Millwall has always been super-league at violence but only minor-league at football. Until now. On Saturday this little south-east London club, which has tried harder than almost any other to overcome its hooligan problems, starts a new life in the First Division. Is this a fairy tale unfolding, or another football nightmare? Eamon Dunphy, former Millwall star, schemer and stalwart, looks backwards and forwards with affection and fear.
The last Saturday of the 1987/88 season was the greatest day in the history of Millwall Football Club. After 103 years of striving, the “Lions” were promoted to the First Division of the English Football League.
Until that Saturday it had seemed as if the club and its supporters would always remain the poor relations of the London Game – the only League club in the capital never to have reached the First Division. For the residents of Bermondsey, Deptford and New Cross, the game of football, as played valiantly but unsuccessfully by their beloved Lions, was a handy analogy for life itself. The First Division was like Mayfair – somewhere else, somewhere tantalisingly close that remained always just beyond reach.
The name Millwall, however, is known throughout Britain. To newspaper editors, football fans and sociologists, Millwall FC is synonymous with the social plague that is known in this country asFootball Hooliganism, and throughout the rest of Europe as the English Disease.
It is conventional wisdom that football hooliganism was born at Millwall sometime in the mid-Sixties. Even more damningly, there is circumstantial evidence to suggest that the most malignant strain of the hooliganism virus hangs in the air around The Den, Millwall’s home ground in the back streets of New Cross – a part of south-east London tourist don’t see as they make their way from Westminster via Tower Bridge to Greenwich Park, or out along the A2 to Dover.
It is with this stigma that Millwall will travel to Birmingham on Saturday, to meet Aston Villa in a First Division fixture which, for generations of south-east Londoners, represents the fulfilment of a dream. In the months ahead when the Lions visit the rich mansions of the English game – Anfield, Goodison Park, Highbury and Old Trafford – a smile of wry contentment will settle on the faces of Millwall fans who are more familiar with such venues as Darlington, Crewe, Halifax and Bolton, where the dream is of survival rather than glory.
The visits to The Den of the great English clubs, Manchester United, Liverpool, Spurs, Everton and Arsenal, will see a simple sporting dream realised even more gloriously. Sadly, however, English football is no longer simply sport. Saturday afternoons are the occasions of sin. In railway stations and carriages, city streets and motorway service areas, the noxious fumes of drink and incipient violence radiate from gangs of men whose presence threatens everyone within their reach.
Season after season, things get worse. Fears become reality, and the reality is death, destruction and, most recently during the European Championships in West Germany, national shame, as men who learned the strategies of warfare on English Saturday afternoons sought to conquer mainland Europe.
For all of this Millwall stands, for many, as a symbol. And that is why its year of sporting dreams may yet turn out to be a nightmare. Anyone hoping to understand football hooliganism, and England’s failure to deal with it, should start at Millwall’s Cold Blow Lane, or in the narrow Victorian streets that lie in its shadow.
I played for Millwall for eight seasons from 1966-73. Football hooliganism as we now know it began around 1966, the year England won the World Cup. That the birth of modern soccer hooliganism should coincide with England’s finest footballing hour is but one of many ironies in this story.
In March 1966, three months before Alf Ramsay’s team won the Jules Rimet trophy, I played for Millwall in a vital promotion game at Queen’s Park Rangers. We were seeking promotion from Division Three. Rangers, with their new signing, the young vibrant Rodney Marsh, were a place behind us in the Third Division table. Loftus Road was packed. Marsh scored his first ever goal for QPR, who went on to slaughter us 6-1.
During the second half of this match, an incident took place that became the subject of one of the first “Football Hooligan” stories in the national press. Some-one on the terraces flung a coin – an old, pre-decimal penny which struck our centre-forward Len Juliens on the head drawing blood. Len picked it up and flung it back at the crowd.
Following this disturbance, a QPR official warned via the public address system that the match would be abandoned if there was any more trouble. As this would have invalidated the game and caused a replay, it constituted an obvious invitation to a group of about 30 young Millwall fans, who promptly invaded the pitch.
(Millwall-Histroy Comment:- Eamon is not quite right here. Most of the QPR goals that day had been marked by celebratory pitch invasions. The announcer had warned the crowd that if there were anymore pitch invasion the game would be abandoned. This was just to much temptation for some Millwall fans to resist, who promptly invaded the pitch and sat down in an attempt to get the game abandoned.)
Before the days of barbed wire, spiked railings and cordons of policemen, pitch invasions were child’s play. On this March afternoon, order was quickly restored when Millwall manager, Billy Gray, took the microphone to urge the “hotheads”, as we then thought of them, to acknowledge Rangers as “the better team on the day” and leave the field. They did.
But a minor wound had been inflicted on Millwall – and yes, it is possible to argue that it was through this small cut that the virus of football hooliganism entered the body of English soccer. In the next game at The Den, smoke bombs were thrown at the Cold Blow Lane end of the ground. Millwall made the headlines again …and yet again following an outbreak of fighting at Oxford the following month.
I remember that day at Oxford. For the first time in my experience the police were out in force. In those days the team travelled by train, and the fans travelled with us. The decent supporters, plus a small group of young toughs, numbering no more than two dozen, were met by about 20 policemen who escorted them on foot through the town to the Oxford United ground.
On this day the hooligan was noticed, his presence felt, and he grew a little in stature. Saturday afternoon shoppers in a provincial English town were ushered off the pavement by the forces of law and order to allow the London Boys – the Millwall Boys – free passage to our game. If Margaret Thatcher, or the Football Association’s chairman, Bert Millichip, or Colin Moynihan, the Minister for Sport, want to understand the origins of England’s current national shame, then they might do no better than reflect on that day in Oxford – what happened, and what might have happened in another society or, perhaps in the England of another year. This was Sixties England, the Permissive Age. Thus a small band of aggressive young men were not intercepted at Oxford Station and sent back to where they’d come from, but rather permitted to go about their business: to seek gratification through the incitement of rage, disgust and fear in others.
In the beginning, football hooliganism was about notoriety. The Millwall Boys found that by banding together, being uncouth, “taking over” a town centre like Oxford, pulling a communication cord or two on the way home from matches and chanting a few slogans, they could make national headlines. They discovered something else as well: that society at large was prepared to tolerate their behaviour – a tolerance which was reflected in the hands-off policing, the fact that football clubs were still prepared to accept their money at the turnstiles, and the derisory £10 fines imposed on those who found themselves before the magistrates. A tenner was a small price to pay for getting your name in the papers.
Over the next few seasons, gangs of football hooligans sprang up all over England. The Millwall Boys had invented a new sport. They were pioneers for a generation of comparatively affluent young men for whom there was no war to fight, and no National Service; who roamed from the ugly shadows of urban ghettos, where alienation from the glossy materialism of the late Sixties was a demoralising fact of life, to take their place in the glamorous, then fashionable, world of the Glory Game. It was Millwall’s misfortune to be the first club infected.
The club was founded by Bermondsey dockers in 1885 and had always had a rough and ready image. This was south-east London, a shady province of slightly dodgy characters. In the late Sixties the notorious Richardson gang had only recently been removed from the “manor” where popular myth had it they were folk heroes. This was also the corner of London that spawned Oswald Mosley, and where during its brief flirtation with electoral success the National Front polled up to 2000 votes in certain boroughs.
It was, therefore, not too difficult for the popular press to make the case that there was something in the air at Cold Blow Lane that was unique to Millwall and its supporters, some generic link between hooliganism and this some-what impoverished Second Division club. The Myth that was to haunt Millwall had been born, And like, many myths, this one proved to be self fulfilling. When the bovver boys from Birmingham, West Ham, or any other Football League club sought to prove their virility, it was to Millwall that they turned.
Twenty-two years on, the programme notes for Millwall’s penultimate home game of the 1965/66 season – shortly after QPR and fortnight after the Oxford incident – makes poignant reading: “Once again we are seriously perturbed by the irresponsible behaviour of certain groups of unruly teenage supporters. This sort of thing must be stamped out for the good of Millwall and the game. We are not exaggerating in any way the unruliness of these young people. Even our own genuine supporters have been shocked and shamed by their behaviour and unless it is nipped in the bud now decent civilised supporters will stay away and this is something we cannot afford to happen.”
