scheme was the presence of gas and electricity mains on the site.

Under the former concept these would have cost £750,000 to re-route, but Thorne says he has devised a new approach which will involve far less expense.

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