Let ‘Em Come!

FA Cup, 3rd Round Proper (replay) – Millwall FC v Dagenham & Redbridge FC
Tuesday, 17th January 2012, 7.45pm
The (New) Den
Distance 20 miles, Attendance 3751
Through a combination of folklore and the vagaries of time, I’ve always believed my sport loving Grandfather supported Millwall as a child; growing up in the parish of St George in the East it’s really not implausible. Of course our family also held the belief that we descended from the Clan of Lindsay and now both claims look tenuous (I also cannot confirm any connection between said clan and the Morton’s Jam Factory). As it turns out Millwall moved south of the river around the time of his birth so to have been attended games he, like me last night, would’ve been completely reliant on shoddy public transport to venture to the other side.
If you consider a day is a long time in politics, a century is obviously not long enough in public transport. When I arrived at London Bridge the place was packed to the rafters and the trains were definitely not “getting there”* or anywhere. The only positive to be found amongst the morass of weary souls, and “DELAYED” signs, was there was no way all this crowd was heading for South Bermondsey so the promise of standing room was not out of the question. Leaving the train five minutes later, we away fans were greeted with a friendly nod from the boys in blue at the entrance to our very own private walkway. For all the rhetoric it’s really quite an easy journey. Halfway down, I remarked to my companion that there were many other grounds that might benefit from such thoroughfares (her club for one).
Of course younger segments of the travelling fans about us weren’t so complimentary but I’ve come to expect this at Millwall. Really if they’d ever had the pleasure of visiting the (Old) Den they’d know this new ground is downright luxurious & welcoming. No, it’s not going to top the choice picks with Voyages Jules Verne, and yes some of the old siege mentality can prevail, but really Millwall is not the worst ground to visit in London (a phrase about a country mile spring to mind).

As the strains of “Let ‘Em Come” died down, the one open refreshment stall in the North Stand ran out of food, and the game kicked off. The opening exchanges were all about The Daggers who harried and hustled without opening a clear chance on goal. Even when Paul Robinson knocked a pretty dreadful back pass towards David Forde the away team failed to profit. Within seconds the difference in class between the two sides was evident. Darius Henderson collected the ball on the edge of the Dagenham & Redbridge box. He turned and curled a beautiful left-footed strike into the top corner. It said it all. Whilst the Daggers seemed to have plenty of possession in midfield, up front they were sadly lacking. For them to score it would no doubt need a herculean effort, and the longer this pattern went on the louder their supporters just sang to block out the pain. On 13minutes when doubling the lead seemed a certainty, Liam Feeney spooned a wonderful chance wide after Henderson and Harry Kane had done all the hard work. Still the Daggers fans sung on “We’re the red and blue army…”. Again, and again, when good goal attempts came they all seemed to fall to Millwall. The Lions tidy forward play might have been uncomfortable viewing for those near us but for a neutral/Watford fan it was truly entertaining, and the old boys were doing themselves proud. Henderson was leading the line manfully. Darren Ward was solid at the back. Jack Smith got turned a once or twice but was much stronger than the youngster I remembered. Hameur Bouazza was fast and one-footed, but always involved. And then there’s Kenny Jackett, one of the greatest midfielders ever to wear the yellow shirt, and the longest serving manager in Division 2**… Ten years on I still won’t hear a bad word about him.
Back to the play and when the next goal arrived it of course fell to the Lions. They may not have outplayed the visitors in the middle of the park but they clearly outshone them where it mattered. Harry Kane’s low drive from the edge of the D to the far corner sent the Daggers faithful scurrying for an early halftime cuppa and a smoke. Four minutes later, missed by many of their fans, Dagenham & Redbridge had their first shot on goal, then immediately had their second; both from Richard Rose, and both well wide. A minute later the ref’s whistle signalled halftime.

As the fans climbed the stairs back to their seats (no, not in block 21, those seats are too empty and blue, you need to cram together for warmth in block 22), optimism refreshed, the game started to come alive. The first chance of the half came as a Daggers’ free kick hit the wall, and immediately Millwall broke up the other end only to be thwarted by a fine Chris Lewington double save. Back in front of us, Forde watched a Dominic Green shot flash over his bar, and was then forced to tip a Billy Bingham cross away from the goalmouth though no-one was on hand to make the most of the rebound (probably the visitors’ first and last attempt on target). Liam Trotter then shot wide, and just when I thought we wouldn’t see another goal, like buses, three came in quick succession. First, Trotter skipped past the advancing keeper and slotted the ball across to Henderson with empty net before him. Three minutes on, a soft penalty gave Henderson a chance of his second hat trick of the season. Even if the keeper had dived the right way I knew he was never going to miss.
It could, and probably should, have been far more by then, but minutes later, as Kane headed in a fifth, it was clear for many in our stand even a miracle would not give them victory. Whilst I was thinking of the possibility of double figures some were making for the exits. Those that remained sung to the bitter end. Essex and Eastenders featured often, though “Living On A Prayer” seemed the most apt. At the final whistle, still in good humour, the 540 members of “Ian Beale’s Barmy Army” made for the waiting coaches and trains. There was nothing to be disappointed about. The Daggers had done their level best but in front of goal were completely outclassed. Supporters countrywide could easily empathise; we’ve all been there at some point. Enjoyable as events as they both were, having witnessed both “Redbridge” teams lose 5-0 in the FA Cup this season I’m just concerned I’ll get black-balled in the future.

affordable good football, expensive weak tea

There are some who dread the thought of a trip to Bermondsey but for me it had been an enjoyable evening. Everyone was welcoming; the girl in the ticket office who wished me a pleasant evening despite the fact I would sit with away fans, the Millwall supporting bus driver who took a ticketless me out of the cold to get me to the station on time, the friendly police response to questions I asked, the jovial steward who searched my bag and then amusingly called my friend “love” when suggesting a female steward look in hers (if you knew Amanda you’d understand), the refreshment stand staff who were courteous and pleasant despite having bugger all to sell to a disappointed group, and the fans of both teams who were also warm to us despite my concerns of the dress code of some on such a cold evening. And then we have Millwall Football Club…
I’ll stand on my soapbox right now and state that despite the wishes of some song lyrics, I do like Millwall Football Club. I always have. I really don’t like paying £2 for a cup of weak tea, nor the hideous colour of Bouazza’s boots, but I do warm to the possibility that my Grandfather might once have supported them. I also appreciate the good community work done by the club in recent times to improve their image, and the loyalty of their fans, and the way family ties people to this club. It wasn’t perfect but I liked the way the team played on the night, and their “Dundee Blue” shirts, and especially liked some of the interplay between the front four. I like the fact Emilio Estevez claims to be a fan, and I enjoyed the welcome back afforded Shaun Batt as he ran on the pitch after a lengthy period of injury. And I REALLY like “Let ‘Em Come”. Yes, it sounds like it was recorded in a London boozer, and yes I’d like it more if it were about Watford, but really I like it as I do most club songs; for the way it really draws supporters together at the start of the game, and after every goal. Despite what one very new club*** is trying to do, you can’t buy unity like that.
 (*1980s joke/lie, **in old money, ***now there’s a club that no one really likes)
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