Millwall 1964 – 1966 Back to Back Promotions
The following account draws from a number of sources but heavily from Lions of the South by James Murray….. The day after relegation to the Fourth Division, Billy Gray pruned the professional staff from 29 to 14. Amongst the unlucky 15 listed were Dave Jones, Pat Terry, Joe Haverty, Des Anderson, John McLaughlin breaking up the team built by Ron Gray.
“We must climb out of the Fourth Division or it could be the end of the club”, stated Chairman Micky Purser. During Millwall’s last spell in Division Four the average home gate was 11,583, whilst the away average was 6,022. At this time gates receipts were split, meaning they had to share their relatively healthy home receipts in return for a meager share of away gates.
To make matters worse the Fourth for season 1964-65 was almost totally composed of Northern and Midland teams with the only local clubs being Aldershot and Gillingham.
Millwall donned their new blue and white pin stripped kit for the 1964/65 season and the opening home game saw the team slow hand clapped as they fell 2-nil behind early on to Torquay, but the Lions fought back for a draw. The result would become significant two and a half seasons later.
An early season long term injury to Snowdon forced Millwall to reshuffle the defence. With no other recognised centre-half in the small squad, Gilchrist was moved over from full back to cover. This gave Harry Cripps the chance to established himself after two season at the Den, where he had played over 40 games but found himself captaining the reserves at the start of the season. Cripps was now handed the captaincy of the first team and made the number three shirt his own.
Millwall tasted success playing a long ball game with a couple of speedy of wingers, Neil and Rowan and briefly went top of the table after 16 games with a 2-1 win away at Bradford City with two goals from Billy Neil.
However a few weeks later the wheels seemed to have came off the wagon following a 4-0 thrashing at leaders Bradford Park Avenue. At home Millwall remained unbeatable dispatching Halifax 5-1 and Chesterfield 4-2. Len Julians scored Millwall’s only hattrick of the season in the win over Halifax and had two other efforts ruled out. Away from home, Millwall were struggling, and three further away defeats on the trot at Doncaster (0-4), York (1-3) and Brighton (0-2) meant that by Mid-January Millwall had lost six games and pick up a modest 11 points on their travels.
Millwall’s unbeaten home record with 9 wins and 4 draws kept them in the promotion hunt in 6th place. At this stage Millwall’s home record was overshadowed by Tranmere who had won their first 15 home games with 55 goals for and 12 against. Alex Stepney was beginning to make a name for himself, saving his fourth spot kick of the season in the 2-1 win over Lincoln on the 2nd January, two others had been previously missed.
Millwall had won through to round 3 of the FA Cup, beating Kettering and Port Vale at the Den and were drawn away at First Division Fulham. Things looked grim for the Lions as they fell two behind in first half before Curran cashed in on the keepers error to make it 2-1.
In the second half a Harry Cripps penalty was saved and it looked all over for the Lions when Stratton made it 3-1 soon after. Millwall hit back it the last half hour of the game. Whitehouse scored from 25 yards and near the end Whitehouse was on hand to score his second after another by Fulham keeper Macedo.
The replay on the Monday drew a crowd officially logged at 31,339, 10,000 greater than the game at Craven Cottage, but probably 15,000 greater as around 5,000 fans gained free entry via a broken gate.
Millwall took the game to Fulham, who had England Stars Johnny Haynes, Bobby Robson and George Cohen in their line up, despite a first half injury to Harper, which in the days before substitutes left him a passenger who was moved to centre-forward for nuisance value.
Some nuisance value he turned out to be as he latch onto a mis-hit Rowan shot to put Millwall into the lead. With Fulham leaving themselves open in the dying minutes in a bid to find an equaliser, Harper, passed to Rowan to wrap the game up and send Fulham out of the cup. There were so many satisfied customers hundreds of fans who had gained free entry through the broken gate sent the entrance money by post!
The result was a triumph for Manager Billy Gray who plotted Fulham downfall by allowing Cohen space to get forward as often as possible, tightly marking Robson on his deep runs and once they lost the ball, playing the ball quickly into the spaces the illustrious pair left behind. The team spent the entire week perfecting it in training and it payed off in the match.
After the game Robson, unable to believe what had happened told reporters: “It was thoroughbreds against donkeys.” On hearing this Gray sent a message back to Robson: “You’re right, the donkeys had two tries….and still lost!”
However after the Lord Mayor’s show Millwall let a 1-0 half time lead slip at the home to Third Division Shrewsbury to go out in the Fourth round. Out of the Cup and with inconsistent League form Millwall were slipping down the table.
