Sitting in the West Lower with my seven year Granddaughter before the Charlton game it crossed my mind how much things had changed since my first match, between Millwall and York City in December 1960. Not the obvious like transfer fees, obscene wages for Premier League players and the large number of foreign players and managers that have joined our clubs and in some cases enhanced our game, no more down to earth things like stadiums, rules and the great game we love.
Looking across to the Dockers Stand it immediately came to mind that many stadiums are now lit up with lights around the top of stands. Gone are the good old floodlights, not completely of course. Our four pylons at the old Den, supported by giant concrete blocks where fans would stand during big games much to the annoyance of the Police.
But for many they were not just there to light up the pitch but to act as a giant signpost for away fans to look for on there way to an unfamiliar area. The introduction of the Satnav has come to many fans aid in recent years with no floodlights to scan the sky for.
The floodlights came in all shapes and sizes, tall, small, fat and thin just like the fan in many ways. Some would throw out brilliant light while others barely lit up the gloom. A visit to Villa Park would mean an opportunity to see the enormous bulbs, set out in such a way as to portray giant A’s and V’s in the four corners of the ground. I always thought a great sight on a dark night.
Our own lights at the old ground were on the dull side, but a few minutes after kick off when lighting on the terraces and stand were turned off or dimmed the pitch was suddenly ablaze. The lights returned shortly before the interval to aid fans visiting the kiosks and toilets, but darkness returned at the commencement of the second half. Health & Safety issues put paid to that I suspect.
Another change, and not for the better in my humble opinion, is that the teams now enter the pitch together, like two rows of soldiers, the referee at centre stage leading out the teams in formation ready for the unwanted, by most anyway, handshake. I don’t suppose warriors doing battle at the Coliseum in Rome bothered with this trivia.
Twenty five years ago my eldest lad was the Millwall mascot at Maine Road for a midweek game. Standing in the tunnel with the players he later said he was both nervous and excited in equal measure. I asked him what he liked best. He said running out from the dimmed tunnel in to the light, Manchester City booing and jeering and then turning towards the Millwall fans in the away end to be cheered and clapped. He said it was absolutely fantastic. I am sure it would not of been quite so good with both teams coming out together. A four nil defeat was soon forgotten after such a great night for a young lad.
Coming out individually I believe helped Millwall at Cold Blow Lane. The away team came out to a hostile reception knowing it would not be an easy night. The Lions came out to raptuous applause and noise. It could not help but lift the players and our wonderful 59 game unbeaten run in no small measure was down to the so called twelth man, our crowd.
Joe Mercer the legendary Manchester City Manager once said of our fans, ‘if you lose there your a mug, if you draw there your a mug, even if you manage to win there your still a mug. Wise words from a great football man.
There have of course been many changes over the years, Sky have changed how football is watched beyond all recognition. Football for them is 24/7 and aimed solely at the armchair fan. It is not unusual now for live game to be shown seven days a week, often three Premier League games on a Sunday afternoon followed by three Spanish La Liga ones. One might consider this to be overkill, not Sky.
Kick offs all over the place with no concern for the traveling away fan, Tottenham at Sunderland for a Saturday lunch time kick off, Newcastle at Chelsea for a 4 p.m. kick off on a Sunday or Wigan Athletic at Southampton on a Monday night. Unfair for the traveling fan? of course, but do Sky or the Premier League care? You decide.
Our fans even though not dictated to by the TV people to the same extent still have problems, early kick offs at Leeds and by the way pick your match tickets up at an M1 Service Station please. Enough said.
The Saturday three O’clock kick off once the standard time for all teams to start there games. Not true, I hear you shout and your right. When I first went to the Den we kicked off at three fifteen, we were given dispensation by the League so that our Dock workers, who traditionally worked on a Saturday morning could get to the game and I am sure have a quick beer on the way.
Would the Football League be so obliging to Millwall and it’s fans now? I am sure if it was a request by Sky they would be accommodating.
Monday nights at the time was our normal midweek league game day with a 7.15 p.m. kick off. I often think a 7.15 p.m. start might help our midweek attendance with Mums and Dads more likely to take the kids to our games on a school night. Food for thought?
But I digress, back to the TV. In the early sixties basically only the F A Cup final was shown live, occasionally an International game or a European final. What a football on the tele day it was though, starting at about eight in the morning going on to well after the game had ended.
