Millwall: It’s A Father And Son Thing
Father-son relationships are tricky things. Without the benefit of that maternal instinct, extra effort is often required. These days it’s called ‘bonding’. ‘Modern men’ can read all the magazine articles and watch all the daytime telly they like to make sure the relationship with their son and heir blossoms. But what do you do when you’re one of the old school, working twelve hours a day back in the seventies and finding the demands of a young child a hell of a lot more than you bargained for?
I was a little sod in my early years. Dad was from a generation that simply did as their parents told them and he couldn’t understand why I was such a handful. As I progressed into my teenage years our relationship suffered. We disagreed and argued over virtually any subject. It was always a great source of upset to my mum. We simply didn’t see eye to eye. Common ground was virtually non-existant. Conversation was thin on the ground and another argument never far away. This was more than simple father-son growing pains, there were times when it seemed we totally resented one-another’s very presence.
There was however one thing we shared.
One Autumn day in 1979, Dad was getting ready to leave our flat in Balham to make the short trip to watch Millwall. In an attempt to give my mum some relief from trying to amuse me in his absence, he decided (against his better judgement he felt) to take me along. He was certain the idea would prove to be a disaster. I’d get bored, play him up and he’d have to bring me home early. But at least he’d have tried.
Saturday September 1st 1979 at home to Carlisle United. A seat in the main stand, after being lifted over the turnstiles. The smell of cigarette smoke. The noise. The roar when we scored. All still with me to this day. A one nil win courtesy of a goal from seventeen year old Kevin O’Callghan. A glossy green programme as a souvenir which never left my grasp all weekend. The day had been a success and Dad congratulated himself on initiating his only son into the family tradition of supporting The Lions.
We became regulars on the Cold Blow Lane terrace. He enjoyed regaling me with tales of previous legends, both players and managers: Hewitt, Hurley, Billy Gray, Burridge, Fenton, Julians, Billy Neil, Eamon Dunphy. The 59 game unbeaten home run, the heartache of missing out on promotion in 1972 when my birth was just weeks away. I couldn’t get enough information out of him. I was full of questions and he loved imparting the knowledge. He’d shake his head and smile with pride, marvelling at my enthusiasm to follow in his football fan footsteps. It felt good. We had something here, something special. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it was more than just father and son sharing an interest in football.
Success was thin on the ground in the first years of our shared support. The Petchey and Anderson eras meant that the terraces were a lonely place at times and few games lasted long in the memory. For me, performances on the pitch were incidental. I used to love standing with the other kids at the front of the Cold Blow Lane terrace, desperate to get autographs. Even if it was only Bobby Shinton, Nicky Chatterton or Andy Massey.
At the age of eight and nine the complexities of league tables, promotion and relegation were a bit beyond me. I knew we played in the Third Division – and that there was only four to choose from, so we obviously weren’t up to much because defeat was more common than victory – and that was about it.
I do remember the enthusiasm that greeted the start of the 1982-83 season when Peter Anderson brought in a huge number of players in an attempt to get the team promoted. We took our places for the first league game of the season against Cardiff expecting to witness an all too rare glory season get under way. We lost 4-0 and it was to prove an introduction to exactly what following Millwall was all about. I was dumbfounded, Dad just shrugged. “That’s Millwall” he laughed. He’d seen it a hundred times before.
I also remember, later that same season, his excitement at the appointment of George Graham as manager. The name meant nothing to me but Dad was mightily impressed and was certain success would now come. That season gave me my first taste of real drama following The Lions as we battled against relegation and I started to study the league tables and permutations of up and coming fixtures. For the first time I took my place further up the Cold Blow Lane terrace to add my voice to the Lions’ roar next to Dad. The pandemonium that followed a narrow 1-0 over Brentford was my first real taste of what Millwall was REALLY all about. Sharing that with Dad made it extra special.
Away games were followed from home via LBC on his little radio and the win at Chesterfield that kept us up weeks later was greeted with us both dancing around the room in delight, with my mum looking on, wondering what was going on.
Promotion two years later was unforgettable. We had now moved to the halfway line, as a result of my pestering that it afforded a better view of both goals. Dad happily relinquished his lifelong habit of standing behind the goal on the Cold Blow Lane terrace to keep me happy. My Thirteenth birthday money was spent on a season ticket for the 1985-86 season – all £32 of it! I was now hungry to attend away games too but dad was less keen to give up entire Saturday’s travelling after enduring the weekly commute. To his credit he felt it unfair to make my mum a total Millwall widow and insisted that, unless it was for an extra special game, he was strictly home games only. After much nagging, he agreed to let me go to Fulham away on my own on Easter Saturday in 1986. The first thing on my mind as I reached Victoria station after the 2-1 win was to find a phone box and tell him all about it. What I neglected to tell him was that, in a fit of fury at what seemed like Fulham’s last minute equaliser, I stormed out of the ground – only to miss The Lions’ winner deep in injury time. It was a mistake I never made again.
I set my self a challenge to get him to away matches and managed to con him into coming to Sheffield United with me in 1987. I’d only been allowed to go that far because ‘a friend’ was coming too. This friend ‘let me down at the last moment’ and Dad felt obliged to accompany me. He was full of a cold and spent the freezing three-hour train journey up to Sheffield glaring at me and shaking his head in disgust. There was no heating, no refreshments. This was travelling away Millwall-style. We won the game with a last minute O’Callaghan goal and he talked about that trip for years afterwards, admitting how thrilled he was to have been roped into it after all. It felt good. Dad had taken me, now I was returning the favour.
Try as I might, I couldn’t persuade him to share the long coach journey to Hull to see us clinch promotion to the top flight for the first time at the end of that season. I begged him to share our team’s greatest moment with me but “he couldn’t leave Mum on a Bank Holiday Monday” – or risk a late night with work the next day.
In memory of Vic Payne 1938-2007
Courtesy of Merv Payne