My ambivalence about bigger clubs means I have hugely enjoyed my visits to football clubs south of the Thames. I reckon if I lived in London I would probably follow Crystal Palace. I’ve always liked that white strip of theirs right back to the early days of Steve Kember (who was to appear in the game featured). That famous promotion-winning side of 1979 was well loved by the greater football community. It was in early November of that year that I set off for Croydon to see them play Manchester City in what turned out to be one of the best games I have attended.
The return of City manager ‘Big Mal’ Malcolm Allison to Selhurst Park, Fedora et al, was as much a feature of the game as anything else. He received the welcome he deserved as the Palace fans remembered the glorious cup run he took their team on three years earlier. Another flamboyant character in the form of Palace manager Terry Venables, his former protege at Palace was the manager he faced off against. What a game! The young Palace courtiers of Peter Nicholas, Vince Hilaire, Paul Gilbert and Kenny Sansom stiffened by the likes of Jim Cannon, Kember and John Burridge took it to City and triumphed 2-0 through David Swindlehurst and Ian Walsh goals.
City had plenty of interest themselves as they had broken the British transfer record to land Steve Daley from Wolves. They also had paid fairly handsomely for forward Michael Robinson, later of Liverpool and Spanish commentary game. I liked Palace and Selhurst Park. It had been a memorable game for all sorts of reasons and I was pleased to have seen that side in their pomp.
It would 35 years later before I arrived at another south London ground, namely Charlton Athletic’s Valley. Over for a function, I let the aforesaid now early teenage lad tackle the London Underground on his own to go to West Ham v Swansea. It’s good having his mother wound up. So I headed out towards Greenwich way by of the Jubilee line, bus and foot enjoying the O2 view as well. A London derby awaited between Charlton and QPR. Again, it was the sort of club that appealed to me. A strong south London identity that extended well out into Kent as Dennis from Sevenoaks explained to me in the next seat.
I was conscious that at one stage this ground once had an almighty capacity for many years, 75,000 odd. Not just that but the Who had broken some decibel limit as well at a concert there in the seventies. Marvellous stuff! Harry Redknapp was Rangers’ manager and there were some interesting names in their side. On one side of the application divide was Ravel Morrison (on loan from West Ham) and others in blue and white were the likes of Robert Green, Aaron Hughes, Clint Hill and Jermain Jenas. An injury-time winner from club legend Johnnie Jackson won the game for Charlton. I did enjoy getting the obligatory photo in front of the big Excalibur sword outside the ground.
The final South London ground to be visited of course was Millwall’s Den. Once again in the flow of general directional inquiries, I was alighted upon by one Lion diehard. This was more than the usual football family stuff to an Irish visitor like myself. There was very much a touch of the ‘we aren’t all savages from Bermondsey’ aspect to his help. He wasn’t happy until he had me in front of the ticket office fully loaded with the best view of Millwall fans that he could muster. Thank-you mate, it was appreciated but I had no such pre-judgement.
The match was a late January midweek affair in 2018 against Derby County which was to end goalless. Northern Irish interest was strong with Conor McGlaughlin, Shane Ferguson and George Saville on the pitch for the home side. What I did enjoy was the ‘proper football match’ aspect to it untouched by any Premier League razzmatazz. Perhaps it comes free with your ticket to the Dockers’ stand. I do remember famous Millwall fan Danny Baker astounding a few Premiership pundits many years ago when he was unable to comment on some latest Premiership news. They simply couldn’t comprehend this but Millwall was his club and what happened way up the chain didn’t interest him. Brilliant!
The highlight for me was the constant and famous Millwall chorus of ‘Mill………’ repeated and layered ad infinitum. It is different and has an atmospheric texture you don’t get everywhere which of course is what it is all about. It’s constant call and refrain is a football fan equivalent of bagpipes the way its noise is constantly inflated. That idea would probably appal them. So, just Brentford and Wimbledon and Barnet to go to finally cover London. I’m not counting Watford – Hertfordshire for me.