Help for the Heroes…



Life is all about choices.  Every second of every day we have to make choices, and through those choices we have to be accountable for our actions.  Anyone who knows me will know how I bang on about accountability on a daily basis.  So this week I had a big choice to make.  I had to choose between an all-Kent derby in the FA Trophy at the Crabble between Dover Athletic and Dartford, or a trip to the New Den to watch a League One game between Millwall and Wycombe Wanderers.  Again, anyone who knows me will know that I would choose the former any day of the week.  Or would I?  You see there is something I have not told you dear reader(s) in the past.  And that is, for the past fifteen years I have been a shareholder of…..Millwall plc.  Yep, I have been an investor in one of West Ham’s greatest enemies.

Why you may ask?  And when I look at the 0.02p per share price I ask that question all the time.  I do have over 100,000 shares, so assuming the share price increased by 1,000 times I may make my money back.  But I am in it for the long haul and not a quitter.  I invested as I saw some potential in the club.  The club had played in the top division (then League One) for a couple of seasons and for a short period they actually topped the league.  Serious money was invested into the club, a new stadium was built and with players like Alex Rae, Kasey Keller, Terry Hurlock and Mark Kennedy took the club back to the play-offs to go back to the Premier League but they fell in the semi-finals.  The share price was at an all time high and investors were flocking to get on board (well so my broker told me!).

Since then the club and the share price has fallen, and apart from a couple of seasons in the Championship a few years ago where Millwall spanked West Ham 4-1 in one forgettable Sunday league game they have been in the third tier of English football.

All washed up?So fast forward a few years and Millwall announce a whopping £5.2m loss for the year against a turnover of £6.4m.  But the good news is that this is slightly better than 12 months ago where the figures were £5.6m loss against £5.3m turnover.  So lets put that into some perspective.  As a business they have lost £10.8m over two years against revenues of £11.7m.  Part of the reason is that wages are still far too high – in fact wages last season were 97% of the turnover.  Such a situation would not be allowed to happen in leagues in Germany or Spain where wages cannot be more than a certain percentage of turnover.  The club is essentially putting its future in serious risk in trying to chase promotion.  The problem they have for the next twelve months is that League One is potentially the strongest it has ever been, with Norwich City, Southampton and Charlton Athletic coming down from the Championship to join Leeds United, Colchester United, Southend United and MK Dons who have either the experience or money to push for promotion.

Last season they reached the play off final at Wembley, losing to Scunthorpe United at the last knockings.  Many feel that would be the end of an era for the club but this season they are again pushing for a play off spot again.  Unfortunately attendances are down at the New Den by 20% which will have an impact on the long term.  The visitors for this one, Wycombe Wanderers came into the game bottom of the league, with just one win all season and having been thrashed 6-0 in their last away game at Huddersfield Town and dumped out of the FA Cup by Brighton & Hove Albion in midweek.  Hardly the form you need to walk into the Lions den.

So anyway, back to my reasons for choosing Millwall over Dover (or even Ramsgate which was a late option for their FA Trophy game versus Bishops Stortford).  There was two reasons.  Firstly, Lolly had wanted to “experience” Millwall for quite awhile.  She had heard lots about them, since a few of her class mates support them (and I hasten to add had never been to see them) and it would give her even more “cool points” with the boys, which she loved.  CMF was not so keen, thinking of the recent game versus West Ham at Upton Park as the model for their games.  But I persuaded her that it was not the case.  In fact she had actually been to the New Den twice and on neither occasions had we seen any problems (well apart from an armed robbery and a couple having sex on the roof of a car but they happened outside the stadium so technically the club or its fans cannot be blamed, although one of the people having sex did have a home shirt on).

But the second reason was much more of a defining point.  Two of our guys from New York were over for the weekend and wanted to catch a match.  With such limited Premier League action on offer in London their thoughts turned to lower down the table, and bingo, Millwall came up.  Now, Luge is English, a die hard Torquay United and Man Utd fan, if there can be such a thing and someone who appreciates the finer things in live.  He regularly dines at the Tribeca Grill, shops at Saks and lives in the heart of Chelsea.  So Millwall would be right up his street.  Andy on the other hand is a true New York sports fan, following the Giants and the Yankees and getting his fix of “soccer” from The Football Factory and Green Street.  Yep – Andy was coming over the Atlantic as a modern day Elijah Wood, preparing himself for some Seventies style action.  Unfortunately, the good work that the club had put in over the past years in developing a safe environment for fans had been undone by these films.

We met up in London Bridge, a few hundred yards from the office and caught up on gossip from the respective offices (and there was certainly some of that from both sides of the Atlantic – I could tell you but then I would have to kill you).  I also got to meet the “new girl” in the New York office – Kellie.  Now Kellie, despite being American, was a Millwall fan.  She times her annual leave trips back to the UK with Millwall games and sports a Millwall screensaver on her PC – hard to believe but its true.

So we had a couple of beers before heading 5 minutes down the line to South Bermondsey station and into the lions den…

Evening allMillwall 0 Wycombe Wanderers 2 – The New Den – Saturday 21st November 2009 3pm
So apart from a dozen or so police around the entrance, there was nothing out of the ordinary to see for the Americans.  Andy knows his sport, and probably watches more football (of the UK variety) than most English fans and was looking forward to a game of quality, excitement and passion.  Well he came to the wrong place as the game was hardly a classic played in swirling rain.  Millwall did not create a single chance in the first half as Wycombe set out their stall early on and simply did not budge.  For a team yet to record their first win on the road, and in fact being bottom of the league, they controlled the game from the first whistle.  The highpoint of the first half was when my own Jeff Stelling, Danny Last from EFW (for once without a game today) text me that West Ham were 2-0 up at Hull.
I told Lolly and her reaction was a little over the top for the audience around us and I had to tell her in no uncertain terms to shut up.

