LIONS columnist MATT LITTLE this week suggests there are lessons to be learned for Millwall from Charlton’s ability to build a bigger fan-base but admits it won’t happen unless there is a period of consistent success on the pitch first.
WHEN you think of all the depressing things which afflict the north, then it’s a fair bet to assume most of them affect Burnley.
It’s the kind of place where you would love to parachute drop some ignorant American who thinks all English people are irritating foppish Huge Grant clones strolling around a green and pleasant land. It would be the rudest of rude awakenings.
It certainly was for me when I went there.
I had always thought the League of Gentlemen’s fictional town of Royston Vasey was a far out creation of dark comic minds, not actual reality.
Yet Burnley is still the only place I have seen a fish and chips shop built entirely from rocks clearly gathered from the surrounding hills and run by a man who made Sloth from the Goonies look handsome.
I appreciate some of you younger readers will have to Google Royston Vasey/Sloth from the Goonies, and maybe even green and pleasant…but just stick with it.
However, one thing you have to admire the good people of Burnley for is their loyalty to their football club.
In terms of fans per head of population, they are the best supported club in the country.
To illustrate this point, if the people of the London borough of Croydon supported Crystal Palace in the same way then the Eagles would average around 85,000 a game, even in the most mediocre of seasons.
Millwall used to command this kind of loyalty once, when 30,000 to 45,000 would turn up even for third division football.
But those days are long gone.
Even with ticket prices slashed to £13, a paltry 9,286 turned up at The Den for last Tuesday night’s defeat to Middlesbrough.
Meanwhile 26,546 took advantage of Charlton’s £5 ticket offer for this weekend’s visit of unglamorous Stevenage in lowly League One.
This kind of disparity in responses to ticket offers always causes some soul searching on Millwall forums.
It is a bit silly, though, because only a few clubs have risen above being at the mercy of the fluctuation of fan fickleness.
The likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal have lifted themselves above being mere football clubs and are now global brands and English institutions.
They are perhaps the only English clubs who could be relegated to League Two for five years and still fill their grounds most weeks, the rest of us are at the whims and mercies of the football Gods.
You see, everyone has forgotten Charlton struggled to get more than 11,000 for most games before promotion to the Premier League.
This was despite offering excellent ticket deals, even giving lots away and advertising across the whole of Kent and parts of Sussex.
They only really reaped big benefits from those offers when they had the visits of Steven Gerrard and Thierry Henry to help sell them to the masses.
And they are still reaping the rewards of their 10-year period of success with moderately healthy attendances, even in League One.
You see, that’s the point.
Millwall have never had a period of sustained success, brief flirts maybe, but they have always been over before they began.
Two seasons of top flight football, an FA Cup Final and a brief European excursion have been followed by relegations, administration and upheaval.
There are plenty of Millwall fans out there and plenty more potential ones in the vast sprawl that is south London and its suburbs.
But Tuesday night ticket deals won’t get them in, and yo-yoing between the Championship and League One and selling our best players on the cheap, sometimes to local rivals, certainly won’t help either.
We need a lucky break.
Just look at Charlton, they got very similar crowds to us before promotion and have increased their fan-base off the back of success.
Millwall are no different, we became a bigger club post 1989 compared to immediately before it.
And 30-yard screamers and excellent 3-1 wins on the road will go some way to helping too.
Hopefully I’ll see a few more of you on Saturday!
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