How the teams reached Wembley, interviews with players and managers from the team hotel, the coach to Wembley, the pre match Wembley walkabout and on pitch interviews, the line ups, a rousing rendition of Abide With Me, the match, the Cup presentation. Intermingled was Cup Final It’s a Knock Out, Celebrity fans and other assorted bits and pieces. Not forgetting How The Cup Was Won to look forward too. A great football day indeed.
What about the Cup draw I hear you say. Another great tradition sadly passed. Monday lunch time, portable radio at the ready in work place, home and school waiting for your teams number to be picked out of the hat. For smaller teams dreams of a game against Manchester United, Liverpool or Arsenal, preferably away.
The draw now live on TV usually on a Sunday afternoon. No wonder the glamour and love of our great tournament, with worldwide viewing and envy, has all but disappeared. The Final no longer the seasons finale and now shared with Premier League games and not always at three O’clock. Do our F A know what a treasure they have?
I might moan more than when I first started going to games, it comes with age apparently and is allowed, but I love going to games as much now as when I was young. However, some things in the game have made a turn for the worse, for example physical contact.
The Harry Cripps of the world would be forever in the referees notebook for his, lets call it robust and fully committed tackles, in a bygone era when no quarter was asked for or given players were expected to challenge hard but usually fairly. Wingers in particular were brought up on tough tackling fullbacks, centre forwards received and gave out hefty treatment to there opponents without complaint.
Many of todays players have a somewhat different view with diving, feigning injury, trying to get opponents yellow or red carded and complaining to the referee all to common. I am not suggesting we go back to the days where brutality was often ignored but a half way house where physical contact is not outlawed would I believe improve the viewing and spectacle of the game.
In the past goalkeepers were barged over and often received heavy treatment from opposing players and there certainly was a need for some protection, now they are wrapped in cotton wall with many legitimate goals cancelled out due to the slightest contact with the man in green, except he is unlikely to wear green now but any colour of the rainbow. Perhaps the protection of the goalkeeper started when Chelsea goalkeeper Peter Bonetti took to wearing green gardening type gloves, not to dissimilar to those the outfield players often wear now. I assume he made a few extra quid out of it?
The proper bounce up between two committed players is another thing rarely seen. Terry Hurlock waiting for the ball to be released by the referee with an opponent just feet away was worth the entrance fee alone.
So the tackling was harder and contact more prevalent, but were there more injuries? Carpet slipper type boots the players now wear hardly give any protection to the foot or ankle, no one had heard of a broken metatarsal when more substantial boots were worn. We all recognise that todays game is far quicker and perhaps as a consequence mistimed tackles may cause more injuries but were the players more likely to play through knocks and injuries or were they simply just tougher and more resilient?
Liverpool won a League Championship in the seventies with a total of 14 players. The substitution bench, depending on what league your in, could account for half that total now. Three substitutes for any reason, injury, tiredness or just plain useless, has always seemed excessive to me. One substitute seems more than enough. If we are not careful it will end up like Rugby with players coming on and off at will. I’m sure the managers would like it but is it good for the flow of the game?
Now on the subject of fitness I give you the Referee and Linesman, sorry slip of the tongue, Assistant Referee, who thought that one up I ask you?
In short our beloved rule enforcers in black, except they don’t wear black so much now. Oh well I’ll pass on that one.
It was claimed some years ago that full time paid officials would be fitter and more competent and was a positive and progressive step forward. I would like to know his view now as clearly this is not the case if the officials we regularly get down the Den is anything to go by. How many Lino’s, once a Lino always a Lino, are too old, too slow and too overweight. Yes, it is a generalisation but nevertheless factual.
There are too many of them who are trying to keep up with fit men, half there age and it isn’t working. I would add it’s not much better in the Premier League either.
On a more positive note and I almost feel embarrassed to mention it, the women officials now entering the professional game do appear to me to be fitter and more likely to keep up with the game and have improved the competency of the officiating. I am sure this is not everyones view.
OK it’s easy to be critical of the poor old referee, yes he has his own problems not of his making. The off side rule for one and trying to decide if a player in an offside position is active or not.
So let’s move on to us fans and the changes we have gone through. No longer a rosette to be seen other than on an old Pathe News clip and what happened to the beloved rattle of my youth. Not safe to friend or foe when rotated at speed and certainly construed as weapon by the Boys in Blue.
Dr Martins and rolled up jeans sadly no longer, as at least you had a good idea who the trouble maker might be. A generalisation again I’m afraid. The fan in the white butchers coat with his teams name carefully written in biro on the back no longer seen.
