To say Millwall have a reputation is to say hedgehogs are spiky.
Even before this game I’d had a diluted taste of their punch. On a train out of London Bridge a few years hence, two Millwall supporters, evidently not acquainted, were arguing about who was more Millwall. Having agreed to disagree, they turned their joint ire around the carriage, laughing and joking at the people around them. I was one of those people, in a football shirt that wasn’t Millwall.
And thus, the philosophers spoke: look at this glasses c*nt.
(Note: from this point on, the word c*nt is used so frequently that I will substitute it for br0).
I’ve since had laser eye surgery, so my trip to The New Den was starting off on a far more optimistic footing.
Sadly, on the morning of the game I was suffering with back pain. The night before I’d been trying, unsuccessfully, to beat dad’s deadlift record. I was on the ibuprofen, then, and made the seismic call to not indulge in any coffee for the day.
This couldn’t possibly ruin the day, though, as the sun shone down across south London. Alighting the train at South Bermondsey, short-sleeved, untucked, button down shirts were as ubiquitous as the fluorescent yellow of the police. It seemed most present had, like me, read the University of Edinburgh study claiming that exposure to sunshine could help reduce blood pressure. The men taking in a sneaky smoke in the toilets were somewhat negating the benefits, though.
I was sat behind the goal in the Cold Blow Lane End upper tier. The stadium is a tidy, compact unit seemingly without a bad view. A bit boxy, but pleasingly symmetrical, much like Mags Ocampo’s cubist self-portrait. Those around me wholeheartedly agreed.
Sadly, the unobstructed views meant it was impossible to hide from the substandard football. Sheffield United knocked it about well in the first half, whereas Millwall knocked it long, to a forward line distinctly lacking a target man.
The restlessness of the home fans took all of three minutes to surface. With people still taking their seats, the linesman gave a throw-in to Sheffield United. Cue the man sitting directly behind me: oh fuck off bro! Can’t you fuckin’ see bro? Bro!
I ran a hand down the back of my neck to check if any saliva or an exploded eyeball had landed there.
A lightning strike of fear suddenly tore through me: what if the University of Edinburgh’s research was inaccurate? This man’s blood pressure was clearly through the roof despite his exposure to sunlight. What if we were all just soaking up cancer instead?
The man behind me had no such worries, unfurling a fine linguistic tapestry in which he called everyone, on both teams, a bro. In fact, I grew to admire his ability to hold so much disdain for something he loved. I couldn’t help but wonder if his wife was ok.
With the score 1-1 at half time, Millwall started to turn the screw with mixed results. Tips and advice flowed down from the stands:
HARRIS SORT IT OUT BRO!
GET IT IN THE FUCKIN’ BOX BRO! NAAAAHHHH BRO BRO BRO!
ONE BRO OFF, ANOTHER BRO ON! WE GOT ANYONE WHO AIN’T A BRO?
In the dying minutes, Sheffield United’s Jack O’Connell inexplicably handballed in the area like a bro. Penalty to Millwall; Steve Morrison duly converted for the late winner.
In the East Stand, a couple of lads sat in the very back row of the upper tier, near the halfway line, sprinted toward the North Stand. When they reached the final gangway they hurried down to the very front of the tier with the sole intention of flicking fingers and double fisted wanker signs at the away fans.
It was in that moment, with roars and fists and bros filling the air around me, that I was consumed by my own emptiness. Seemingly never would I love or hate anything so much as to run, as fast as I could, half the length of a football pitch, down half the length of a football stand, just to abuse it from a distance.
I avowed then and there that when I got home I would sprint to my dad’s house, call him a bro, and wave wanker signs at him from approximately thirty yards away.
Back at South Bermondsey station, the police presence was huge. Two officers boarded the train, too, so Millwall and Sheffield United fans openly socialised while crammed in together. I supposed it’s a little more reassuring to speak with an open Yorkshire accent to a Millwall fan if there are two policemen breathing on his neck. Still, I watched on, waiting for a micro-fight to break out should the policemen blink. Fortunately, they took it in turns.