Its Saturday, Its Cold Blow Lane, We've all come down to cheer.......
'Dirty Den' was a regular headline in the Sun or Mirror during the late 1980’s. They were not talking about Leslie Grantham, but about Millwall’s humble football ground.
Visiting players and supporters and journalists hated it. In truth for most of the time, so did the home fans. However the ground somehow had a persona of its own that even the press picked up on. Night games had their own special atmosphere. The approach for visiting and some home supporters to the Ilderton Road end was through a sinister dark unsurfaced car park on top of a disused railway embankment. The other end of the ground was not much better as the top end of the narrow cobbled Cold Blow Lane disappeared into an industrial wasteland one way and into a dark dank tunnel under the railway the other way.
Things were not much better once inside. The Den was a plain ground, two sides were concrete terraces built up on earth banks with pitched roofs covering only the rear third. The Ilderton road end was similar looking, but a concrete, brick and steel framed stand built above the ground containing an abandoned supporters club bars. The hill where the Old New Cross Stadium stood had an excellent free view into the ground and was nicknamed Jews Hill. The club put up high advertising hoardings to spoil their fun. The Main stand was small, with plenty of stanchions holding up the low-pitched roof to block your view.
The worst view was reserved for away fans. With no room outside the ground, the flood light pylons rose out of the terraces. The away end was tucked away in corner; the view was obstructed for years by a huge concrete base and the floodlight pylon itself. Then to comply with safety regulations, a six-foot high metal palisade fence, painted bright yellow was added to the pylon base. It wasn’t till 1991 that any away fan thought of suing Millwall for failing to point out that the view was obstructed.
When it rained, there was usually room for the crowd on the terrace to bunch up at the back to keep dry. A few fans with Golf umbrellas would stand down the front, blocking the view of the goal line.
The seats made up around 10% of the grounds pre-GLC’s restricted capacity and were often only half full. My rare visits to seats were confined to reserve team games, sitting towards the Ilderton Road with the soundtrack of running water from cisterns of the urinals at the back of the away section.
The floodlights, inadequate for coloured television, gave the terraces a dark foreboding look. The fans were volatile and had a reputation and the ground reinforced the outsider’s view of the fans.
Visiting the toilets conferred membership of the swimming and diving club as the recessed floor channels overflowed. The Hamburger stand positioned in front disguised the aroma with fried onions.
We put up with all the privations, because it was the norm and football was cheap and one good result made it all worth it.
New owners took over in 1986, money began to be spent on ground improvements, new crash barriers, resurfaced terraces, a TV gantry, new catering booths, improved toilets, new seats, improved steps, new floodlights, new turnstiles and a new exit. Around a Million pounds was spent and yet the ground looked hardly any different.
Most were welcome changes, however the addition of a Family Enclosure stand plonked down on the most popular standing area, ended the decades long practice of being able to move around the ground and stand behind the goal we were attacking. The new rotating spikes on the fences did lend the place a Stalag Luft 13 feel.
In the late 80’s a little bit of success came our way and crowds rose from 4,000 to 18,000. No longer did you have a crash barrier all to yourself, now there were crushes, surges and swaying. Suddenly talk was that we had outgrown our home and a move was on the cards. After some futuristic designs were rejected, the chairman said we were going to build a bread and butter ground.
Sentimental attachment to the old place grew in the final seasons, people romanticised the grim old days and remembered the good ones. Most still agreed with the move, but would dearly miss The Old Den. However for some, it was the end of the road, they were not going to set foot in the new ground, it wasn’t the Millwall they knew and loved anymore.
Whilst in the planning stage, the Taylor Report was published and the recommendations incorporated. However the cost had escalated so the capacity was to be reduced to just 20,000. Then someone from Ogden Entertainment Services convinced Millwall that The New Den could become the open-air concert centre of the world, by including a few more toilets, rearranging the turnstiles and marketing it as The New London Stadium.
With the new ground just round the corner from The Old Den and overlooked by two commuter railway lines into London, following the construction progress of The New Den was easy. When it was completed, first impressions were good. It looked big to us back then, excellent views form the upper tiers of the stands, good concourses with kiosks selling beer and Burgers, Pies, Hotdogs and Chips. Having a slash at half time no longer required a wet suit and the ladies were well taken care of in that department.
However the ground didn’t seem ours, the weren’t any signs indicating it was Millwall’s home, even the tickets said The New London Stadium, that was soon put right!
The main gripe was the ticket prices, behind the goal and in the lower tiers was reasonable, but the £20 for the upper tiers was huge increase for the halfway liners.
Losing the two home glamour pre-season friendlies and a 4-1 stuffing in the first home league game against Southend was a bad start, leading people to speak of a curse, we never should of moved, after all the stadium was built on the site of an old church. No further league defeats and a playoff appearance that season put paid to that theory.
A decade or so on, we began to feel at home again, away supports, players and Journalist hate the place, we’ve dropped the ‘New’ from ‘The Den’ and the rust on the crinkly tin has taken the shine off the stadium. Alas, we have to put up with the modern manifestations of football, loud pre-match music through the sound system, goal music, the Jumbotron showing MTV (Millwall Television), Under soil heating run for a week to ensure a Mickey Mouse cup game against Colchester is played in Artic conditions in front of 2,000 people, wishing they stayed home to watch Manchester United against Barcelona in the Champions League. But there’s no going back now to the old ways, my old calf muscles couldn’t take all the tip toeing required on terrace to keep sight of the goal line anymore!
Above: The Old Den fondly remembered as Millwall move on in 1993. Below The New Den