I recently moved to Dog Kennel Hill Estate. It’s between Dulwich and Peckham, in South London. The nearest professional football club is the infamous Den-dwelling Millwall FC. And so, with uncharacteristic trepidation, I’ve been to a few games, including the 2-0 win over “boutique football club” QPR last Tuesday.
Seeing Millwall is… amazingly good fun. Where I expected a repressive, scary miasma, I instead found a liberating atmosphere. It is, undoubtedly, the most communal football experience I’ve ever been part of.
Millwall fandom is spectacular, extravagant, dramatic. The chaotically compiled group identity is profound, loud, and has a discernible effect on the team. And, most importantly, it is relatively unique – a dash of heterodoxy in the homodox world of blandly commercialized football.
Millwall is what a lot of other clubs’ fans secretly wish they were.
I can’t claim an exhaustive empirical basis, but from what I’ve seen Millwall have a far more defined group identity and enjoyment of the footballing ritual than any comparable club.
This is a club that historically yo-yos from second tier to third. A club that has spent a mere two seasons in the top division. A club whose biggest achievement was losing the 2004 FA Cup final. In short, they are unsuccessful – especially compared to the few clubs who moribundly dominate English football.
But Millwall fandom seems to partially wriggle out of that logic. Not entirely – they cheer goals, they bemoan decisions against their side etc. But Millwall exists above and beyond the “sporting” hierarchy of being shat upon by the Manchester Uniteds, the Liverpools et al. Which all clubs do, really. But at Millwall there is a tangible sense of existing for themselves. “No-one likes us, we don’t CARE!!!”
Too many other clubs that size meekly beg, “Please like us and offer a few crumbs…?” Well, fuck that! Millwall provide the beginnings of the two fingered salutation – we exist for ourselves – that the rest of football deserves.
In terms of identity, Millwall are up there with the most successful clubs, which when you think about it is quite staggering. Those clubs have a lot to shout about – they’ve won football’s Harsh Economic Reality lottery. Millwall haven’t. So, I applaud them for Being. They are a great socio-economic anomaly, but so very social.
Former Millwall chairman Reg Burr described his club as “a convenient coat peg for football to hang its social ills on.” They should instead be a coat peg from which other clubs and fans hope to hang their own ambitions of a grand, encompassing and fun (!) ritual.
Racism – Was worried about this, but haven’t heard a peep. Not even when new pantomime villain Danny Shittu played up to the role on Tuesday. And the home fans cheered the shapes pulled by a half-time urban dance performance by a group of kids from a local estate. This is not the nightmare Millwall of people’s wild imaginations.
The Roar – This is surely the greatest (and most deconstructed) football chant I’ve ever heard. The crowd basically start screaming. It makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. It whips around the stadium, like a disordered Mexican wave of Bermondsey banshees. It is worth a trip down the Den for this alone. I’m told it evolved from a simple chant of “Millwall!” Absolutely splendiferous. This video doesn’t do it justice: