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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
With a few edits, this is what the good people of Singapore will be waking up to tomorrow. MtS had a very lucky escape in being cut out of the final edit. 500,000 people could have found out exactly what his idea of a pre-match meal is...

As a mere, and very occasional, foot soldier of the Southend United support, I have to admit that I’ve never really been that keen on away games. It’s always seemed a little too much like sneaking across enemy lines to me. You have to think very carefully about you wear, because one flash of blue in the wrong pub and you’ll be forced to carry your kneecaps home in a paper bag. Some backstreets make great shortcuts to the train station, others only quicken your arrival at the hospital.

Of all the away trips that I’ve ever wimpishly refused to join, Millwall is the one that I’ve had to think about the least. The New Den is the kind of venue that would be marked on 18th Century maps with the phrase, “There be dragons here.” You can silence your office in one quick stroke by standing up and saying, “I’ve got to go. We’ve got Millwall away tonight.” People look at you with a kind of sympathetic awe that is usually saved for those on the brink of vital heart surgery or over-night deployment in Iraq. Millwall, we all convince ourselves, is where the shadows fear to creep. It’s a hellhole packed to the brim with knuckle-dragging Neanderthals, so stupid and prone to senseless violence that they’d make Mike Tyson feel like Mahatma Ghandi.

Sadly, in my role as English Kaki, I am charged with producing stories of great excitement for you and so, despite my propensity to great caution, and with notebook and camera clutched in quivering hand, I set off for what the whispering voices in my head opined, could be my final assignment.

There was absolutely no point in attempting something like this sober, so I made for the Market Porter near London Bridge, a refined and respected watering-hole that had been designated as the meeting place for our rag-tag band of heroes. When I arrived at 5pm, the pub was already beginning to fill up with blue and white, the locals forced by a staccato barrage of Southend’s signature chant, “Sea, Sea, Seasiders,” to consider moving somewhere else. Our numbers swelled and spilled on to the streets where the songs continued, interrupted only by the frequent smashing of glass. A small police presence arrived, playing sentinel to our party, but already it seemed that Millwall had more to fear from us than we did from them.

But as we moved from the pub to the train station, I became aware that the police presence had grown substantially. There were fluorescent yellow jackets on all sides and none of them contained a smiling copper. Every officer present bore the rictus sneer of a man forced to miss his dinner and work late just to stop a horde of drunken idiots from hitting another horde of drunken idiots. With this many policemen, I thought as I boarded the train, they must be expecting something.

The journey to South Bermondsey, home of The New Den, was mercifully brief. Trains packed with boozy football fans and cheap takeaway food can be something to behold. The phrase, ‘you could cut the atmosphere with a knife,’ takes on a more literal meaning when a sardine can on wheels burps and farts its way across London for an hour, but today we were lucky. In just five minutes we were released onto the platform and every single one of did the same thing. We all rotated our heads around like owls looking for the welcoming party. But there was nothing. It was quiet. Too quiet for my liking. The police ushered us into a reinforced Perspex tunnel that ran 50 yards down towards the stadium.

“That’s very considerate of them, building this to protect us from the rain,” said a small voice behind me.

“That’s to protect us from the flying bricks, son,” said a wiser man.

The police continued to urge us on through the tunnel and out into a long pathway, flanked on both sides by twelve foot spiked railings. No-one was taking any chances. We passed quickly through the turnstiles, up the stairs and into the stand to be met with a sight that few had expected. There was barely anyone there.

The New Den, this so-called bastion of evil, was half-empty and silent. The only Millwall fans we could see near our enclosure were the kind of rodenty, tracksuited adolescents that usually hang around local shops throwing stones at old ladies. Admittedly, if they’d have had stones, they’d have thrown them, but all they had were their squeaky voices. When the game kicked off, the only thing you could hear was the roar of, “Sea, Sea, Siders,” echoing around the barren arena.

Millwall have changed. They aren’t any dragons here and the shadows are free to go about their murky business undaunted. Millwall are Jack Nicholson at the end of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. They’re heavily sedated and lobotomised. They’ve been sucked dry. It was actually quite sad. This football club was the troll under the bridge of English football. Now they’re the billy-goat.

They tried to be intimidating, but intimidation comes best from someone you’re scared of, not a motley collection of shoplifters hiding behind a couple of part-time stewards. They tried a few old tricks. When the ball was kicked into the crowd, they refused to give it back in an effort to waste time, but in fairness, that ball was probably the most expensive thing some of them have ever held.

The game itself was a broken, fractious affair. Southend took the lead through a wonder-goal worthy of any league in the world, before capitulating to sloppy strikes either side of half-time. An astonishing straight red card for our substitute ended any chance of a comeback and, flanked once again by the police, we were ushered straight back to the train before anything could happen. A mob of Millwall fans were there to meet us on the way and they impolitely asked us to leave London as soon as we could, but there were just four policeman holding them back. If they’d have wanted to do something, they could have done. But they didn’t. Those days appear to be gone.

As for us, we arrived back at London Bridge before 10pm. Over 1,000 of us disembarked and surged down the platform. More police were there to meet us, this time with Alsatians, barking furiously at our intrusion.

“Sea, Sea, Seasiders! Sea, Sea, Seasiders!” went the chant. Passers-by stopped to watch the procession, travellers edged away from the throng and the howling dogs. The policemen glared at us. Never mind Millwall. They probably thought we were Millwall. And they were scared of us. Irony doesn’t get more anti-social than that.
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