The ugly side of the game

Image by Thomas Gadd

By John Dewhirst

After promotion in 1982 there was eager anticipation among a certain section of the City support for the fixtures with Millwall which led to the infamous ‘Bradford Meatmen’ leaflets.

Long before the advent of the internet came the mysterious appearance of the handouts warning Millwall supporters about the visit of the Bradford hardmen. It was a challenge, if not provocation and the opportunity for the likely lads of Bradford to prove themselves. In the event however, the predictions of wanton violence came to nought.

My first visit to the (old) Den was that season in September, 1982 and needless to say it was an intimidating, unpleasant experience. The warnings of the ‘Meatmen’ were greeted with a combination of ridicule and particular hostility by the home fans in the 3,500 crowd and quite possibly still remembered by certain old cockneys yesterday.

Thankfully the world has moved on and Bradford City is a wholly different club. The supporter experience has been transformed and the prospect of crowd violence is unheard of. It is highly unlikely that there would be a repeat of the ‘Meatmen’ affair and crucially, such behaviour would be universally condemned by all sections of the Valley Parade support.

As evidence of progress, compare and contrast what has happened in the past thirty-five years: families attending games; much bigger crowds; modern facilities including – shock horror – female toilets that did not even exist at VP pre-1985. All told we have affordable football with a genuinely vibrant, positive match-day atmosphere.

No-one could suggest that when you attend a Bradford City fixture there is a risk of the claret and amber support causing trouble en masse. I accept that every club has a disreputable number of fans but as far as BCAFC is concerned it is simply not an issue. Thankfully crowd violence is rare and certainly not at the level that it was thirty years ago. The recent occasions of trouble that I am reminded of were at VP for the Leeds FL Cup game when our visitors threw seats on the pitch and then this weekend at Wembley.

When you attend a game you should not have to be looking over your shoulder for signs of trouble and yet that was the experience on Saturday. It is sad that from a crowd control perspective it was the best result because had Millwall lost, who knows what might have happened?

It seems that the Millwall supporters jealously defend their reputation. Thirty-five years ago the likely lads of Bradford aspired to be known as the equals of Millwall but surely the big difference is that people have since grown up and matured.

I don’t subscribe to the view that the behaviour of Millwall supporters is none of the business of other fans because it is. If Bradford people were dissuaded from attending the game at Wembley because of fear of trouble yesterday you can take it for granted that on a future occasion when Millwall are in a Wembley fixture that others will stay at home, whether from Barnsley, Bradford City or wherever.

Until supporters of all clubs state the bleeding obvious that this is unacceptable behaviour it will continue to be a blight on the game. Likewise, until the EFL or FA stop treating Millwall with kid gloves it will continue. For starters I would ban the club from playing at Wembley for at least the next five years.

So what if the Millwall fans joined in the clapping on the 56th minute of the game as a demonstration of unity? Big deal and besides, not every City fan subscribes to this as an appropriate way to remember the disaster. If Millwall followers were truly interested in unity and demonstrations of civility with other supporters then maybe next time they could try something which lasted for longer than sixty seconds and which didn’t bring universal condemnation.

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Categories: Opinion, The 2016/17 play offs

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10 replies

  1. Its no coincidence that Millwall and Leeds are 2 of the worst if not the worst. In a way im glad we don’t play them just wish we was in the Championship and those 2 were below us

  2. The Millwall fans revell in the nietch that they have carved out for themselves. The songs they sing are designed to intimidate and celebrate their status of been disliked A seize mentally that is embraced by the majority not minority. Ticketing restriction were relaxed and put on general for Millwall fans which didnt help matters. However, the whole event had a unsavoury, undercurrent and threatening vibe about it inside and outside the ground by way of the Millwall fans presence.

    Read the Millwall forum and this will give you a real insight in to the mentality of the club, its supporters and general outlook of fans of rival clubs based on race, geography and narrow minded statments and strereotypes. A vile and inhospiitable club in my opinion.

  3. I have a theory.

    When I looked around the Bantams crowd last Saturday I was really pleased to see a mix of men and women, kids and old people, and a mix of races.

    Looking at the Millwall lot on Wembley Way I just felt their support was largely male, white, single and in the 20 – 35 age group. This is important because, as you say, all clubs have the unsavoury element but if you have a diverse mix of supporter then there is a chance that the unruly element will be unconscientiously regulated by the wider fanbase.

    Its difficult to shout vile abuse if you are sat with your mum, or your uncle is sat 3 rows back, or if your Asian neighbour is sat on the end of the row. You’re unlikely to start a fight if you are with your 10 year old daughter, or if your sister has brought her young family to the game. Equally, if a young male starts any trouble or behaves inappropriately you’re more likely to challenge this mentality. I’ve chosen family connections to make my point but I’m not sure its important. A diverse, unrelated group of supporters would have the same impact.

