Millwall 1945 – 1964
By David Prole
“Rise like 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.
Over 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.
The 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.
They breed powerful lungs down New Cross way, and the derision penetrates. You have to be a ninety-minute man to satisfy this colourful crowd.
Sometimes 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.
The 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.
They 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.
Millwall 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.
Visiting 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.
Even 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.
Although 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.
As 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.
As 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.
Among 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.
Millwall, 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 next stage.
Summing 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.
Two 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.
The 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.
There 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.
At 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.
“Never 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.
The 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.
Newport 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.
There 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.
Held 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.
With Nottingham Forest having won promotion, the four teams who had followed them home in 1950-51 disputed the title the following year.
Plymouth 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.
The 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.
Millwall 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.
In the end Millwall had to be content with second place, when three more points would have given them the championship.
Malcolm 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.
The 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.
It 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.
Soon 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.
Newcomers 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.
The 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 midfield strategy.
Towards 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.
Most of the excitement came in the Cup, with narrow victories over Exeter and Accrington before a 3-1 defeat with honour at Bolton. This was an improvement over the previous year, when Millwall had lost to Southern League club Headington (Later renamed Oxford United) after a 3-3 draw at home
The Lions had done well in four seasons of the last five. They might have done even better had the archaic system of only one promotion place been amended, giving greater scope to clubs whose seasons tended to “die” after the Cup knockout. But the good days were over, for a time at least. Trouble was on its way down Cold Blow Lane.
The sale of Saward to Aston Villa (£10,000) was to prove a damaging blow, even though the money helped to offset rising costs and declining gates. Some four million people had defected from the country’s terraces in three years, and Millwall were well aware of it. But as so often happens the transfer strengthened finances at the expense of weakening the team. Saward’s departure took much of the constructive element from the half-back line, although Colin Rawson from Sheffield United was a hard worker in his place. Short was now feeling the pace of the Third Division, and with Hurley out for the rest of the season following a November injury, opposing forwards had unaccustomed freedom. In spite of the efforts of Finlayson, Jardine and Anslow, the club conceded 100 goals, the highest in their history. Several heavy defeats included two by Ipswich—5-0 at Portman Road and 6-2 in London—with little Wilf Grant hitting a hattrick in both.
In January, soon after a 4-1 Cup defeat at Northampton, Hewitt was dismissed from his post as secretary-manager. The sequel was a court case and some distasteful publicity: in July 1957 Hewitt won his action and was awarded £4,500 damages for wrongful dismissal.
Without him the team battled on for the rest of 1955-6, and the reward came when a closing spurt enabled the last two positions to be avoided. The three closing games were all won, Gillingham and Orient (the champions) being beaten 5-0 and Norwich 1-0, so that Millwall finished twenty-second out of twenty-four. Shepherd, who had missed nearly a year’s action through injury, came back to play a vital part, and London-born Joe Tyrrell from Aston Villa scored eleven goals in only twelve games late on. The total of eighty-three included twenty-four from Summers, the club’s best post-war individual return to that stage, while Jardine scored eight penalties in eight attempts.
Ron Gray, formerly the trainer, became manager in time for the start of 1956-7, which turned out to be another year of League trouble, redeemed this time by Cup glory. Finlayson was transferred to Wolves, and as with Saward left a gap which proved difficult to fill. Tony Brewer, promoted after several seasons in the reserves, conceded seven goals at Torquay, where Jardine missed a penalty, and five at home to Aldershot the following week, with the result that he lost his place to Bill Lloyd, who had been born almost in the shadow of the club’s stadium. Hurley’s recovery from injury steadied the defence, and right-half George Veitch, a native of Sunderland, took over from Short. In attack Gordon Pulley from Oswestry came in for Prior, sold back to Newcastle, and Shepherd, unusually free from injury troubles, played in every game.
League results were often disappointing, but all was forgiven as a result of the Cup exploits, when the sudden switch of Anslow from full-back to centre-forward brought a surge of scoring activity.
Brighton (after a replay), Margate, Palace and Newcastle were beaten in succession, with Shepherd scoring six and Anslow five of the twelve goals obtained. The Newcastle game drew a record crowd of 45,646 to the Den to witness a tremendous battle, with Millwall well worth their 2-1 win over a club which had won the trophy three times in the previous six years.
