MANY of you may have seen a recent poll by Creative Review magazine that ranked, at number 20, Millwall's 'No One Likes Us, We Don’t Care' as one of the most well-known slogans ever.
Another notch on the belt for our club, a club that has given me some of the greatest moments any football fan could hope to have. However, it could all have been very different. Decisions by the club, players and even a little German with a tiny mustache have had monumental affects on our clubs that many people may not have even known about.
My purpose here is to ask the big question – what if? What if things had been different? Would it be the same old Millwall?
What if we’d won those play-offs?
Derby in 1994 and Birmingham in 2002. Both left a sour taste in the mouth both on and off the field. Millwall would never win a play-off game until Kenny Jacett took charge, but you have to wonder what could have been had we gone up those years.
The catastrophic membership scheme wouldn’t have been brought in, Theo Paphitis might have invested in what was the best squad for a generation and we might find ourselves competing for a 10th consecutive top-half finish in the Premier League.
Personally I prefer our years bouncing around the Championship and League One. I would love a season in the Premier League but I think our fans would die of boredom after too many years floating in mediocrity.
What if we just paid that bit extra?
The first player I can recall us missing out on because we wouldn’t pay that little bit extra was Darren Huckerby. A fantastic loan signing that could have had us bouncing straight back up to Division One. The club missed out on his signature by £100,000 (perhaps a bit more depending on who you speak to) and it could be that we suffered for it, as we didn’t leave that division for another five years.
We may have missed a trick with Huckerby, but I would happily trade it for that trip to the old Wembley to watch my Millwall play in front of the biggest crowd for a single team in the history of the stadium (a feat to be matched in the New Wembley as well).
What if we didn’t move to the New Den?
Many people believe that moving to the New Den when we did was a bad move – that we ended up paying far too much when if we’d waited a few years, there would have been cheaper stadiums of better quality. This may well be true in part; certainly our stadium might not look like a glorified prison or an unfinished factory.
But consider this (if some of what I read is to be true); had we not made the move when we did we might not have been able to later on. We could have been forced to ground share the Valley. Also consider the memories created by The (New) Den – some fantastic giant killings, play-off games, and even a European match. Not only that but it has generated some of the best atmospheres in football that anyone will witness. Its rustic look is in keeping with that. I know that people long for the days of the Old Den terraces, but in truth it wasn’t sustainable.
What if we didn’t lose Neil Harris?
Or perhaps, what if Neil Harris didn’t get testicular cancer? The 2001 promotion squad had some of the worst luck with injuries I’ve ever seen, losing not only Harris but then later Richard Sadlier permanently to a hernia injury. What affect did Neil’s injury have on his career? I saw Neil lighting up Division One, a true goal poacher who I thought was worth a good fifteen goals-a-season at least. On his return from injury Neil had lost a yard of pace, his mind was sharp and, if not betrayed by his body, I thought he could have been every bit that striker that I initially predicted he would be.
That’s football though. Harris has become something much more than simply a footballer due in part to his illness and his handling of it. Never has there been more of an emotional goal for those that were there than THAT goal at Watford. Neil’s work for Everyman and his support of young cancer sufferers and Millwall fans show the character of the man that I am proud to have as our top goal scorer.
What if WWII never happened?
If you thought you had enough reasons to hate the Germans let me add another for you. In the 1930’s Millwall boasted the 10th best-supported team in the country, our bank balance was second to only one other team and we were destined for promotion to the top flight.
After one week of the 1939-1940 season, World War Two began and Millwall would lose many of their best players to the war. Instead of playing in front of 70,000 people in the Champions League on a Tuesday night, we now find ourselves playing in front of 3,000 against Dagenham and Redbridge in an FA Cup replay.
I wouldn’t have my Millwall any other way. The club survived the destruction of The Den (rebuilt by volunteers of Lions fans) during the Blitz and are still here in spite of the Germans and the FA’s best efforts.
What if Man United went down instead?
You may not believe it but Millwall were once involved in a relegation fight with Man United. The season? 1933/34. Millwall had drawn away to United earlier in the season and were two points above them going into the last game at The Den on the 5th of May.
The Lions lost the game 2-0 and with that, were relegated to the third division, as for United – well, we know what happened with them, don’t we? Of course, the resulting war as I have mentioned could have meant that, had the Lions stayed, up our fortunes wouldn’t have changed.
What if Millwall had joined the Football league earlier?
The original Football League was formed in 1888 and was essentially a northern league. Millwall Athletic were arranging friendlies with the ‘professional’ clubs much to the LFA’s dismay (the London FA were opposed to professionalism). Millwall looked to become professional even though their ‘neighbours’ Arsenal nearly went out of business after joining the Football League and were banned from playing LFA clubs.
Millwall created a Southern League in 1894, winning the first season with an unbeaten 16 games, scoring 68 goals, before beating the FA Cup finalists, Bolton, 5-1. This resulted in the Football League extending an arm to Millwall – an invitation which the Dockers must surely have fancied at the time after their fantastic record against the ‘top’ sides.
Millwall rejected the offer, however, one reason being that it would cost too much to travel up north and instead deciding to stay in the Southern League, a league that enabled other sides to prosper where they might have not even existed before.
Had Millwall taken their opportunity and joined the Football League they would have most likely become the biggest club in London, with Arsenal as their main rival.
So what if any or all of this happened? How would you feel sitting on cushioned seats of the 60,000-seater bowl-shaped nPower Den Stadium? With the latest and greatest talent coming out of South America playing to a crowd far removed from the original working-class fans that helped to foster our identity? Would that famous slogan No One Likes Us, We Don’t Care even exist?
Personally, I wouldn’t trade my Millwall for anything. In my privileged (so my Dad tells me) Millwall-supporting life, I have seen us play at the Old and New Wembley, two promotions, five play-offs, one FA Cup final in Cardiff, one semi-final at Old Trafford and the best goal that will ever be seen by a Wembley crowd (thank you Gary).
All of it achieved in the face of adversity from the Germans, the FA (old and new), the police, and even those in charge of the club.