    The more you make football clubs inclusive the less trouble you’re going to get. The more narrow the fanbase (Millwall, Leeds??) the less self policing goes on.

    I should add that I have no stats to support this view but intuitively it seems correct. Let’s face it, we’ve all done things on stag or hen nights which you wouldn’t necessarily do in mixed company! Its the same with a football match.

    A note of caution though. That nasty element is still there at City – just look at some of the comments on social media. Its up to all of us to continue to be vigilant.

    Finally, a big thanks to WOAP who have yet again delivered excellent commentary on an interesting and exciting season.

  4. I think Andy is correct. I have to say that my wife and I travelled to and from Wembley in tube trains filled with Millwall suppoerters. We received nothing but courtesy and politeness. But they have a minority of thugs.
    This has been the case since at least 1967 to my knowledge.
    The fault lies with Millwall FC, the FA, the EFL. They could, in the long-term, cure the problem.
    The short-term issue was caused by poor stewarding and policing, therefore the fault of Wembley and the EFL/FA.
    If the authorities really believe that Millwall should be punished, then the answer is to deny them promotion, and award that to Scunthorpe. The alternative would be a large fine, but that would hurt only the directors, not the fans.
    I really do not care, and know that, as so many times before, nothing will be done.

  5. I echo everything that John has written and endorse most of the comments made above. I noticed in the build up to Wembley that certain items of Official merchandise (large foam rubber hands aimed I would guess at younger supporters) contained the Millwall mantra ‘No one likes us, we don’t card’s.
    Family club of the year?
    I believe this type of marketing of this slogan encourages those who need no encouragement to misbehave. Millwall should either stop using this negative slogan or they should be told not to by the EFL, FA, whoever.
    For the Family club of the year to use such merchandise shows they are part of the problem.
    In addition for their manager (High spirits) and player ( they have a right to invade the pitch) and CEO to push out a wishy washy statement that effectively lay the blame with Wembley and it’s security measures is further proof that this club is completely out of touch with the way football has advanced since the 70s and 80s.
    There was not a hint of apology to City players and staff for the scenes we saw, and none also for our supporters who had to witness such scenes and were prevented from applauding our players after a great season.
    Amazingly outside the stadium with Millwall still to lift the cup, there were more of their delightful fans more intent on causing mayhem than celebration promotion.

  6. I don’t understand just why a combination of police and stewards didn’t arrest the first few that came on to the field of play? It’s a criminal offence to step onto the pitch if you’re a ‘fan’ and I personally thought both the stewarding and policing inside the ground was poor.

    Plenty of police outside the ground, dogs, horses and officers dressed up like RoboCop, but they were conspicuous by their absence inside Wembley when they were needed. It could have turned very ugly indeed if it was City that had scored in the final few minutes and gone on to win.

    Never missed a City game at Wembley and I’ve always enjoyed the experience, even when we got a good hiding against Swansea. I really didn’t enjoy it last weekend though and when I was taking my 12 year old nephew to his first Wembley game, I expect I’d have enjoyed it even less if we’d won the game.

  7. Agree with all the above. I’ve watched City at Millwall a few times recently and the fans have been absolutely fine but the FA and the police need to crack down on the troublemakers. I think some action should be taken against Wembley thoughy. What a joke when the stewards lined up across the halfway line after all the Millwall fans had left the pitch. If this had happened at the Den the club would have been heavily fined, shouldn’t there be sanctions against Wembley Stadium?

  8. I echo the comments above. Millwall actively market themselves as a hooligan club. Of course they’ll completely deny this, but when your club slogan is ‘no one likes us’ you’te promoting the well established reputation for thuggery.
    As Mark Neale has pointed out, from the CEO, to the manager and players, there is a culture of revelling in voilence inherent at that club.
    As long as the club itself, the EFL and FA continue to choose to ignore the problem (and have done for the last 40 years) then another generation of Millwall thugs will roll off the production line. Brought up on a diet of culture that promotes voilence as part of the football experience.
    We can’t rely on the authorities to do anything. They buried their collective heads in the sands for years. Instead choosing to blame it as ‘societies problem’. A convenient scapegoat that meant nothing was done about a sport that was slowly dying.
    By the 1980s we were used to watching football caged in crumbling football grounds, which all to frequently resembled a war zone. It took a series of disasters to make the authorities take action. I suspect it will take Millwall rioting at Wembley before they’ll do anything again.

  9. Some excellent comments. I recall last season’s play off when the closing stages of the game at Millwall were not completed as the crowd threatened to encroach the pitch, against Barnsley at Wembley the Millwall fans crossed into the Barnsley section to fight, this seasons FA cup tie saw Leicester fans attacked, in the play off semi at The New Den the fans were on the field abusing Scunthorpe players and then we had last Saturday. The FA and EFL should be ashamed – the fail us all and the game itself.

  10. Well said John. Totally agree.

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