The Den (stadium)


The Den (stadium)

The Den was the fifth football stadium occupied by Millwall F.C. in Cold Blow Lane, New Cross, London since their formation in Millwall on the Isle of Dogs in 1885 before moving to the New Den May 1993. The ground, opened in 1910, was the home of Millwall for 83 years. It boasted a record attendance of 48,672 (v Derby County in 1937). The Den was adjacent to New Cross Stadium, a large athletics stadium which later hosted Greyhound racing and Motorcycle speedway as well as being used by Millwall for training, as Millwall were lacking a training pitch of their own at the time.

History

Millwall moved to The Den from North Greenwich in 1910. They had previously occupied no fewer than four separate grounds on the Isle Of Dogs in the 25 years since their formation as a football club. Tom Thorne, the director in charge, had sought the help of architect Archibald Leitch and builders Humphries of Knightsbridge. The estimated cost of The Den was £10,000. The first match was on Saturday 22 October 1910 against Brighton & Hove Albion, the Southern League Champions who spoiled the celebrations by winning 0 - 1. The price of the official Match Programme was one penny. Unfortunately, the opening ceremony also suffered a slight hitch when it was discovered that Lord Kinnaird had inadvertently gone to the Canterbury (Ilderton) Road end. He had to be unceremoniously hauled, pushed, and pulled over the wall into the ground. After rushing to the other end (Cold Blow Lane) the President of the FA performed a brief opening ritual and led the players onto the pitch. Before kick off a brass lion, inscribed (in Gaelic) "We Will Never Turn Our Backs To The Enemy", was presented to the club.

Millwall's first Football League match at The Den was on August 28 1920. They beat Bristol Rovers 2 - 0. This victory over Rovers was the Lions' seventh successive win against them since moving to The Den. The game was played in the Football League Division 3 South of which Millwall were founder members.

It was here that the famous Millwall Roar was born. During this era, it was considered "good form" for home fans to show their appreciation of good football displayed by the opposition. The Millwall fans however, would quite literally "roar" for their team only, from start to finish. This strongly partisan support was soon to be regarded by the team as "a goal start." The Den became one of the most feared grounds in the country. No team liked to play there, because the crowd and the place itself created such an intimidating atmosphere. Many supporters from the East End of London continued to follow The Lions in the early years after their move south of the River Thames by walking through the Greenwich foot tunnel to join the supporters drawn mainly from the Surrey Docks. The Lions fans were tough, uncompromising, quick to speak their mind and offer advice to the team and officials. Anyone visiting The Den thinking that southerners were soft, soon realised they were in the wrong part of London. It was considered one of the most hostile grounds in the whole of Britain for visiting teams. The Den holds the dubious distinction of being closed a record 5 times by the FA.

In 1920, Millwall scored 83 goals at The Den. This is still a Football League record.

Being in close proximity to the Surrey Commercial Docks, The Den sustained severe bomb damage during The London Blitz and a German bomb hit the North Terrace on 19 April 1943. On 26 April, a fire destroyed the Main Stand. The club accepted offers from neighbours Charlton, Crystal Palace and West Ham to stage games. On 24 February 1944 Millwall returned to The Den, to play in an all-standing stadium. This was achieved, in part, with considerable volunteer labour by the Lions fans.

After the war, rationing in Britain continued and Millwall were refused permission by the Ministry of Works to construct a new two tier stand, despite having procured all the materials. They had to wait until 1948, when permission was granted to build a smaller single tier stand two thirds the length of the pitch, with a forecourt terrace at the front.
Archibald Leitch's "trademark gables" were never replaced.

On October 5, 1953, Millwall played Manchester United to mark the opening of their Floodlights. A crowd of 25,000 saw The Lions beat The Red Devils 2 - 1.

Millwall established an incredible record of 59 home games without defeat at The Den from: 22 August 1964 to 14 January 1967. This was thanks largely to managers Billy Gray, who laid the foundations, and Benny Fenton, a former player who continued to build on Gray's side and also partly due to the ferocious noise generated by The Lions' fans. All the players were presented with a commemorative gold cigarette lighter by the Football Association.

The Den hosted a full England international match against Wales on March 13 1911. England won the game 3 - 0. The Den also hosted an England B international, with England beating Yugoslavia B 2-1 on 12 December 1989. Millwall's first and last Football League games at The Den were played against Bristol Rovers - the final game being at the end of the 1992-93 Division One campaign.

By the late 1970s, The Den had fallen into disrepair and there was proposals to build a "Super-Den" on the existing sites of The Den and the adjacent New Cross Stadium, with an anticipated all-seater capacity between 25,000 and 30,000. However, the club could not raise sufficient funds to pay for the ambitious project and it eventually fell through, proving very unpopular with the Lions fans, culminating in mass demonstrations against Chairman Reg Burr.

The stadium was demolished later in 1993. The site is now occupied by new houses and flats however the site and surrounding area are now known to locals as "Little Millwall" and Millwall fans still make the trip by foot from New Cross Gate station through the area to the all-seater New Den Stadium in Bermondsey.

Quotes

*"The away-team dressing room is like a dungeon, no light, no window. The bathrooms are horrible. Then you get out there to face them, The Lions. And they just come storming at you and most sides just jack it in. When you have been there a little time though, you grow to love it. It's one of our biggest assets." Eamon Dunphy

*"Teams just didn't like coming to play here, which is one of the reasons we were unbeaten for so long. The crowd really used to intimidate the opposition. I remember marking Frannie Lee when he was playing for Bolton, and after a few minutes he said to me, 'Ain't you popular with the crowd.' I said 'Yeah, but if you don't come into my half you'll be alright!' He didn't really come near me for the whole game after that!" Harry Cripps

*"I remember running on to the pitch at The Den when I was a youngster with Leicester in the fifth round of the FA Cup. The place resembled a huge trap, and the venom that hit us from the Millwall fans was unbelievable. I remember thinking to myself, maybe it would be a good idea not to score at this place!" Gary Lineker

*"The most memorable goal I ever scored at The Den was a tap-in from point blank range - the fans would have hung me if I'd missed it! What made it so special was that it was our first ever Division One [home] game, and it gave us our first ever [home] win in the top flight - I'm deadly from that sort of range!" Teddy Sheringham

*"I know a lot of Millwall supporters will be choked about leaving The Den, but you've got to move with the times and I think the new ground they've built down the road looks superb. I think all of us lament the move to all seater stadiums, but you can't stand still in this business. If you do that, you're dead." George Graham

References

*Millwall 1910 - 1993. "Goodbye to The Den." Deano Standing and Rob Bowden, 1993. Sports and Leisure Print Ltd. Mitcham Surrey
*Eamon Dunphy, "Only A Game.? Diary of a Professional Footballer." Penguin UK 1987. ISBN 0140102906

External links

* [http://www.millwall-history.co.uk/the_den.htm History of The Den]
* [http://www.millwallfc.co.uk Official Millwall Website]


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