Filed: Friday, 26th September 2003
By: Graeme Howlett
'Millwall versus West Ham, West Ham versus Millwall. Whatever way you look at it, it spells serious trouble'.
So wrote former ICF member Cass Pennant in his recent book 'Congratulations, You've Met the ICF'. And indeed, those in the know say there's no other derby like it, as for the first time in more than ten years the East and South of London prepare to lock horns for the first of two potentially explosive meetings this season.
This Sunday, Millwall visit the Boleyn Ground for the first time since March 1993 when goals from Kevin Keen and Trevor Morley earned the Hammers a valuable point in our last promotion season.
That game witnessed a midday kick-off - just as this coming Sunday's match will, as police try to minimise the risk of trouble by getting supporters into the ground before the pubs open (although one or two pubs are set to open doors early, no doubt to the utter annoyance of the Met who have drafted in over 800 extra officers to police the game).
Already much of the pre-match talk inevitably concerns off-field activities rather than those on the pitch, as one would perhaps expect from a fixture possessing the kind of history and rivalry inherent between the two teams.
Which, when you consider that the clubs have only met 19 times competitively in their history would maybe seem a little odd. But then again the history of this fixture runs a lot deeper than just two football teams - much like the divide which separates Glasgow's two big clubs.
As legend has it the first evidence of trouble between the two factions came at the turn of the 20th century when Millwall dockers - whose team used to play on the Isle of Dogs before later moving South of the river - broke picket lines to return to work after a strike.
Branded 'scabs' by their Thames Ironworks counterparts (the forebears of West Ham United) violence erupted in and around the docks, and from that day since the feud between the two communities has remained strong. Although a lack of meetings in recent years has minimised violent confrontations between the groups that feud has remained, bubbling under the surface like a dormant volcano preparing to erupt for the first time in years. And this coming Sunday it may well do so.
Recent historical events have hardly helped to soothe relations between the two communities; the 1971 testimonial match for Millwall favourite Harry Cripps is credited by many as being the catalyst for more recent trouble.
Amidst an atmosphere described by one witness as 'pure evil and something I had never witnessed as a football fan' the two sets of fans went to war both inside and outside the (Old Den) stadium, as the precedent for 30 further years of violence was set.
As the 1970's progressed so did the volume and level of violent incidents between the two groups of supporters. The serious nature of the incidents - just in case there were any doubters remaining - was graphically highlighted in 1976 when a young Millwall fan was killed by a tube train at New Cross after the two firms had clashed on the platform.
Two years later a young West Ham supporter was stabbed to death (with a knitting needle) in an similar incident. But even the loss of two young lives failed to prevent the two groups from continuing their war of hate, and violent episodes were recorded right up until our last meeting back in 1993.
Since then the Police have used advancing technology to aid them in their battle against the hooligans - and, it should be added, with great success, as anyone present at last Tuesday night's Cardiff v West Ham clash will attest.
However despite the huge numbers of Police set to be present in and around Upton Park on Sunday outbreaks of trouble are still expected - and probably inevitable. Whether that is in the ground or further afield remains to be seen, but with reports that some Millwall fans have purchased tickets in home sections (despite West Ham trying to shut the door after the horse has bolted by finally refusing to sell tickets to buyers with no previous purchase history) all Hammers supporters attending the game will need to be vigilant in order to avoid becoming immersed in any nasty scenes.
On to the game itself - yes, there is a football match going on too! Hammers caretaker boss Trevor Brooking looks set to name a similar side to that which won 3-2 at Cardiff on Tuesday night.
With Steve Lomas and Michael Carrick still a week or so away from possible returns Rob Lee is likely to retain his central midfield berth - despite this being the 37-year-old's third game inside eight days.
Up front David Connolly and Neil Mellor are likely to partner Jermain Defoe, who is on fire after scoring all three of West Ham's goals at Cardiff.
And the 20-year-old striker says he can't wait for this Sunday's game to kick off.
Talking on whufc.com, Defoe said:
"I think the atmosphere will make it better; that will be there with the Millwall fans as it was at Cardiff. it will be the same this weekend."
"I am happy I got the three goals on Tuesday; hopefully I can go on another run. As a striker all you want to do is score goals."
For the Lions crowd favourite Neil Harris is a major doubt, whilst Australian defender Kevin Muscat misses out through suspension.
Meanwhile Millwall midfielder Dennis Wise - who will no doubt be as 'up for it' as many of his teams supporters - spoke confidently about his team's chances this Sunday, despite starting as massive underdogs.
We are capable of going to West Ham and beating them," he told the Evening Standard this morning. "I think we quite enjoy it when there are a lot of people, it gets us going and that's how it should be really.
"And because I'm a London boy I also know what the fans feel and what the results mean to them."
What it means to all of us, Dennis ...
West Ham United - likely starting XI: James, Repka, Quinn, Dailly, Pearce, Ferdinand, Lee, Horlock, Mellor, Connolly, Defoe.
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