But who was to nip it in the bud? On this crucial question, society at large and those responsible for running in football were at odds. Football men claimed the hooligans were society’s problem, inflicted on an innocent sport. Leader-writers and politicians urged football to “get its house in order”. And thus, give or take a rhetorical flourish here and there, matters still stand in 1988. Only the hooligan have changed. For into the void where authority might have stepped to enforce its will has emerged a new breed of hooligan, a sophisticated urban terrorist as different from the hotheads” of ’66 as the SAS is from the Territorial Army. By 1977, when mobs of Englishmen wrecked the centre of Luxemburg, football hooliganism had gone international. The route to the Heysel Stadium in Brussels, where 34 people died at the 1985 European Cup Final between Liverpool and Juventus, had been mapped out.
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Jeff Burnige is 41, the owner of a property and investment company based in Windsor. He has witnessed the destruction of English soccer from a number of different vantage points. As a four-year-old, he watched Millwall from the not-so-grandstand at Cold Blow Lane. His father Herbert, a successful chartered surveyor with a firm in Mayfair, had been born in the old Guinness Buildings at Snows Fields, a far from-salubrious comer of Bermondsey.
Herbert Burnige loved his football, his Lions and their dilapidated Den. His Saturday afternoon, every second week, was as much pilgrimage as sport. Herbert’s father had been a docker, and Millwall, the docker’s football club, was for this successful Mayfair man a cause – a losing cause, but one that bound a community together because the sense of loss was shared, as much a matter of concern to Herbert as to the stevedores at the Ilderton Road End.
In 1969 Herbert Burnige accepted a seat on Millwall’s board, and his son Jeff watched the matches alongside him in the Cold Blow Lane directors’ box. Herbert was a quiet man, untypical of most football club directors. He didn’t seek the reflected glory of press publicity but often took the players, whom he regarded as friends, to dinner-boxing at the Grosvenor House Hotel in Park Lane. The odd footballer in financial difficulty would be quietly slipped a few quid to see him through. Herbert was the ideal patron: in love with the game, respectful of its practitioners, and unobtrusive. The symphony he wanted us to write was not so much for him as for the Millwall fans.
What he wanted was promotion to the First Division. His son Jeff was rather more intrusive, a young man who had opinions about the game which he didn’t hesitate to express. His passion sometimes irked the hardened pros in the Players’ Room: hell hath no irritation like a director’s son with an idea!
An era passed at Millwall in the spring of 1972. Having won our final home match against Preston, we thought the dream of First Division football had been realised at last. Ten minutes from the end of the match, as we were coasting home 2-0, news reached a packed Den via someone’s transistor radio that our promotion rivals, Birmingham, were losing at Sheffield Wednesday. The news spread like brushfire, and the celebrations – both on and off the pitch – reached a crescendo as the final whistle blew.
We were hoisted shoulder high to the dressing room, where the champagne was noisily opened. Outside, on the terraces and in the grandstand, tears of joy were shed. Millwall would never again be “the only London club never to have played in the First Division”.
Our joy was brief. The dream lasted just 10 minutes. In the corner of the dressing room, a radio broadcast the familiar signature tune of Sports Report. We listened for the news from Sheffield to be confirmed, set in a stone by the BBC. The voice was deceptively bland. “Birmingham were still on course for promotion,” we were told. They had won at Sheffield.
Our captain, Denis Burnett, picked up the radio and smashed it against the wall. How typically Millwall to enjoy the briefest stay of all time in the First Division.
Something died in each of us, in every Millwall man that day. Within a year, most of us had left the club. Another year passed before Herbert Burnige succeeded Mickey Purser as chairman. Mickey was the past. He owned a car showroom on the Old Kent Road, and was slightly mysterious. From the terraces it seemed that Purser represented the Millwall of tradition – the club that had no real ambition, that always sold its best players (and bought West Ham’s cast offs); the club that didn’t really want promotion to the First Division because it would cost too much money. Occasionally the plate glass windows in Purser’s car showrooms would be smashed late at night.
