Examiner Column (12.01.2017): In Defence of The Den

Let me tell you a familiar story.

Sometime in the mid-1880s, a group of industrious workers at the J.T. Morton’s canning and preserve factory in the East End of London held a meeting in an old tavern called The Islander. The details are hazy, but out of that meeting a football club was born.

The onerous task of bringing some order to this ragtag bunch of working men—who had taken to calling themselves Millwall Rovers—fell to the landlord’s son, a seventeen-year-old by the name of Jasper Sexton. By all accounts, he seems to have done a pretty good job, especially for somebody so young.

Thanks to Sexton’s donkeywork, Rovers played their first competitive match on 3rd October, 1885, on a tract of disused wasteland.

They lost 5-0.

In the years since that defeat—I’m not sure whether Sexton blamed the pitch, but you know what they say: it’s the same for both teams—the club has dropped the ‘Rovers’ from its name, done its fair share of ground hopping, won a few trophies, and gained a bit of a, shall we say, “reputation”.

And now, in 2017, all that blood and toil and sweat, all that history, hangs in the balance.

Unfortunately, this is a familiar story, too.

You see, last September, Lewisham Council gave the go-ahead for a controversial plan that will see the New Bermondsey area of the borough undergo extensive redevelopment. Amongst other things, this entails the council issuing a compulsory purchase order on behalf of the shadowy offshore developer Renewal to seize land currently leased to or belonging to Millwall Football Club.

According to those in the know, such a move would have negative long-term consequences for the club’s youth academy and threaten to undermine the good work done by the Millwall Community Trust.

The upshot of this is that the club may be left with little option but to relocate. And with land in the capital at a premium, relocation could mean saying goodbye not just to Lewisham, but to London itself.

Indeed, Millwall’s chief executive, Steve Kavanagh, has even mooted the north Kent coast as a potential destination—an exodus that would almost certainly guarantee the death of the club or the emergence of some kind of ‘MK Dons Mk II’.

Now, good reader, you might be wondering what any of this has to do with you and your blue and white socks. Well, let me tell you, the answer is simple: this is the thin edge of the wedge.

If Lewisham Council succeeds where the Luftwaffe failed, it will send a signal to all those unscrupulous folks out there that working-class institutions and the complex ecosystems they support are up for grabs.

With the final decision now postponed until February, there’s still a chance to write a different story.

As such, HTSA will be lending our support to the Back the Den campaign. If you’d like to join us and thousands of others, visit change.org to sign the petition.