With Arsenal and Spurs the only other London clubs left in round five, Millwall came in for more publicity in a month than they usually have in a season, most of it centred on Anslow. But the run came to an end when Birmingham won 4-1 at The Den. Back to the bread and butter of League football, Millwall ended the season in seventeenth place. Shepherd scored 25 League and Cup goals, and Anslow—who had only gone into the attack on the sale of Summers to Charlton—hit fifteen. But Anslow’s brief moment of glory was soon to end, for the 1957-8 season had barely begun when he broke a leg. And within a fortnight the continued demands for Hurley ended with Sunderland signing a £20,000 cheque: valuable money but an irreplaceable loss on the field.
Shepherd fell away, Pacey belied his name by his lack of speed, the veteran Johnson, so long a fixture, was clearly past his best, and two new forwards in Ron Heckman from Orient and Angus Morrison from Preston did not supply much punch.
Jardine, as consistent a back as any for several years, also lost his place, and twenty-nine players, the highest total in the Division, were called on during the season. Four of them were goalkeepers, sure proof of the gap left by Finlayson’s sale. Millwall conceded ninety-one league goals, and the sixty-three they scored were shared between as many as twenty players. Shepherd was top with twelve, one of them in the Cup. And there was no glory this time, a 6-1 rout at Gillingham following a narrow win over Brentford.
Gray’s resignation came on the first day of 1958, but not even the arrival of Jimmy Seed could disperse the gloom. Hopes of finishing in the top half and so qualifying for a place in the prospective new Third Division disappeared long before May, and in the end only goal average kept the club off the bottom. Eleven home games were lost, and Millwall conceded one seven, six fours and eight threes. It was a season to be forgotten.
A sequence of six wins and a draw early in 1958-9 took Millwall to second place in the new Fourth Division, and when November ended with a 5-2 win over York prospects were still bright enough. A week later, however, that score was reversed by Worcester City in a Cup-tie (they beat Liverpool in the next round) and from then on a decline set in. Only ten points came from the last twelve matches, so nobody could complain at the eventual position, ninth. Seed’s efforts to find a winning team resulted in the introduction of fourteen debutants. Some failed, but there was promise in the wing work of the 18-year-old Joe Broadfoot, and Dave Harper, only a year older, did well at centre-half.
Seed’s decision to relinquish the management, after a brief reign, was no surprise. He was over sixty, and his long service to football had taken toll of his strength. But he still kept his connection with the club by joining the board. His managerial replacement was Reg Smith, Millwall’s outside-left of the thirties. After the war he had managed Falkirk and Dundee United, and had been considering a coaching post with Charlton before deciding to take over at The Den.
No manager could have wished for a better start, as Millwall were unbeaten until the twentieth match of 1959-60, equalling Liverpool’s record run without defeat from the start of a season. Eleven of those first nineteen games were drawn, thanks to a strong defence in which Reg Davies from Walsall proved the club’s best goalkeeper since Finlayson. In the twentieth game he saved a penalty, but could not prevent Notts County putting a stop to the unbeaten sequence with a 2-1 win. A week later Bath City brought off a shock 3-1 Cup victory, and to complete a sad afternoon inside-right Joe Wilson, who had been signed from Celtic in the summer, was sent off.
There was an understandable reaction to this surprise defeat, but even so Millwall kept in the promotion race to the end, with Broadfoot a constant danger and veteran Alf Ackerman from Carlisle leading the attack intelligently. In the end, the arduous schedule facing a Fourth Division club proved too much. After beating Torquay on Good Friday the players made the long trip to Crewe on the Saturday and lost 2-0. Then came an even longer trek down to Torquay for the return on Monday, where a Davies penalty save earned a point. Five days later Millwall won a remarkable game with Chester: leading 1-0 with twenty minutes left, they finished 7-1 in front.
But another long trip on the following Monday ended with the leg-weary team losing by the only goal to Southport, and Watford, making the most of their games in hand, managed to beat the Londoners to the fourth and last promotion place.