Herbert Burnige set out to change things once and for all. He began by hiring Gordon Jago, a bright young football manager with progressive marketing ideas.
Together, Jago and Burnige tackled the “poor relations” problem, and and the by now well established myth that something dark and ugly lurked beneath the surface at Cold Blow Lane.
Jago even suggested that a name change for Cold Blow Lane, to Montego Bay, because he said it projected the wrong image. When that proved impossible, he tried glasnost.
By 1977, football hooliganism was fundamental to English Saturday afternoons. The disease had been exported to Europe and was a recurring item on the news pages – and always the name of Millwall was somehow invoked.
Jago decided on a bold initiative; he invited the a BBC Panorama team investigating the English Disease to bring their cameras down to Cold Blow Lane.
Jago’s three years at The Den had transformed the club’s image. There was little of substance to this – just a general sense of cleanliness, a smart new strip, a bright newsy club magazine and a manager who was articulate and plausibly ambitious.
The vibe was good: Millwall’s supporters were perceived to be among the best behaved in London and there had been no outbreaks of hooliganism for years. Jago saw the Panorama documentary as an opportunity to kill the Millwall Myth.
Alas, the BBC was seeking to prove a theory: that football hooliganism was more than just random violence, that it was linked to the fascism of the National Front, and that the malignancy in English football, which by now was infecting the nation at large, was rooted in Millwall Football Club.
The National Front’s “national activities organiser”, Martin Webster, was interviewed to lend substance to this claim, and pictures of his supporters selling fascist literature outside The Den – something never witnessed before or since – were transmitted to the nation.
When the club and local policemen saw a preview of the film they begged the BBC not to transmit it. The story was false, a perverse and sickening distortion of the truth. Glasnost proved disastrous both for Millwall and for Jago, who resigned shortly after the Panorama programme was transmitted.
Myth and reality finally fused for Millwall three months after the broadcast. In March 1978, a full-scale riot broke out at The Den during an FA Cup quarter-final against Ipswich. Fighting began on the terraces, then spilled out on to the pitch and into the narrow streets around the ground. Bottles, knives, iron bars, fists, boots and concrete slabs rained from the sky. Dozens of innocent people, real Millwall fans, were injured.
Among them was Joe Hale, a 72-year-old Den regular who stood, blood pouring from a head wound, a bemused and broken symbol of a club and a sport terminally ill.
For Herbert Burnige it was too much. He resigned as chairman, saddened beyond words, though he kept his place on the board. He died in 1983 – a decent man whose lifespan hadn’t been prolonged by his love of Millwall Football Club. During the last five years of his life, Herbert had seen Millwall, disgraced and demoralised, tread the old route between Divisions Two and Three, bleak territory rendered even more desolate by the barbed wire and spiked railings that now surrounded his beloved Den, and by the penury that threatened the Football League in general and Millwall in particular.
Herbert never conferred a directorship on Jeff, his passionate son. Nepotism was not his way. It was up to Jeff to observe and learn, and graduate to the boardroom on his own merits. In the course of doing this, the young man coached Ulysses, London University’s second team, to some considerable success in the hinterland of the amateur game.
A year before he died, Herbert had found a wealthy builder and property developer, Alan Thorn, who was seduced on to the board by dreams not dissimilar to those which, 13 years earlier, had drawn Burnige himself to the Glory Game.
Thorn vowed to spare no effort – and no money – in realising the First Division dream that was now 98 years old.
By March 1985, immense progress had been made, at immense cost. An able manager, the former Scottish international George Graham, had led the club to the top of the Third Division. Promotion looked assured. And Millwall had reached the quarter-final of the FA Cup, an achievement that evoked two images in Millwall’s past: the dreadful carnage of the Ipswich game in 1978, and a more glorious and inspiring day in 1937 when the club reached the Cup semi-final by beating Derby County at The Den. It was on the latter that imaginations lingered as the Millwall fans travelled hopefully to Luton on Wednesday evening, March 13,1985.
