The A-Z of Millwall – P is for… Promotion

© John Walton
© John Walton

Since their inception in 1885, Millwall Football Club have won promotion ten times.

The first of those came in the 1927/28 season, as under Bob Hunter, the Lions romped to the Division 3 South title, topping the table with 65 points, 127 goals and an unbeaten home record. Thirty-three of those goals came from Jack Landells – a Gateshead born striker who spent nine years at The Den before moving on to West Ham United in 1933.

Exactly a decade later, the Lions were winning Division 3 South once more, this time under the stewardship of Charles Hewitt. It wasn't so straightforward this time round; a 5-1 win at Exeter City on the final day captured the championship – as many as four teams were still in with a shout as the final games of the season took place.

World War 2 and the restructuring of the Football League meant that Millwall had to wait over two decades for another promotion, but in 1961/62, under Ron Gray, it arrived. A 2-2 draw at Barrow saw the Lions pip Colchester to the Division 4 title in a season that saw a young Harry Cripps make his debut.

Only two seasons were spent back in Division 3, as the Lions suffered relegation back to the fourth tier – a move that cost Gray his job – but they were to bounce straight back in 1964/65, as new manager Billy Gray steered the club to second place, missing out on the title – won by Brighton and Hove Albion – by a single point.

With the likes of Alex Stepney, Harry Cripps and Barry Rowan now regular fixtures in the side, the Lions were going places – the Second Division, in fact, as a year later, they secured back to back promotions, as Gray's side went unbeaten at home (as part of the infamous 59-game unbeaten run), finishing second in Division 3. Len Julians scored 22 times to help Millwall on their way to Second Division football – just one league below the big time.

Nine years were spent in the second tier before relegation was suffered once more in 1974/75, but the Lions' stay in Division 3 was brief, as Gordon Jago led them back to Division 2 at the first attempt the following season, finishing third in a campaign that saw just one home defeat, ironically to the team that would follow them upwards, Cardiff City.

Millwall's seventh promotion came in 1984/85, as George Graham took the Lions to the Second Division once more, courtesy of a second placed finish – and another unbeaten season at home. Steve Lovell's 27 goals assisted in a campaign that saw the likes of Keith Stevens, Anton Otulakowski and John Fashanu feature regularly.

Perhaps the most famous promotion in the clubs history came in 1987/88, as John Docherty masterminded the Lions surge to the top for the first time in their history, as they won the Division Two title.

A Kevin O'Callaghan penalty in a 1-0 win at Hull City proved to be Millwall's crowning moment, as the Lions got their just desserts from a season that saw the deadly partnership of Teddy Sheringham and Tony Cascarino produce 47 goals.

The introduction of the Premier League saw the leagues restructured once more in the early 1990's, as the Lions went from Division 2 to Division 1 without being promoted, but in 2000/01, after a relegation in 1995/96, Mark McGhee's men earned the right to play in the second tier, as they romped to the Division 2 title, finishing the season with a club record 93 points, as well as a 28-goal striker in Neil Harris.

The clubs tenth and most recent promotion came in 2009/10, as Kenny Jackett and his side beat Swindon Town in the League One play-off final at Wembley Stadium, banishing the demons of the previous year and the defeat to Scunthorpe United in the exact same game.

Could the Lions be on for an eleventh promotion this season?

Mark Litchfield