MILLWALL columnist MATT LITTLE was very surprised by the crowd disorder which marred the end of Saturday’s Den derby with neighbours Charlton.
IN 1995 the then managing director of Birmingham City Karren Brady gave journalists a sound-bite they could have only dreamed of.
Brady, young and inexperienced, was put on the spot by the assembled hacks, old and grizzled.
They were demanding to know why followers of Birmingham City had thrown objects at away fans, invaded the pitch several times, assaulted Millwall players, and stabbed a Police horse in this top of the table clash.
Miss Brady, clearly shaken, blurted out it was because “Millwall bring out the worst in people”.
Sadly for her, damning evidence meant this off-the-cuff piece of deflection didn’t work, with the media agreeing the Lions were, on balance, the victims for once.
But hey, it was worth a try.
As a result I had always just viewed that amusing sound-bite as just that - an amusing sound-bite from a club, also with a somewhat tarnished reputation, trying to wiggle off the hook at our expense.
However, after witnessing the usually sedate followers of Charlton Athletic throwing flares and plastic blue seats onto the hallowed Den pitch I’m starting to think dear old Karren may have been on to something.
I know we are in no position to be racing up any hills to take the moral high ground or to give out lectures about supporter etiquette, but I will say I was a bit disappointed by the scenes at the end of the match, given the backdrop.
Before Saturday I hadn’t attended a Millwall v Charlton game at The Den since 1994, when Alex Rae completed his brace in injury time to nick a 2-1 win for the Lions.
It was played out in front of a modest 13,320 crowd, with the several hundred Charlton fans taking their defeat on the chin and quietly heading off home without much fanfare.
Not many fans at a local derby would have taken such a sickening defeat so well, but that’s Charlton, or it was.
Perhaps the spirit of that period when Millwall and Charlton fans used to alternate between The Den and The Valley before football tribalism became so profound was still fresh in the minds of most of those in attendance?
My own granddad was one of those Millwall fans who used to tag along with his Charlton supporting friend to a few games at The Valley, with his mate returning the favour by accompanying him to The Den every now and then.
A lot of Millwall and Charlton fans are connected by family or friendship and it was in this spirit both clubs decided to use this particular fixture to hold another tribute to the Mizen and Knox families, both followers of the respective clubs.
Leaflets were handed out before the game by the Jimmy Mizen Foundation proclaiming the match as ‘Jimmy’s Day’.
Inside it spoke of family values and the aims of the foundation, with the overriding message being we need to work towards making south London, the community both clubs play in, a safer and better place for young people to live.
The players and managers of both clubs played their part too, with signed Millwall tops donated to the Jimmy Mizen Foundation, and the Charlton players donating theirs to the charity set-up in the name of Addicks fan Rob Knox.
I am all too aware I am on shaky ground here, but I was genuinely miffed as to why a section of Charlton fans decided to hijack the day with petty violence and try to turn this fixture into something more than the keenly contested local derby it has always been. Okay, okay, I am not so naïve not to recognise a lot of Charlton fans do not particularly like us, but I thought it had always been in a bickering sibling kind of way.
Charlton fans often try to taunt us by saying ‘I thought that you lot didn’t care about us’ when highlighting the fact we have sold-out their last two visits.
However, not only does this neglect the fact we have simply grown as a club in the last 10 years or so and have had plenty of home area sell-outs in that time, but it totally misconstrues the nature of the rivalry from a Millwall point of view.
Maybe this is our own fault?
We’ve become so entwined with the legend of Millwall hooliganism that by dismissing them as anoraks or train spotters, Charlton fans think that we trying to imply a certain indifference towards them, which is simply not true.
This is a big game for us, but as a genuine local rivalry, not as a bitter grudge match.
Turning the argument around, Charlton have brought over 3,500 fans on their last two visits.
Now, even the most ardent Addick will admit they don’t take this kind of support anywhere else, not even close.
As a percentage of home support Charlton’s away following is one of the lowest in the entire Football League.
Therefore this is obviously a massive match for them, so perhaps we should just put all that silliness down to over-excitement among some of their fans trying to prove a misguided point on their big day out.
I hope so because this is the only genuinely big match that we have left without any restrictions, hence why we can achieve 18,000 gates, whereas other home sell-outs have seen the bottom tier of the away end left empty and restricted us to 16,500 odd.
This is also a fixture which both clubs felt that they could come together to show support for two south London families touched by tragedy.
Let’s not ruin that kind of relationship.
Loathe us by all means Charlton fans, but don’t turn this derby into something ugly.
As for the actual match, well, despite being under-siege for the entire second half the Addicks manfully stood up to the onslaught to earn a rare point in this fixture.
We sorely missed Liam Trotter, James Henry and Darius Henderson, but to be fair Charlton defended brilliantly and would have been hard to beat even with those three back.
The draw extended our unbeaten run to 13 games and contrary to what Ms Brady thinks we brought out the best in Charlton Athletic, on the pitch at least.
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