GONE are the days when bricks would be thrown at former chairman Micky Purser’s car showroom window on the Old Kent Road.
But animosity between Millwall fans and the board has been high for much of the club’s
There are still voices raised. Price ticket rises, bans, sponsorship issues – and failing to sign Cristiano Ronaldo and 10 other players like him – will always ensure that at every football club.
But the favourable, if occasionally tense, relationship between the two sides these days can be largely laid at the door of fan-on-the-board Peter Garston, even if he would not take the credit.
The company director has been at The Den’s seat of power for 10 years now.
And it is unquestionably a position which has benefitted both sides.
Despite their reputation, Millwall fans, when spoken to thoughtfully and courteously by one of their own, are unlikely to lose their tempers, as Garston will testify.
“The most important thing is that I am able to speak to whoever is relevant to the issue I am dealing with,” he said.
“The biggest change since I started 10?years ago is transparency.
“There can be a problem because once you answer one person’s question, he will come back with another. They don’t always like the answers they get. But I can guarantee there is not
“Often, people can fail to see the bigger picture – for example, I have had someone insisting the club should put up a new scoreboard immediately. But they have not thought about the £100,000 cost, and the effect that would have on season ticket prices – either that or a cut in the wagebill, which would hit the squad.
“If fans want us to buy big-name players, the money has to come from somewhere.”
Garston has been open and honest
throughout his tenure. But some things cannot be disclosed, however much fans clamour for it.
The shirt sponsorship deal with Euroferries last season was a risk but throughout the season the club hoped something good would come of it.
It was only once the deal was finished that chief executive Andy Ambler could reveal why it was signed and why it would be curtailed one year into the five-year contract.
Fans regularly want updates on:
l The regeneration around The Den by
l Ticket prices
l Away travel
l Ejections and bans
l Player salaries
But if the information is not available out there, about the wagebill and targets for
example, Garston would not pass it on or make it public. The alternative avenue, for non-player issues, is Millwall Supporters Club. But, like Garston, it is run by volunteers, most of whom have full-time jobs and family commitments.
“I hold a lot of information which cannot be put out,” said Garston. “I can criticise staff myself or bring things to people’s attention – in the marketing area or the shop for example. I can speak directly to the department involved. But without me being there, it would have to be dealt with by the MSC, and with the best will in the world, that will take longer.
“Perhaps I have not done myself a favour by reacting to every single person who gets in touch, because when I am not available, or no longer doing it, things will take longer.
“I do not go on the internet any more because then you would go mad trying to sort out every issue. But I do reply to every single email I receive. I have dealt with two in the last four days.
“If it takes weeks, temperatures can rise as people get impatient for an answer – I can stop that happening.
“If I cannot talk directly to staff straight away, I can send them an email and my queries are likely to be answered.
“That way there is no ‘He said, she said’ mullarky – because I am speaking directly to the people concerned.
“I have always found staff very professional and there have not been many problems that could not be resolved.”
Successful ventures Garston is proud of include the flags above the Barry Kitchener Stand. He said:?“They were getting tattered about seven years ago and Andy Ambler said they cost £600 each and the training ground needs a new ice-making machine. The club had more important priorities.
“I said why doesn’t the MSC pay some of the cost – so it ended up paying for half of it, with the club footing the bill for the other half.
“I can also help scotch mad rumours – like when a Millwall fan was hurt at a Bristol City game years ago. I was able to say what had happened and head off a potential flashpoint.
“But the behaviour of fans cannot always be an excuse for our revenue not being what it could be. The staff can’t keep blaming that.”
The job has changed drastically since he started.
At first, he was part of the football board, though not the holding company which owns it.
“But John Berylson said the first time he chaired the plc that he trusted me and there was nothing he did not want me to know,” revealed Garston.
“When I came on the board, the rift between the fans and the directors was much greater. I have a feel for what the fans think because I have been one a long time – and I have been doing it so long.
“I believe the time I have put in has helped. I have only missed one or two board meetings since I started, and that was due to ill health.
“It is not easy. I take up to 15 days off work a year to go to board meetings.
“I get a discount on hotels because I am
booking at the same time as staff. But I pay all my own bills and expenses. But as a result get to have proper conversations with the other directors.
“I am not getting cosy with them – I will always be true to myself and what I believe the fans would want to convey to the board.”
What happens next is very much an open question. But one thing is certain: Garston
cannot be relied on indefinitely.
“I will serve another two seasons and then step down,” said Garston, who is the director of development and training of an engineering company. “I work 10 hours a day and I cannot keep doing it.”
That will be a pity for all sides.
* A version of this article first appeared in the South London Press on June 30.
Artical written by Toby porter @PorterSLP
Taken from http://www.slp.co.uk/article.cfm?id=1790&headline=Why%20Millwall%20and%20their%20fans%20are%20closer%20than%20ever&searchyear=current