Smith had the satisfaction of seeing his team score in forty of their forty-six League games and set a post-war club record of eighty-four goals – although no player managed more than two in any match.
Ackerman (18), Barry Pierce (17), Broadfoot (15) and Wilson (11) all got into double figures, and increased interest was reflected through the turnstiles, with the average gate up more than 3,000 to nearly 15,000. But the chance of promotion had been wasted.
Gates slumped remarkably in 1960-61: the average fell to 8,110 even though the club finished sixth and smashed the year-old scoring record. But Millwall were out of the hunt with some weeks still to go, and eventually finished ten points behind Bradford, who were fourth, and sixteen behind Peterborough, champions in their first League season. One outstandingly effective newcomer was Peter Burridge, signed from Orient. He scored thirty-four times, only three less than the club record, while David Jones, with his third League club although still too young to vote, succeeded Wilson and netted twenty-three. Broadfoot (13) and Ackerman (11) also helped give the attack its punch, but defensive failings pegged the team back.
Not long after a 6-2 Cup crash at Reading Millwall dispensed with Smith: chairman Mickey Purser was quoted as saying the club could not afford to keep him. Finances were in a parlous state, yet suddenly the crowds came back when Gray returned to take up the management again in 1961-2. The average of 11,511 was the best in the Fourth Division, as befitted the team which won the championship.
Champions of Division 4: Back Row: Obeney, Gilchrist, Davies, Pat Brady, Stocks, Ray Brady. Front Row: Broadfoot, Townend, Burridge, Terry, Jones.
The margin was close, for only one point kept the Lions clear of Colchester. But the title was a good way for the players to celebrate the abolition of the maximum wage. Burridge and Jones collected twenty-two goals each, the latter with the aid of several penalties as accurate as Jardine’s had been, while Pat Terry, a Lambeth man who had served several clubs, weighed in with thirteen goals in only seventeen appearances. In defence Davies again stood out, and the Irish brothers, Pat and Ray Brady, gave him good support. Harper, too, did well until injured against Accrington and put out for the rest of the season. As the Lancashire club resigned from the League soon afterwards, Harper’s injury did not count—in theory!
- Having played their way out of the Fourth Division, Millwall divided supporters by selling Burridge to Palace for £10,000. Even a title-winning team had to sell to live, and the move deprived the attack of its main danger.
Little Joe Haverty from Arsenal brought a touch of character to the left wing, and Broadfoot, Jones and Terry all played their parts well, yet Millwall were soon out of the running for further honours. The spectators preferred Third Division football,
with the gates going up to 13,368, even though the club could finish no higher than sixteenth. Scottish full-back John Gilchrist was flown over from his Army unit in Germany for several games until breaking an ankle, but two other newcomers in Jim Towers and Arthur Longbottom (who registered his name as Langley to avoid the evil wit of the Den crowd), both ex-Queens Park Rangers, had little success.
Troubles came thick and fast in 1963-4. The popular Brady brothers were sold to rivals QPR and the defence not adequately reinforced until Brian Snowdon’s arrival. One bright spot was the signing of Alex Stepney from Totting After the first home game had been won, the next seven were lost in a row, and after a fall out with the manager, Broadfoot was sold to Ipswich for £16,000. The spectators had seen enough and demonstrated against the manager (banners proclaiming “Gray must go” had been in evidence at one match) and had their way in November.
Ron Gray’s successor was his namesake Billy, the former Chelsea, Burnley and Nottingham Forest player, who could hardly have had a tougher prospect for his first managerial role. Five days before his appointment the club had been knocked out of the Cup by Kettering, losing 3-2 at home after a 1-1 draw.
Several newcomers (Nine) boosted the total of players called on during the season to thirty, and Millwall often seemed on the verge of drawing clear. But it was not to be. The last two games ended in defeat (Hurley’s brother Chris made an ironic debut in scoring against his own side in the second of them) and in the end Millwall could only look on from the Loftus Road stand as Barnsley took a point from Queens Park Rangers to save themselves and doom the Lions to the drop.
As May came in Millwall put fifteen men on the transfer list: preparations were quickly in hand for another rise and a dramatic rise it was to be.