The date will be recalled in any history of English soccer ever written. The glory at Kenilworth Road that night, a distinction of unimaginable horror, belonged to a mob some several hundred strong, the elite of London’s football hooligan gangs who infiltrated the 17,470 crowd. They arrived in Luton early, drunk and armed with weapons now familiar in every town and city on the bloody Football League map. Even more deadly, they brought with them a conviction in the strength of their own authority, a sense of belonging to, and identifying with, the game of professional soccer. Theirs was the presence against which all other things paled – the pitiful pleas of Football Association and Football League, the wringing of Westminster hands, the strictures of the leader pages and the deep probings of the sociologists.
A grim fortress had been erected, but the barbed-wire, steel fencing and video cameras which were designed to keep the hooligans out served only as props in their theatre of violent fantasy. The police the extras in this show, a challenge to the heroes manhood – like the props essential to the plot but easily goaded and easily overcome.
The statistics of the night don’t serve to convey the truth of what took place. Of the 81 people injured, 31 were policemen. Thirty-one men were arrested, appearing at Luton Magistrates Court the following morning the majority of them identified selves as “fans” of London clubs than Millwall.
The game was halted as early as the 14th minute, when the referee, David Hutchinson, himself a police inspector took the teams off for 25 minutes when trouble (mainly fans escaping overcrowding and spilling onto the pitch) behind the Kenilworth Road saw hundreds of spectators on the playing area. The match was finally completed – Luton won 1-0 in an atmosphere that was heavy with a sense of impending violence. It erupted when the final whistle blew.
An elite squadron of London thugs drawn from all corners of the capital invaded the pitch as the players sprinted for the dressing room. The scenes that followed were described in a live report phoned from the Luton press box to his London newspaper by James Murray: “As a life-long Millwall supporter I could stand in disbelief as I watched the riots And I felt like crying. Children around me clung to their parents in fear; women and pensioners vowed never to go to a football match again.”
“Seats were torn out of the stand and hurled on to the pitch. They became weapons for the invading fans who hurled them again at police. The scenes before me were ones of open bloody warfare.”
“Police who had fled from the rushing fans regrouped, drew batons and charged in waves until the enemy had been driven back into the terraces and in to the stands.”
“And as the police began winning that battle, more so-called Millwall support began tearing out seats in the opposite stand and hurling makeshift plastic spears on to the pitch.”
“As I watched policemen led off the pitch, dazed and bleeding, and a superintendent lying in the centre circle writhing in agony, I was reminded of the Brixton riots.”
“As a true Millwall fan it was impossible not to feel shame, not to feel sorrow for the game of football. And not to despair at how low life had sunk; for these were not fans, they were not people, they were animals.”
These were the pictures shown on British Television that night, and subsequently around the world. The hooligan had enjoyed his finest hour. In 20 years he had grown from the yob breaching the Saturday afternoon peace of Oxford to a character if international renown – wanton, brutal, threatening and insatiable.
For the pictures that night showed policemen fleeing for their lives, Sergeant Colin Cooke was one who didn’t escape. He was caught in the centre circle of what had once been a sports arena, and beaten on the back of the head with a concrete block. He stopped breathing but was resuscitated by a colleague, PC Phil Evans, who courageously stopped to the kiss of life. Evans himself was hit by the concrete, and kicked and punched even as he tried to save his friends life.
Just as Joe Hale, the pensioner bloodied after Millwall’s previous FA Cup quarter-final in 1978, had symbolised his time, Policemen Cooke and Evans offered football and the watching world an image of social evil that was even more compellingly wicked. Next day, Neil Kinnock blamed government policies and unemployment. Margaret Thatcher spoke of Victorian values, apportioning blame to family backgrounds and lack of discipline in schools. David Pleat, Luton’s manager whose team had reached the FA Cup semi-finals, was left “feeling empty”.
The Football Association’s was the most absurd reaction of all: Its commission of inquiry was “not satisfied that Millwall FC took all reasonable precautions in accordance with the requirements of FA Rule 31(A)(II)” and was therefore guilty! A fine of £7,500 was levied and various other largely irrelevant measures imposed. (Though some semblance of common sense was retrieved when the financial penalty withdrawn on appeal.)
