On the 18th March 2017, Millwall celebrated the eleventh Dockers Day at The Den before facing Bury in a League One fixture. The occasion highlights Millwall’s historic links with the dock workers, which previously formed a large part of the fan base, with families of these workers still supporting the club today. This year’s Dockers Day also celebrated the 50th anniversary of a 59 home game unbeaten run, with some of the players involved invited to the game an collecting medals on the pitch beforehand.
Millwall Rovers were formed on the Isle of Dogs in 1885, 132 years ago. The club was formed by J.T. Morton workers, who opened their first English food processing plant on the Isle of Dogs in 1870. This plant attracted workers from across the UK, including many Dundee dockers, hence Millwall moving to a Dundee blue coloured shirt a few years ago.
Pride in Millwall's roots
The club recognises its roots, rightly, and back in 2006 decided to hold an annual event in which a successful Millwall side of the past would be invited to a game and onto the pitch. The relation to docks is also where Millwall’s biggest rivalry comes from (West Ham). The majority of either side’s supporters were dock workers in shipyards on opposite sides of the Thames, with the two clubs located less than three miles apart.
The Dockers (now nicknamed the Lions) played at four different grounds around the Isle of Dogs in just 25 years, before moving south of the Thames in 1910. They were also renamed in this time, to Millwall Athletic (1889). Between 1910 and 1920, the ‘Athletic’ was dropped from the name, as Millwall joined the football league playing at The Den.
The unbeaten run and subsequent decline
1964-1967 saw The Lions go on a 59-game home unbeaten run (43 wins and 16 draws), which has not yet been beaten by a Millwall side. The squad included players such as Barry Rowan, Alex Stepney, Hugh Curran and Len Julians. The class of 1971 is another fond period for slightly older Millwall fans, as they went the whole season undefeated. Goalkeeper Bryan King, goalscoring midfielder Derek Possee and legends Harry Cripps and Barry Kitchener (who also has a stand at The Den named after him).
The late 80s and early 90s were a turbulent period for the Lions, with relegation from the top-flight and another stadium move. Millwall moved from The Den to what was originally known as The New Den (now simply The Den) in 1993.
It was just a few years after that Theo Paphitis became chairman, before Keith Stevens led Millwall to their first ever appearance at Wembley, in a Football League Trophy final. Mark McGhee became manager in September 2000, with the Lions going on to win the league and promotion to what is now the Championship. McGhee was sacked in late 2003, with Dennis Wise taking over as player-manager and taking Millwall to their first ever FA Cup final. The South London side remain the only second tier team to ever reach the Cup final. They were beaten 3-0 by Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United at the Millenium Stadium, a result expected by many.
The following season saw Millwall make their only appearance in European football as they were knocked out in the first round proper of the UEFA Cup. This preceded a turbulent spell for the club, which saw a spell of four managers in one calendar year, and then relegation to League One.
The Harris era
In 2007, current chairman John Berylson took over the club, and helped to provide some stability. His first managerial appointment, Kenny Jackett, was in charge for five years. In that time he led the club to two consecutive League One play-off finals versus Scunthorpe and Swindon as well as an FA Cup semi-final whilst in the Championship. In May 2013, Jackett resigned, and Steve Lomas was appointed. Lomas failed to ever get going as Millwall manager, and was sacked on Boxing Day of the same year with the Lions in a relegation battle.
Ian Holloway then remarkably kept the side in the Championship with an unbeaten end to the season, but left the club in huge danger of relegation the following season after being sacked. Neil Harris became caretaker manager, and had ten games to save Millwall, which he couldn’t quite do with limited resources (in terms of poor players). If he had an extra five games or so, I think Millwall would have stayed up. Despite relegation being confirmed before the final game of the season, John Berylson decided that Harris had got some of the Millwall spirit back, and handed him the role on a permanent basis.
Harris’ record as Millwall manager speaks for itself, and is one of the best ever for the club. Last season the club almost won instant promotion back to the Championship, before losing to Barnsley in the play-off final at Wembley Stadium. This season, Harris took Millwall to an FA Cup Quarter final, where they were well-beaten. It ended a seventeen game unbeaten run just eight days after the Lions conceded their first goal in ten games. Harris’ side broke another record as Millwall became the first third tier side to beat three Premier League sides in one FA Cup run.