MILLWALL columnist MATT LITTLE is the first to accept the Lions and Addicks are like chalk and cheese but suggests his club should seriously look at Charlton’s marketing success and learn from it.
SO this amazing run of ours continues.
I say amazing because it has been done while at least one key player has been out through injury or suspension for every one of the 12 games we’ve remained unbeaten.
I said last week those two tough away fixtures at Blackburn and Wolves would tell us a lot about how our season will pan out.
Well, it is certainly going to be interesting as we are now fifth and have a massive game against our neighbours from Greenwich next up.
Ah, Millwall and Charlton Athletic – the yin and yang of south London football.
Two opposing, but complimentary, forces.
Or as one Charlton wit once put it: “Thank god for Millwall, they filter out all the nutters and loons from The Valley.”
Of course, given this is yin and yang, it works the other way too.
A favourite rebuff down at The Den over the years to anybody who doesn’t enjoy swearing at the linesman or the use of strongly worded banners has often been told to “***k off to Charlton”.
This has kept Millwall crowds pleasantly free of the type of characters Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse have made a living out of parodying over the years, but for whom The Valley is a favourite stomping ground.
Perhaps this is why the two clubs have never really nurtured a hostile rivalry in the same way us and West Ham have, despite being geographically very close to each other.
We just bumble along living alongside each other like a pet cat and dog living in the same house, in a sort of cold war of mutual revulsion, rather than out and out conflict.
It’s certainly a lot more dignified than Palace’s bizarre spat with Brighton, which will be being played out at the same time as our fixture down in Croydon.
You see that’s the thing, I cannot abide that lot from Selhurst Park, everything about them makes my skin crawl.
In comparison I positively love Charlton.
In fact, I am going to go as far as suggest that we could learn a lot from the Addicks.
I could never see myself saying the same about Palace.
When I was growing up Millwall and Charlton were very similar sized clubs.
In fact, I would go as far to suggest that with their FA Cup win a distant memory and the fact they were homeless, Millwall were the club with a better present and brighter future.
Both were relegated from the top flight at the same time.
But whereas Millwall boasted players like Teddy Sheringham and were moving to a new state-of-the-art stadium, Charlton had players like Kim Grant and had returned to a Valley which had shrunk in the wash and where players changed in portakabins.
Yet here we are 20 years later and Charlton are considered a decent sized Championship club in an era where you need to average 17,000 a game to be considered that, while we are considered as relative small fry with our 11,000 odd.
So, what happened?
Well, Charlton have been very good at exploiting any on-field success with excellent marketing and promotion.
I would argue both clubs still have about the same amount of wider support.
In fact, without subsidised travel and tickets would Charlton shift 49,500 tickets for a Mickey Mouse game at Wembley?
But Charlton have benefitted from something Millwall have never enjoyed in their 127-year history – sustained success.
We have only ever had flirts with the big time.
Our FA Cup and European adventures were certainly magical times, but painfully fleeting, much like our time leading the old First Division.
Whereas Charlton have enjoyed a decade long run at playing in the world’s most exciting and watched league and so a lot more of their fans have got in to the habit of actually turning up to games.
Plus Charlton do not carry the baggage we do and they were able to sell a game at The Valley as a great family fun day out to the unattached middle class families of Kent looking to jump on the football is cool bandwagon in the post Euro 96 years.
Good luck to them I say.
But you might be asking how Millwall can learn from them then, given the fact we still haven’t had sustained success and we still have a somewhat tarnished reputation.
And you’d be right to ask that, because Millwall could never replicate what Charlton have done, especially when you look back at the pet analogy.
After all, as that suggests, we are totally different creatures.
Giving tickets away to people in Kent will not work at The Den, but what we can learn from Charlton, however, is how to identify what your unique selling point is and market the hell out of it.
This is where yin and yang plays a part again, as Charlton went down the welcoming family day out for all route, leaving a gap in the market for people who like their football experience a bit more raw.
Charlton’s biggest spike in attendances came after promotion to the Premier League, which is logical, but they have been able to retain enough fans not to see gates crash to pre-Premier League levels thanks to clever marketing.
For Millwall to get more of the fair-weather fans who turned Wembley blue and white down at The Den on a regular basis then we will need that ingredient of sustained success too.
However, we can get more new fans through the turnstiles by marketing The Den as a passionate and raw place to watch football for the people of Southwark and Lewisham.
We should be doing all we can to get groups as varied as young inner-city kids to eastern European immigrants to see The Den as an exciting place to spend a Saturday.
In the last few years I have seen an increase in these types of groups at games, yet we need even more to keep the club on an upward trajectory.
Funny enough, this current Millwall are a bit like that Charlton side which went from strength to strength in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
We have a very stable set-up, with a respected manager working well alongside a forward thinking chairman and a decent side with plenty of team spirit.
We need to take advantage of this and really market the club properly using our own unique identity.
Kenny Jackett and the team are certainly doing their part, hopefully continuing with a win against the club we are trying to emulate on Saturday.
How do you rate the rivalry between Millwall and Charlton? Share your views on the comments section below.