IS the The Den really as intimidating a fortress as we are led to believe by the club and press alike?
41, 31, 43, 56, 42.
This seemingly random sequence of numbers is in fact the number of points the Lions have earned in home games over the past five seasons.
Coincidentally, this is also the time frame over which I have been a season ticket holder (before this there was geographical barrier of being away at University, and before that the financial barrier of only having a paper round) and a period I feel very qualified to critique.
How reliable is our home form? Is The Den really that hard a place to come to? I was unable to see the great unbeaten Millwall sides that graced the Old Den between 1964 and 1967, owing to the fact that I hadn’t been born yet, but I do get the feeling that we are still living off that reputation mixed in with a heavy dose of hooliganism that made Millwall a harder place to visit as an opposition fan than an opposition player in the 1970s and 1980s.
Our home form is the very definition of average. Since the turn of the millennium we have picked up a consistent 50-60% of our total points from home games. This is in line with pretty much every half-decent side, nothing to be embarrassed of but nothing to really crow about either.
Unrealistic expectations have been the team’s greatest burden this season, particularly at home. Why fans believed we would exceed our 9th-placed finish of last season with the departures in the summer and their underwhelming replacements was beyond me. As is the fans' (and maybe players') expectation for the atmosphere to be electric week in, week out regardless of performances and results.
Games against Leeds and Huddersfield in recent years have been amazing but they stick in the mind and distort the memory. Our home form in recent history has been hindered by sloppy mistakes and missed opportunities. It is no surprise that the one year we had a man to put away those chances, in Steve Morison, we recorded our highest percentage of home points (65.8%, last season).
Every other year has been the same story of picking up unexpected wins in big games and dropping them in certified bankers. Each season the big boys are sent home with their tails between their legs, whilst the likes of Bristol City and Wycombe waltz off with three points.
Any ground named The Den will hold a place in football folklore. Any opposition fan you meet is eager to retell their tale of surviving an away trip to Millwall (even though I claim there is no safer ground in the league for away fans). For opposition players, though, there isn’t the same fear. They play, feign injury and celebrate with impunity.
Our players have to raise their game as few opponents will lower theirs. The sooner we forget this myth of "Fortress Den" the better. Arriving in SE16 does not reduce teams to quivering wrecks. It’s the players who have to make the ground intimidating through their performances just like those legends did back in the 60s.
Despite how it may appear, this season has been much of same old story (don’t let the past few months fool you). 56.8% of points from home games is pretty much par for the course. Sadly it is 56.8% of a paltry total. Realistically our survival this season depends on our away form.
Our remaining home games are all against sides in the top 11 places and we haven’t picked up a win against anyone that high up yet this season. Whereas, besides a trip to Cardiff, our away games are against teams in the bottom half of the table.
My gut tells me the faithful few hundred who follow the Lions up and down the country are in for a memorable couple of months.