MILLWALL blogger MATT LITTLE this week celebrates the fact his beloved Lions will never fit in with the mainstream media’s perception of what a football club and its fans should be like.
IT’S funny how Millwall fans have often been portrayed as morons in the media and by certain comics.
In fact, if we received royalties every time we were mentioned in one of those formulaic panel shows aimed at the gormless masses to get a cheap laugh, we’d be able to afford Wayne Rooney, never mind Chris Wood.
No, I have always thought of us as some of the savviest supporters in football instead and I’ll explain why.
Did you hear that awful Daily Mirror radio advert about keeping up-to-date with all the comings and goings in the transfer window by buying their weekday and Sunday editions?
In it they depict football fans as mindless idiots with the emotional maturity of an eight-year-old child, equating the transfer of a favourite player with the emotional upheaval of splitting up a marriage and family.
Anyone who laughed at these adverts should only be allowed out of a secure location to watch Michael McIntyre shows periodically.
Yet this is a template of the average football fan Sky have been trying to force upon the football community ever since taking over the running of the game in 1992 - unquestioning clones dressed top to bottom in club shop tat who are willing to pay whatever it costs to watch the team they ‘love’ with zealot like devotion that really does make them football fan(antic)s.
It is like they want children to pick a team at the age of seven and never grow up.
You’ve got to give the TV executives their dos though, because from working in schools for the last five years I can confirm these kids born into the warm TV glow of the Sky era are truly brainwashed.
I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been asked without any irony ‘but who are your Premier League team?’ when I’ve replied ‘Millwall’ to their ‘who do you support?’ question.
These are kids who were born in the very neighbourhood that Brighton & Hove Albion were formed.
For them Brighton are, until they get into the Premier League I presume, merely their local side, whereas Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City (shudder) are their ‘teams’.
The fact Charlton Athletic has lost more than 10,000 regular fans in the few years since exiting the Premier League shows even a club with a unique story to tell isn’t above this kind of football charlatanism.
Depressed yet? Well don’t be because as you are reading this, you were fortunate enough to be born into an area or family strongly connected to Millwall FC, which one Birmingham City fanzine writer described as ‘ground zero’ for football.
What the Birmingham City fan was implying was this Sky version of the average football fan doesn’t really apply at The Den.
He had written his article after a League Cup second round tie on a cold Tuesday night, where the 7,000 Millwall fans in attendance defied the demographics of the modern game.
I don’t take too much pleasure in suggesting the Emirates has never been close to being that intimidating and partisan, even for the visit of Tottenham Hotspur – because if you really think about it that’s quite a depressing reflection on English football.
Getting back to what I was saying about Millwall fans being the savviest football fans out there.
Well unlike Palace fans, who have been taken in by a who’s who list of chancers over the years, we saw straight through Peter de Savary and his five-year plan and gave him short shrift.
And rather than puff our chests out, like they would at Selhurst Park, we mercilessly ridicule any player who spouts nonsense about being pleased to join ‘such a big club’.
Do us as a favour, we’re not Manchester United or idiots.
Yet this cynicism does come at a price.
While we haven’t totally sold out as fans, our fans have rarely totally sold out The Den.
We have heard it all before about ‘irons in the fire’ and ‘going for it in January if we’re in a strong position’ but frankly we don’t believe a word of it.
I bet the club wish we were as mindlessly loyal as other fans out there.
After all, why on earth do 25,000 people still keep going to watch Derby County mediocre season after mediocre season?
Is there really nothing else better to do up there?
The Millwall faithful know we have hit the wall we always hit.
Too good for the Third Division we always storm up, do well the following season and then watch our promising team dismantled before we slide back down and start over again.
I’ve seen this several times, with four promotions and three relegations in my 33 years on the planet.
I don’t mind this cycle too much.
Yes it’s frustrating, but it has its highs to balance the lows.
Millwall have won a divisional championship and had two exciting Wembley appearances in a period where far bigger clubs like Aston Villa have simply tread water.
But I’m one of the eight to 10,000 Millwall fans who go no matter what, to whom Millwall is much more than a football team, where The Den is a place to meet friends and family and a physical monument to my roots and a focal point in my life.
We will moan about the endless cycle the club endures, but usually over a pint on match-day.
The other Millwall fans out there, the ones who help us set records at Wembley and inflate the ego of Charlton fans who think that they are a big club (don’t snigger), have also seen the writing on the wall and are staying away until another big game comes along.
It is this mentality our chairman John Berylson simply doesn’t understand.
In his mind he has pumped millions into the club just to keep us going and so he thinks, maybe rightly so, a lot more of the 45,000 who went to Wembley twice should be a little more grateful and show up more often.
But the crucial thing to take away from this is the ‘just to keep us going’ bit.
This may be as good as it gets for Millwall, but that still isn’t good enough for the savvy stay-aways.
They know despite our relatively lofty position, we haven’t got the resources for a serious promotion push and, more importantly, we don’t have the ambition to change that.
The Chris Wood saga hammered this home to them.
We didn’t play badly against a decent Hull City side, but it is only the hardcore who are going to pay for the pleasure of seeing us huff and puff in this division, while bemoaning the fact we are one good striker and a bit of luck with injuries away from being a very good side.
Instead of asking more fans to turn up out of loyalty, and wasting millions just to stand still, perhaps the savvy thing to do for John Berylson would be either to really go for it or simply pack it in.
For all of our 45,000 sakes I hope it’s the former, because the latter doesn’t bear contemplating and really would make this the golden days the glory hunters seek.
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