Following the defeat at Promotion rivals Brighton, Millwall suffered two home draws against Oxford and Hartlepool, with a 5-0 win at struggling Barrow sandwiched in between but found themselves 7th in the table. (NB Hartlepool were known as Hartlepools United until 1968 then plain Hartlepool until 1977, then Hartlepool United)
The fans were becoming restless, convinced the club would miss out on promotion, formed a demonstration after the game against Millwall’s directors who had announced that heroes Harper and Gilchrist could leave the club.
This was hardly the time to visit league leaders Tranmere, who made 18 home wins out of 18 with a 1-0 victory. (Stockport were to end their 100% record in the next home game and Oxford were to beat them in their final home game.)
Gray improved the squad by signing two forwards Jim Ryan from Charlton and Micky Brown from Fulham and this combined with Snowdon’s return to fitness, propelled Millwall on an unbeaten run to the end of the season to clinch a promotion spot. Millwall won 9 and drew 6 of the 15 games scoring 27 goals and conceding only 7.
The run had been
tense with several promotion rivals to play. Billy Gray came out of his half season retirement to play at Aldershot and remained in the team for the last four games at the request of the players to ensure promotion was achieved.
Millwall had one game still to play after their promotion rivals had completed their fixtures, away to Notts County on Thursday 29th April. This game had been abandoned because of a downpour earlier in the season with Millwall leading 2-1. A draw would see Millwall promoted at the expense of 4th placed Tranmere, whilst a win would see Millwall go above 2nd place York with superior goal average. Brighton had finished as Champions on 63 points, 1 point beyond Millwall reach at this stage.
Curran was top scorer with 18 League and 1 Cup goals ahead of Len Julians who notched 15 League and 1 Cup goals. Alex Stepney kept up his remarkable run in goal with his second ever present league season on the trot. Millwall’s average home gate had dropped to 9,178 from 11,583 compared to their previous Fourth Division campaign and 10,443 from the relegation season.
Gray did not splash out in the close season, deciding to stand by the team that achieved promotion, although there were two additions. George Jacks, a forward signed from QPR and Bill Dodgin from Fulham brought in mainly as a coach but also as reinforcement to the defence
Millwall started the season with a 2-0 win at home to Workington, with Jacks becoming the first Millwall player to appear as a substitute, coming on in place of the injured Jones.
Millwall defence were looking the part at the higher standard keeping five clean sheets in the first six games. Alex Stepney was outstanding and attracting the attention of the top clubs and the England Manager, Gilchrist restored to the formidable defence with Cripps, Snowdon and Wilson.
Below: Mansfield Players Applaud Newly promoted Millwall onto the pitch at the Den before Millwall’s final home game of the 1965-66 season.He had a game to forget and was involved in three defensive mix ups which saw the Lions three down at the interval and beaten Millwall lost 4-1 at full time.
Millwall were out of luck to in the FA Cup. They beat non league Wealdstone 3-1 at the Den, but became one of non league cup giant killers Hereford scalps in at 1-0 defeat at Edgar Street. That December saw many games fall victim to the weather and Millwall played only once more before Christmas, a 1-1 draw at home to Walsall thanks to a Curran goal.
So like the Beatles with Day Tripper / We Can Work It Out, Millwall were the Christmas Number 1 and hoping they would not be coming down with the decorations. As was the fashion with league fixtures Millwall were given a double header around Boxing day. This year it was Big spending promotion rivals Hull City with the Lions traveling to Boothferry park on the 27th and at the Den on the 28th.
Millwall were beaten 1-0 by a 76th minute Ken Wagstaff goal in front of a bumper crowd of 40,231 at Boothferry Park, but thumped Hull 3-0 at the Den in front of Millwall’s highest crowd of the season so far of 17,184. With Millwall and Hull City neck and neck at the top of the table, Billy Gray decided to changes the team around.
Hugh Curran was sold to Norwich City for £12,500. In came 20 year old Irishman Eamon Dunphy, for £8,000, who had spent just one season at York City since his move from Man Utd. His signing was a risk in that he was not a straight replacement for Curran, more of a midfield playmaker, not the all action hero the Millwall crowd had come to love.
Gray had intended to make a double swoop, but the board refused to release the £5,000 needed to sign 21 year old Rodney Marsh from Fulham.
In a bold commercial experiment Millwall’s fixture at Workington (up in Cumbria near Carlisle) on Friday 28th January, the game was broadcasted back to the Den via close circuit Television on four giant screens.
Stand seats cost 12 Shillings each, the game was introduced by Danny Blanchflower, followed by a short film of Millwall training back at Cold Blow Lane, then live interviews with the managers and finally the match itself commentated by broadcaster Peter Lloyd with Ken Jones of the Daily Mirror.