Luton finished Alan Thorn, as the Ipswich match had finished Herbert Burnige. He was now in bad health – a circumstance “not helped”, he now reflects by the emotional strain of running Millwall Football Club. He was also emptying his personal bank account, to the accumulated tune of several hundred thousand pounds. For what?, he began to wonder. Within 12 months, Alan Thorn left Millwall and England for a peaceful life in southern Spain.
Ironically, Millwall won promotion to Division Two just six weeks after the horror of Kenilworth Road. Around the same time, having reflected on the riot that wrecked his club’s football ground, and when it surged through the town later that night, smashed cars, houses and shops, forcing people to cower behind locked doors, David Evans, Luton’s chairman announced a members-only scheme that would effectively ban all away supporters from Kenilworth Road. If for evil to prevail it required only that good men do nothing, Evans wasn’t going to be one of those who stood aside. This sane, courageous response assured that Evans, then a prospective Tory candidate, and his club, would be harassed and pilloried by football’s other 91 League members, and those who chronicled the game’s affairs on the back pages of newspapers.
The sense of football as a sport domed by a combination of its administrative ineptitude and darker forces in society was heightened in the weeks after Luton: 56 people died when the Victorian grandstand at Bradford erupted in flames during the club’s last home league game of season. This tragedy, too, was seen live on television, providing a watching nation with shocking proof that professional soccer offered not merely the prospect hooligan violence but the even deadlier threat of accidental death in grounds that were hopelessly unsafe. Football’s despair was completed by the tragedy at the Heysel Stadium a few weeks later.
Millwall’s celebrations of its new Second Division status were muted. New safety regulations would cost the club £lm, much of which would have to come from a bank account already worse than empty; Alan Thom would soon be leaving, George Graham, the manager, would have no money to buy players. Indeed, as Thorn had decided to recoup some of the money he had invested, players would have to be sold. When John Fashanu, the team’s best player, left to join Wimbledon towards the end of a difficult season, Graham accepted the offer to manage Arsenal.
For a few weeks in early July 1986, it seemed possible that Millwall FC would simply disappear. The debt was £4.9m. There was no manager, and only eight signed professionals. Alan Thorn, considerably poorer, had bought his one-way ticket to Spain.
One man who still cared was Herbert Burnige’s son, Jeff. He went to reserve team matches, followed the youth team’s progress, knew about that promising youngster who’d signed last year.
Now, in the summer of 1986, he applied the kiss of life to Millwall. He persuaded Alan Thorn to leave the club debt-free in return for some land adjacent to The Den. Reg Burr, a city financier friend of his father’s, and Brian Mitchell, a London public relations consultant, joined Jeff to form a new three-man board with working capital of £100,000.
John Docherty, a “resting” coach with a record no more than competent, was appointed manager. And thus, with a young inexpensive team, survival was achieved in the 1986/87 season.
Jeff Burnige shared with his fellow directors a conviction that there was a way around the hooligan problem – giving the club back to the fans by involving the local community in a radical new way. Enter, in the summer of 1987, the London Borough of Lewisham and its Leader, Councillor David Sullivan.
Between 1984 and 1987 Millwall had been sponsored for £20,000 a year by the London Docklands Development Corporation, who saw the deal as a way of gaining acceptance in the local community. Lewisham capped them with an offer of £70,000 a year for four years, and thus became the first local authority in Britain to enter a sponsorship agreement with a professional soccer club.
On Millwall’s part, the deal involved opening a crèche on match days at The Den, wearing the council’s logo on the team shirts, distributing 250 tickets for home games among the old and needy in the borough, sending players to visit schools and community associations, and participating in Lewisham’s anti-racist drive. The arrangement also gave the council a seat on the club’s board. Lewisham’s nominee was Councillor Sullivan.
Millwall also acquired £600,000 from another new director, Peter Mead, an advertising man from the London agency Abbot, Mead, Vickers. Like his fellow directors, Mead was a fan and a believer in the idea of community football.