Now we have the replica shirt with Sponsors name proudly displayed on the front and sometimes back too. Now a great money spinner for clubs retailing at anything up £60 a go. Paying to have someones product displayed on your shirt. Who ever dreamt that one up is a genius.
But I’ve left the best to last, the ground naming rights, bringing in loads and loads of money. The Emirates, The Etihad, B2Net Stadium, The Weston Homes Community Centre Stadium, Amex the list goes on, erasing history as it goes. I nearly forgot, the oh to short Sports Direct Stadium replacing St James’s Park, a Stadium steeped in history and a rename despised by the fans.
My suggestion for our own ground would be the Concise Oxford Dictionary Arena. In my opinion it has a nice ring to it and encapsulates the large number of words conveyed to players and officials at every home game.
Sorry, I digress again. Back to the fans. Millwall’s fan base, although not solely South East London is still on the whole fairly local if you include Kent and East London.
As a kid I was born and bred in Kennington. Most of the lads in my Street were Millwall, My Mum and Brother were Arsenal if the truth be told but I’ll skip that. There were a few Chelsea, a Brentford fan whose parents had moved over the River and a West Ham lad who was posh and was called Jonathan or Jonty by his Mum. There was a Wolves supporter in the next street and one who liked Hamilton Academical’s, why I have no idea. What I am painstakingly eluding too is that you supported your local team or your Dads team.
This is no longer the case. Kids, perhaps because of the cost to their parents of going to games, are more and more likely to support successful teams that they see week in week out on Sky. What’s more they may well change their allegiance, more than once as teams fortunes rise and fall. One of many reason why Millwall struggle to increase attendances. How you break that cycle is obviously a difficult one.
Another support relate thing that has changed in the last fifty odd years is the floating fan, I don’t mean the Foreign fans who descend on the Den fairly often. I refer to the person who will go a match if his own team is not playing or are away from home and he is not going. I must own up to being one of those. If I’m not watching the Lions I will be at a game somewhere. Unacceptable to some, waste of time to others, I know, and can understand that point of view. Nevertheless, that is what I do and have done for many years. Fewer people do that than in the past.
In the early Sixties sitting in our old wooden stand two Millwall supporters who sat in front of me also had Season Tickets at Charlton. Charlton wasn’t there second team or anything like that, they just went there alternative Saturdays. I know Aston Villa fans who regularly went to watch Birmingham City and West Brom years ago when the Villa were away.
It was said, I don’t know by who, that Stanley Matthews and Nat Lofthouse could put 10000 on an away gate by playing. People would happily pay to see them play. In later years perhaps Gazza and Best may of done the same, but to a lesser degree. Pay on the Day restrictions would certainly make it more difficult today.
Pay on the Day, no longer the norm, certainly not in the Premier League and often for us away from home. In the Sixties most games were Pay on the Day even the high profile ones. OK you might have to get to a ground two or three hours early, but if you did you would get in. Cup ties might be all ticket and you would need to line up the previous Sunday morning basically on a first come first served basis.
Obviously, this is not the case with some Championship, Division One and Two clubs. What ever happened to Division three and four and before that Division three North and South? A good idea in my view with low incomes and high outgoings for smaller clubs. Worth some consideration I would suggest. Sorry I digress again.
Just turning up to see a game has always appealed to me. So why has it faded? Pay on the Day is no longer quite what you would envisage, it often means lining up at a ticket window to purchase your ticket before lining up again to gain access to the ground at the turnstile. Millwall comes to mind here, not to mention a need for a membership card from time to time.
Clubs are certainly not happy that turnstile operators handle the clubs money, I mean cash of course. In addition I suspect the Tax and VAT men in the past have been concerned with the anomalies between reported attendances and actual ones.
I am sure none of us ever witnessed packed terraces at the Old Den only to find a modest attendance reported in the paper. I am sure Club Accountants throughout the land are now scrupulously accurate and beyond reproach.
But to me, certainly in the days when my kids were young, the turnstile operator was a God send allowing kids to be passed over the turnstile for free entrance. In 1984 I had a ticket for the Everton v Watford Cup final at Wembley. My eldest lad, then seven, wanted to go. So I took him squeezing in the turnstile together to gain entry. Would I get away with that at Wembley now. Doubtful.