The event was fronted by DJ Pete Murray, a director of Sportscast Television, whose proposed the idea. The crowd at Borough Park was 4,323 while 9,134 watched at The Den and cheered their side as if the match was being played there. The game ended goal-less and the only hitch throughout had been problems with Workington players who demanded and got a television fee.
Director Bill Nelan was so overcome by the spectacle he told the board that all Millwall’s away games should be covered the same way.
Despite the change in personnel, Millwall went on an eleven game unbeaten run the final game of the run being an extraordinary game at Scunthrope in March. In a ding dong game, Millwall took the lead through a Dunphy goal before going 2-1 down. Jones equalised for the Lions before Scunny went 4-2 up with 20 minutes left. Billy Neil made it 4-3 in the 76th minute and Ken Jones scored his second in the dying seconds to earn a 4-4 draw.
Millwall had slipped behind Hull in the race for the Championship but had a comfortable lead over the only other club in contention for promotion, QPR. The last weekend in March Millwall were at Loftus Road, where new signing Rodney Marsh scored his first-ever goal for Rangers after just three minutes and sent Q.P.R. on their way to a 6-1 victory. The game was continually held up by celebratory pitch invasions by Rangers fans.
The Tannoy announcer was instructed to broadcast by Match officials that the game would be abandoned if there were anymore pitch invasions. Being 6-1 down to their nearest pursuers in the promotion race it was too good an invitation to Millwall fans who poured onto the pitch and sat down.
With the police and QPR Officials at a lost of how get the game restarted, Millwall Manager Billy Gray took the microphone and appealed to the Millwall fans to acknowledge that Rangers were the better team on the day, but it would be Millwall’s year for promotion. It worked and the Millwall fans returned to the Terraces and the final few minutes were played out.
On the team Coach returning from the game, Manager Billy Gray took exception to remarks made by a director and resigned as a matter of principle. Gray was persuaded by Chairman Purser to stay on until promotion was assured.
When news leaked out of Grays resignation it was rumoured to be only partly true and the real reason having more to do with an earlier argument with the Board over making money available to sign players, with the Marsh saga being mentioned. Gray wrote in the next programme: “In the latter stages of the game I made a broadcast appeal to try and preserve the good name of Millwall F. C. Certain unruly elements of our supporters had encroached on the ground after a warning had been given that the referee would stop the game if this continued. Although some people may not agree, I think I did right, because if games are going to be abandoned due to the behaviour of supporters then we might as well pack up now.”
Things began to look tight with QPR winning the their next two games 4-1, whilst Millwall won at home to Brentford and drew away at Bournemouth. That left QPR Seven points behind with Four games in hand.
However Millwall maintained their nerve and in results throughout April won Five and drew Two of their Eight games, whilst QPR won Two, drew Two and lost Three of their Eight games. However trouble seemed to be following Millwall around, smoke bombs were thrown at Cold Blow Lane during the Brentford game and at Oxford fighting broke out within the ground.
In the Table Millwall were One point behind Hull but had played One more game and Eleven Points clear of QPR who had Seven games to play compared to Millwall Three. That meant Promotion was in our own hands, with three points needed due to our superior goal average.
Millwall’s 4-1 victory over Walsall at Fellows Park saw Millwall promoted 12 Points clear of faltering QPR who had lost at Grimsby. However Hull were still matching Millwall’s results to stay One point clear.
When Hull only drew their game in hand at Bournemouth there seemed to be a chance of a Championship Trophy, but Gray stuck to his principles and departed now promotion had been won. The players had written to the board asking them to reconcile their differences with Gray, but the board did nothing to talk him out of it, and he became Manager of Brentford.
Millwall appointed former Orient manager Benny Fenton, a former Lions player. His first game in charge saw Millwall win 2-0 against Mansfield to go back to the top of Division on Goal Average. Hull then won 2-1 the next day at home to Peterborough and secured the Championship with another home win, 1-0, against Southend before Millwall played their final fixture away to Grimsby, now meaningless, which they lost 2-0.
The final fixture saw Stepney rested and Gambrill given another chance, within days one of his host of first Division admirers came in for him and Stepney was off to Chelsea for a record fee of £50,000. Since joining from Tooting and Mitcham at the end of the 1962/63 Season, Alex had played in 137 consecutive League games, keeping 51 clean sheets.
Millwall had the meanest defence in the division and were able to field their strongest line up in most games, with Stepney making 45 appearances, Gilchrist 46, Cripps 45, Jones 43, Snowdon 43 and Wilson 44. Up front veteran striker Len Julians appeared 45 times and top scored with 22 League and 2 Cup Goals. Millwall’s average home gate was a healthy 13,919 and they had remained unbeaten for a second successive season at the Den.
This Story was taken from the Millwall-history site which if you’ve never looked at it then its a must see site.
written by a Millwall fan for all Millwall fans