The manager, John Docherty, and his assistant Frank McLintock, used the money wisely and to remarkable effect. One afternoon in May this year I joined 15,000 other Millwall fans at The Den to celebrate a remarkable sporting achievement: 103 years after they set out, two years after almost ceasing to exist, the Lions made it to the First Division. Promotion had been assured on the previous Monday night at Hull. This last home match of the season, against Blackburn, was the party.
Men cried, including this one. No story is more poignant in its simple sporting context. It is the story of Jeff Burnige and his father, and generations of others like them, lovers of a cause that means much more than sport. Football is about communities, families, identity, a sense of place, a sense of being.
Even today, even in English football, this is true, and nowhere truer than at Millwall… except, perhaps, at Luton.
David Evans and Luton Town stand isolated in the Football League of 1988, a club which has restored the sense of family and community to soccer by banishing those who would desecrate one of lifers most innocent pleasures – a day of recreation shared by father and son, boyfriend and girlfriend, workmates and neighbours.
At the end of a season during which society spent an estimated £30m in a vain attempt to combat the menace of football hooliganism, the officer in charge of policing at Luton, Chief Supt Glyn Spalding, of Bedfordshire Police, said he was “bemused and frustrated” by football’s unwillingness to accept the evidence of Luton Town’s successful members-only project.
One of the most disingenuous among the many reasons advanced for not adopting Luton’s scheme is that the hooligans will go elsewhere within the community to satisfy their lust for violence. Chief Supt Spalding disputes this. Once there were no visiting hooligans, he says, the local thugs “lost their reason for existing” in Luton, and “there has been no general increase in hooligan-associated crimes elsewhere in our community”. Luton once more is a peaceful place on Saturday afternoons.
So, for a while, was south-east London on the day Millwall held their party last May … until nightfall and drink changed the mood. Every Millwall home game sees up to 400 policemen deployed to keep the peace, and there were heavy reinforcements on the streets of Deptford, New Cross and Bermondsey on promotion night. For a few hours, the lid was kept on. At 8pm, Jeff Burnige and Alan Thorn’s son Byron, with the manager John Docherty in an open-topped car, paraded the Second Division Trophy in triumph along the Old Kent Road.
They saw no violence. But they didn’t hang around. If they had, they might have noticed the couple of pups smashed up at the end of the Old Kent Road the police couldn’t cover. (As it happened, the pub landlords didn’t want to talk about these scenes. Next year First Division football will bring bigger crowds to the area If you talked, you became a target. Know what I mean?) Nether did they see the £1,100-worthof damage done to the tiny Kentucky Fried Chicken shop in Tower Bridge Road, or the beatings inflicted on its staff.
Last January, Millwall appointed John Stalker to advise them on policing matters. Stalker is not convinced about the Luton solution, although – unlike most others in football – he does acknowledge that it is worthy of consideration. He foresees another scenario in which, as they have been all along, Millwall are the victims of football’s institutionalized hooligans. One Saturday in the coming season, he fears, the self-fulfilling prophecies about Millwall and its fans will produce a major outbreak of violence on the Luton/Ipswich scale. As a result, the club of ill repute will be banished from the First Division, and maybe even from football itself. The Football League will thus be seen to be Doing Something. On June 27 this year the Millwall board met to consider this and other possibilities. They decided to follow the majority rather than Luton, and set great store on their relationship with the Borough of Lewisham. Councillor David Sullivan agrees with them. He was present at the critical board meeting, and I asked him afterwards if the welfare of his community might not be more important than the First Division dream.
‘The hooligans would go elsewhere to do their damage,” he said. The Luton experiment was “a victory for the thugs”. Football had to think “positively and constructively”. And promotion night? “It was like any Friday night down the Old Kent Road,” said Councillor Sullivan.
One might have been listening to Bert Millichip, the FA chairman, who presides over the game’s cherished consensus. Or worse, reading an article published in The Times a few weeks ago, written by Conor Cruise O’Brien, a liberal/socialist thinker from the permissive age that gave birth to football hooliganism. O’Brien proposed that football hooligans should be given the run of empty stadia, provided with free drink and allowed to fight to the finish.
Thus do facile voices offer us the logical extension of what we already have: Institutionalized violence on an unthinkable scale.