The ‘R’ word – enough to strike fear into any football fans heart.
In our small corner of south east London we have a bit of a community thing going on. Our club MIllwall FC is part and parcel of the local area. It is our area and it is a big part of us.
For more than 20 years the Millwall Community Scheme has been providing opportunities for the local communities of Lewisham and Southwark to take part in sport, learn new skills, make new friends, improve their health and find employment but all this could end.
It isn’t our performance on the pitch that is causing concern. It isn’t that we missed out on signing a midfield general or a promising youngster it is far worse than that. It is something that we, the fans or the players haven’t had much say in.
For years there has been talk of regeneration – there we’ve said it – the ‘R’ word! The area is about to be tarted up. Discussions have been ongoing for years but we haven’t been party to the discussions as they “are confidential and take place behind closed doors”.
We have a Fan on the Board who has been briefed but not much else has happened until now.
We know that our wealthy chairman, John Berylson, has talked up his own plans and that the club presented them to Lewisham Council – we waited and waited.
Last season we won some games, we lost more and as a result now sit in League one – on the pitch things are OK and we occupy one of the play-off positions. But unbeknown to us the talks with the council had stalled, various versions of what happened exist but the bottom line is the regeneration is proceeding without us.
Lewisham Council decides today whether to approve a compulsory order on land currently leased by the club The Millwall Community Trust, is currently based in the Lions Centre will lose its home and we will also lose our car park. Our stadium lease appears to be protected but two years ago so was the Lions Centre!
The plans presented by the club, which included much needed housing, have the club say been ignored. The council say that there was never any formal application from the club.
The long term survival of our club partly depends on our ability to generate non-football revenues and over the past nine years, our chairman has invested more than £48m in Millwall to help us through the inevitable ups and downs of being Millwall, without his money we are doomed and he says that the Council have treated him and the club badly and he feels let down.
We have repeatedly been told by local politicians that Millwall FC is at the heart of the Council’s strategy for the Borough – but today all that could change.
Some councillors say they will support us and make sure that we get a fair hearing; others say that the ground is protected and we must trust the developers. Sadly we have heard it all before and I am starting to believe that promises last only until there is money to be made.
As fans we sing “No one likes us – we don’t care” the truth today appears to be that Lewisham Council doesn’t like us – but we do care – we care about our club – we care about our area and we want to concentrate on the next game – but we can’t because soon the next game could be our last game!
So my message to all football fans is this: If a local council starts talking about the ‘R’ word; get organised, get involved and don’t believe everything will be ok – it won’t and it will destroy your club and break your heart.
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