Life is forever changing, you can believe you’re in total charge of things, but you never truly are. The relationship I’d started out of sheer boredom, had taken over, I had fallen hard, things had moved on, I’d changed jobs but more importantly, my domestic situation had changed, I’d moved in with the girl that was only ever supposed to be a stop gap. That might not raise many eyebrows, but the fact that she was still living with her parents should. It was a strange situation, but it meant that we got to see each other more. Probably too much. I’d introduced her to my mates down the Blues, and she’d been to a few home games. It was a wrong move on my part, I really should’ve put my foot down and maintained the space that couples need from each other, but I caved into the emotional pressure that she put on me. This really isn’t a criticism and just an observation, she was limpet like clingy. The away games and work were the only time away from her. I was in love with her but it was starting to wear thin. Thankfully, her Dad had heard of Millwall’s reputation, so he was never going to allow his daughter to tag along with me. Things were happening at Blues too, but not for the best. The bank that our owners had their money in, the BCCI, had collapsed. It meant they were skint, it meant that Blues were. I caught the train down to London, meeting up with Walshy and Pughey on it when it got to Brum. None of us had any confidence in Blues picking points up. A draw would be a semi miracle. We hadn’t been able to strengthen the team after promotion and it was starting to show. Millwall on the other hand, were upwardly mobile. We’d arranged to meet Birdy, Bryn and Craig in the Clocktower in Peckham Rye, and also Spen, George, Daz and Sid had said they would join us off the next train down. Don’t forget, these were pre mobile phone days. Looking back, I’m not sure how we organised ourselves so well. Makes me wonder what would happen if mobile phones were to suddenly stop working, how we’d all cope, we’ve become so attached and dependent on them. Bryn had his son with him. I don’t remember if it was Gavin, but I should imagine it was. I’ll be surprised if I made much impression on the poor kid anyway. The pub was far enough away from the ground to be uninhabited by any Millwall fans. It wasn’t what could be claimed as a ‘football pub’. It was far enough away from the ground to need the use of taxis to get us to the ground though, and we were savvy to realise we needed three of them. Birdy, Bryn, Craig and son of Bryn/nephew of Craig went off in the first. Me, Walshy and Pughey took the second. That left the other four with the last. Now as human beings, we all feel a need to embellish a story, make it sound interesting. Whether that’s in the description as a way of making something more funny like I badly try and do, or as some do, make things up to feel more important. What I’m about to write, happened, if you don’t want to believe me, then that’s your prerogative, and yes, I do understand that memories get warped as time moves on. The minicab we were in pulled up at a junction and we were met with a sight that none of us had ever seen before, and I can honestly say, I have never seen again. A group of between 80 and 150 males, (I can’t tell you the exact amount as I wasn’t about to count them) walked past us. They used the whole road, obviously unconcerned about the traffic. There were also no police to be seen. Other than that they were all male, not one single female, and that they’d completely stopped the traffic, the one thing that we found the most curious, was the age range. The youngest looked no older than 11, the oldest, no younger than 65. Looking back, I’m supposing they must’ve been the regulars of a social club, but for the whole of them (And there really was the approximate numbers I’ve indicated) to leave to go to the ground at the same time, and only a handful (Maybe half a dozen, but no more) had Millwall colours on, was a strange and disconcerting sight. We joked with the driver, not to let us out, who reassured us that they did that every home game. The moment passed and he drove on. He turned up a dirt track and Halfway up it, he stopped. “Here you go lads”, we just sat there, all you could see was a concrete wall to the left and bushes to the right, no sight of the ground. We shot each other glances, none of us were about to move. He reassured us it was safe, we just needed to go up through the gap in the bushes and we’d be at the away turnstiles. We carried on sitting there, none of us trusting him. It didn’t matter how much he cajoled us, that had he left us at the start of the dirt track, we’d have been ambushed, (Ironic given the surrounding) we weren’t moving. In the end, he assured us that he wouldn’t drive off until we discovered we were safe. Tentatively, we got out, and went up through the gap in the bushes. The driver had been true to his word, we were right next to the turnstile. We gratefully thanked, paid and tipped him. Although the signs above the turnstile indicated it was the away end, there wasn’t the usual police presence you get outside. Not one in fact. Through the turnstile, we found them. They had rigged up an airport security style doorway, next to a row of schoolroom type tables. We had to empty out our pockets of any metal into a plastic tray, walk through the doorway and then pick up our belongings. At least we were in and not in intensive care. We entered the terracing. Firstly, the base of one of the massive floodlight pylons (No, you couldn’t see them from where the taxi had dropped us) was blocking our view, and so was the chunky segregation fencing. Fencing that must’ve been erected for the safety of away fans and not the safety of the home fans. We spotted Spen, George, Daz and Sid looking a bit disheveled, their taxi had left them at the bottom of the dirt track, and they had been attacked on the way up to the away end. They exclaimed that they had had to jump the turnstiles to get away. Sid turned to reveal his coat had been badly torn. The rip was halfway down his back.
The game, or what bit you were able to see, wasn’t much to watch. The home side had the far better of the play. Like the travelling support, it was very much about survival. Seven days previously, we’d been on the wrong end of a 4:0 thrashing away at Portsmouth. It was to be an exercise in battening down the hatches. The Blues rearguard dug in. Much as Millwall tried, they couldn’t and didn’t find a way passed us. It hadn’t been a great game, but it was a hard fought point.
We hoped we didn’t need to do any hard fighting of our own. They kept the Blues fans in to disperse the Millwall fans. This has been the only instance in over 40 years of watching Blues, where I was quite content to be kept in. (I hadn’t the money at the time or criteria to get a ticket for the infamous playoff game in 2002, but I suspect that would’ve been, in terrace speak, ‘quite tasty’) We were finally allowed out, and shepherded past the now deserted home end, it felt surreal. I even got to feel quite brave until Walshy pointed out that we still had to make it to the station, put things into perspective. We kept fairly quiet until we felt we were safe, which was more or less Euston station. My first expedition down to Millwall had been enlightening to say the least. It’s a lot more sterile these days with the heavy policing, layout of the new ish ground and walkway to the station.