There are of course many instances of change being for the good. New Stadia and refurbishment for example. I know the new stadiums are often describe as soulless and all the same, but you can not get away with the fact that they are safer, have better views of the action and are easier to Police. Perhaps steward rather than Police is a better word as the Steward is considerably cheaper than the Policeman so clubs tend to employ them.
No longer the need to pass the kids down to the front so they could see, often over the heads of fans. The milk crate for kids to stand on to see, no longer allowed. Bygone days of course.
It is nearly twenty years since we left our beloved Den and I rarely feel the New Den is home. Certainly not like the old place. The atmosphere does not often reach the heights of our previous abode, Huddersfield in the play offs probably one of the few exceptions. I don’t know the stats but I suspect our home results at the new place on the whole do not match those of the old place? Opposing teams and fans did not like Cold Blow Lane and no wonder ‘inviting‘ is not a word you would use to describe it.
Abuse now sometimes replaces humour at home, which is a pity. We now have ball boys, mascots, sponsors on the pitch so different to my early days. Sticking with the pitch, now more like a bowling green than a football surface where the muddy and puddled goalmouth is no more. Games are more likely to be called off due to the conditions in the surrounding areas than the pitch.
And what about the pitch invasion? I don’t mean the bloke who runs on to confront the referee, player or away fans, I refer to the celebration type invasion seen when Hereford downed the mighty Newcastle. It was not only acceptable but loved by the media. Sadly, it is not seen in quite the same light, as fans not content to just celebrate goad opposing fans.
Obviously, Ipswich and Luton pitch invasions did us no good in the past and we are watched and monitored far more closely by the authorities than most. Even when fans of other teams misbehave on the field of play our name will always be mentioned for misdemeanors long ago. Sadly, I suppose our celebrations must always be on the stand side of the perimeter wall.
Another pitch invader is now rarely observed. The dog on the pitch. How it ever got into the ground let alone over the wall was always a mystery to me, but was usually a source of amusement to fan and player alike.
Of course there have been numerous other changes, the smell of liniment, do players not bother with it now? Saturday afternoon reserve games, boxes and corporate hospitality, the all white ball or orange in the snow and the never to be forgotten half time scoreboard on the wall round the pitch.
Forget the electronic scoreboard, Sky mobile, the TV’s in the concourse and the tannoy announcer. The traditional one where a little man would bring numbers round half way through the half time interval and clip to the permanent letter screwed to the wall. A 1-1, B 2-0, C 0-1, D 0-0. and so on You would of course have to buy a programme or borrow one, to see that A Arsenal v Sheffield Wednesday was 1-1 and B Chelsea were 2-0 against Leicester etc. It was goof fun, well it was in those days.
The programme, just the likely starting line ups, numbered 1 – 11 no player with 46 on his back or list of the squad in those good old days. Sadly no Fanzines either.
Of course technology has made the scoreboard man redundant. If he was about today he wouldn’t have to rush to get the scores on the wall for the traditional ten minute interval is now fifteen minutes, probably to suit the advertisers and in ground vendors. Next time we reach half time check your watch and you will see the break is gradually creeping up 16, 17 or even 18 minutes. The official twenty minute break is on it’s way. I wonder who will be best pleased?
Whatever happened to the peanut seller at the old ground who wandered round the terraces selling his wares? He has never been seen at the new ground selling peanuts as far as I’m aware, did he progress to a hot dog stall?
What’s more did he have to pay at the turnstiles to get in or pay the club a fee to sell his peanuts? Did he go to Charlton on alternative weeks? These questions are a constant burden to me.
No comparison with the past would be complete without reference to, yes, the toilets. Many moons ago, probably mid sixties, I can’t be more precise than that, I was entering the old ground at the CBL turnstiles. Clearing the turnstile and surviving the police body search, not everything changes, a bloke asked me if I had been to the toilets. Honestly he wasn’t soliciting me, well I don’t think so. Anyway, I replied that I hadn’t and he suggested I did. It’s the ones at the far end by the club offices he added.
As instructed off I went for the inspection. On entering the hell hole it seemed a little darker, looking up I realised a corrugated iron roof had been added. No longer would I face getting soaked on a wet day when emptying my bladder, I would be able to differentiate between rain water and piss and be able to place my feet accordingly. ‘A small step for Millwall but a giant leap no longer required for mankind’ or whatever the saying is. It’s a pity they didn’t instal a light at the same time.
Obviously our new bogs are better assuming of course you can see through the smoke and not want a number two.
I wonder what course football will take in the next fifty years?