The crowd around us were a strange bunch.  In theory we were in the family section, but the vast majority were single blokes.  In front of us was an interesting bunch.  Dad, complete with Millwall lion tattoos on both sides of his neck wearing Millwall shirt, hat, dog-tags, jacket and by the smell of it, Millwall aftershave.  He was accompanied by his blonde (with very bad black roots) wife and their 5, yes 5, children, all under the age of 5 who had absolutely no interest in the game.  All of them had matching Millwall shirts and tucked into crisps for the whole half.  So at a cost of £7 per child and £20 per Adult plus £30 for each Child shirt their day out cost at least £225..what a bargain.

The first half had absolutely no flow.  Millwall had to replace Ton Craig early on after he received a kick in the head from Wycombe’s Gareth Ainsworth, and Pitman was stretchered off for Wycombe a few minutes off meaning we had over 4 minutes of injury time before the break, and everyone was glad to hear the referees whistle to bring the misery to an end.  Lolly’s smug grin was wiped of her face when I told her firstly that her hero Carlton Cole had scored an own goal for West Ham, and then that Hull scored two late first half goals to put them 3-2 ahead.  So, add to the fact that our original choice of game, Dover v Dartford was a pulsating 2-2 draw and we had really drawn the short straw.

Millwall had designated this game a “Help for Heroes” game and proceeded the match with a collection.  At half-time a group of active servicemen were paraded around the pitch, some holding their Millwall scarves.  I have to say the reception given to a man by the crowd was outstanding.  Following up at the end of the group was an ex-serviceman who had lost both legs in a recent conflict but received by far the biggest cheer as he went around the pitch.  I was staggered by the reception.  Here was a crowd that’s reputation goes before them but they showed their patriotism that perhaps at other grounds would be outlawed, complete with a chorus of Land of Hope and Glory – brilliant work Millwall and you should be very proud of your stand on this.

So, the second half brought the same inept Millwall performance.  No Harris or Alexander up front, instead Jason Price who was being mocked by the crowd for looking like the ex-X-Factor Jamie Archer.  Let me repeat his name.  Jason Price.  But for some reason he sported the name JJ Price on his back – why?  Have the rules changed to allow nicknames, or is there two J Prices at Millwall?  Egos taking over the world…..

Wycombe were being encouraged by their fans high up in the North Stand, took the lead in the 55th minute when a corner from the right was headed home by Christ Westwood.  Did Millwall respond at all?  No.  The long balls continued to be pumped over the heads of the front two and it was no surprise when the visitors doubled the lead in the 71st minute by Kevin Betsy who shot into the corner of the net after an excellent run.  We were still to see a Millwall shot on goal and now they needed two goals.  But nothing came.  Even five additional minutes did not provide an opportunity for the home team to create an effort on the Wycombe goal and the chorus of boos at the final whistle showed what they thought of the team.

We wandered out, through the railway arches in the pouring rain.  Lolly was a bit happier now that West Ham had secured a draw, and amazingly Lewes had scored a 95th minute equaliser away to Eastleigh to secure a FA Trophy replay but was glad that Millwall had lost and she was there to see it.  Next time I will go with the gut instincts and take the non-league option!

About the New Den
The New Den opened its doors in August 1993 at a cost of around £16million. It was the first stadium built in the UK that fully complied with the Taylor Report. The ground is a dramatic improvement from the dank and foreboding ‘Old’ Den and is quite smart looking. The new Den is made up of four fair sized two tiered stands that are of the same height. The corners of the ground are open, apart from one corner where there is a large video screen. The stadium is used to film the Sky One Channel TV show; Dream Team, which features an imaginary team called Harchester United. Views from all stands are good and unobstructed
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How to get to the New Den
It is probably best to go by rail, as South Bermondsey Railway Station is only a few minutes walk from the ground. There is a direct walkway specifically built for away fans which takes you directly to the away end and back to the station afterwards. This has made the Police’s job of keeping rival supporters apart so much more manageable. If your team brings a sizeable following, then an ‘away fan’ football special may be laid on from London Bridge. In these instances the police are well drilled in getting away fans into the ground from the special train and safely away afterwards. Although don’t be surprised if you are held in the stadium for sometime after the final whistle, before being allowed back up the walkway to the station.

Although there are two tube stations that are about 15-20 minutes walk away from the ground. Surrey Quays & New Cross Gate, both on the East London Line. The line is now closed until sometime in 2010.

Driving is not really an option as there are few places to park around the stadium. If you do chose to them follow signs from the A2 at New Cross Gate for the ground.

How to get a ticket for the New Den
Tickets for most games can be bought on the day of the game at the Ticket Office (not at the turnstiles themselves) or Online at http://millwallfc.com.  Ticket prices are as follows:-

West & East Stands (Upper Tier): Adults £25, Over 65’s £17, Under 16’s £14, Under 12’s £12
West Stand (Lower Tier): Adults £25, Over 65’s £15, Under 16’s £11, Under 12’s £8
Cold Blow Lane (South) Stand: Adults £20, Over 65’s £13, Under 16’s £11, Under 12’s £8
West Stand (Lower Family Enclosure): Adults £20, Over 65’s £13, Under 16’s £10, Under 12’s £7

Thanks to Duncan Adams for the above information from his excellent Football Grounds Guide.