LIONS DEN: The home stadium of Millwall
SATURDAY FEBRUARY 2: Grey skies, icy winds and the Heathrow flight path greeted football fans entering The Den, Millwall Football Club’s home in south London. Outside the ground before the three o’clock kick-off, disparate groups of supporters huddled around each other, like penguins, snacking on hotdogs and burgers (hopefully horsemeat free).
North-eastern team Hull City had travelled down to the capital for their Championship crunch against The Lions, but The Tigers’ travelling support of a couple-of-hundred or so fans had long since taken their seats inside, not wanting to hang about outside with the locals.
The Den, encircled by bridges, railway banks and construction sites, was under the watchful eye of the law – at strategic points, policeman in pairs stood as still as statues, only their eyeballs seemed to move before their warm breath ghosting away into the winter air.
Five minutes to three, it was time for The Voice to enter the Lions’ Den. Sat in the upper south stand, the Cold Blow Lane End certainly lived up to its name as the wind howled across the terraces sending shivers down spectators’ spines, despite their jumpers and thick coats.
Yet it only took 45 seconds into the game for proceedings to heat up. Millwall centre-back, Mark Beevers, sent a woeful back-pass to his keeper which was gleefully intercepted by Hull’s January signing David Meyler, who then coolly slotted the ball into the net past home goalie David Forde. The early goal was a false dawn for those hoping for goals galore; it was the solitary successful strike of what was largely an insipid match of football.
HAPPIER TIMES: Shittu celebrates his FA Cup goal last month against Aston Villa
However, the away side’s opportunistic goal did inspire the home fans to conjure a plethora of industrial language, mainly consisting of imaginative ways to employ c*nt in different combinations – “fat” and “lazy” being two of the more popular variables. Those of a sensitive nature or with young children they want sheltered should be wary about planning a family day out at The Den.
On a more positive note, it was nice to see a fairly diverse range of people supporting their team in the south stand – and thankfully, with several black players on the pitch for both sides, including the imposing Millwall captain Danny Shittu and Hull’s crafty forward Jay Simpson, no fans within earshot decided to abuse anyone based on skin colour.
A relief, considering Bolton’s Marvin Sordell was racially abused here at the end of last year – during another match six Millwall fan were arrested after they unfurled a banner proclaiming the player was a “cu*t” for reporting the abuse.
Nonetheless, many of the fans, especially one elderly gentleman sat directly behind, seemed to have a problem with midfielder Liam Trotter, often berating his work ethic (or lack of). “He runs when he wants, Liam Trotter, he runs when he wants” was a firm favourite of the crowd’s chanting selection. Again, the spirit of Ron Atkinson, who in 2004 live on air infamously labelled Chelsea’s Marcel Desailly a “fu*king, lazy, thick nig*er", was happily absent.
It was getting terribly cold, and one generous Millwall fan saw The Voice trembling as it had not brought a proper jacket, so he kindly offered his own garment of outerwear. “It’s fine, I’ve got a jumper on underneath,” the magnanimous chap said. Not wanting to have one’s masculinity shown up, The Voice politely declined the kind gesture.
SLIPPERY CUSTOMER: Simpson impressed against Millwall
As the game wore on and The Lions looked more and more like kittens in attack, the home fans grew increasingly agitated. Right-winger James Henry bore the full brunt of their anguish in the second half when he spurned a glorious chance to equalise. The 23-year-old, who joined Millwall permanently from Reading in 2010, contrived to scoop the ball miles over the bar as he broke clean through the visitors’ defence with only the keeper to beat. “What a clueless c*nt,” sighed one inconsolable fan in close proximity.
Once the referee, who had to endure the standard “The referee’s a wa*ker” chant, blew for full time, boos from the locals drowned out the jubilant cries of the celebrating Hull fans. It was Millwall’s third consecutive Championship defeat and Hull’s first victory of the New Year.
The Den, which has a capacity of over 20,000, housed only 9,589 spectators for that rather bland spectacle, and, like their stadium, most Lions fans would have gone home and seen their pint glasses as half-empty after witnessing such a feeble performance.
The Voice was happy to go home and embrace a radiator after experiencing the kind-hearted, foul-mouthed, freezing atmosphere of The Den.