Media coverage prompts complaint from Millwall

Millwall football club has criticised the press coverage of the 1-0 play-off victory against Leeds on Saturday, describing it as “highly sensationalised”.

But this latest complaint by a club that has virtually adopted the fans’ chant of “No one likes us, we don’t care” might carry more weight if it were not for the fact that the crowd control at the game is now subject to an FA review, following six arrests and complaints that Leeds goalkeeper Casper Ankergren had a cigarette thrown at him.

Leeds had been limited to an allocation of less than 1,000 travelling supporters for the fixture.

Nonetheless, the police presence around the New Den on Saturday was intense. As Ian Ladyman noted in his report for the Daily Mail:

“During the 600-yard walk from South Bermondsey railway station to Millwall’s ground on Zampa Road I counted 73 police officers, 12 police horses and six riot vans. And – somewhere up above me – one helicopter… quite a turn- out for a game of Third Division football.”

In total, the police deployed 400 officers – or one for every 33 people in the 13,228 spectators who attended the 20,000 capacity New Den. Mounted police officers took to the pitch during the match to deter any possible break-out of violence between the two sets of fans.

Despite this effort to avoid any clashes between rival fans, Millwall – which is run by executive deputy chairman Heather Rabbatts, previously the head of nearby Lambeth council – is unhappy with the coverage under the media spotlight.

It was the post-match remarks of Leeds’s Danish goalkeeper which prompted the FA inquiry. “There was something thrown at me,” Ankergren said. “Millwall should be punished. The security are here to protect the players. What were they doing?”

In a statement issued Monday, Millwall said: “It is clear that certain journalists and photographers were sent to The Den with their agenda already formed.

“As a result the facts were not allowed to get in the way of a ‘good story’ and as such the events were portrayed in certain quarters in the most graphic terms that were factually incorrect.

“The only regrettable incident during the afternoon followed Millwall’s goal when two fans managed to elude the stewards and taunt the Leeds goalkeeper.

“It appears that a cigarette was also thrown which made no contact with the goalkeeper, who may also have been pushed in the back.

“Millwall and Leeds United have worked tirelessly to overcome the problems they have faced over the years in this respect.

“Journalists and the media have a duty to play their part by reporting factually and responsibly.”

Millwall, under previous management, has something of a track record in “blaming the messenger”. Nearly a quarter of a century ago, the club’s local newspaper, the South London Press, carried reports critical of the club’s ticket sales allocations for an FA Cup tie to be staged at Luton.

The match has since become infamous after some visiting fans went on a rampage – footage of which is routinely used even today whenever a television programme wishes to illustrate the problems of football hooliganism. The club’s response at the time was to ban the SLP from its (albeit limited) media facilities at the (old) Den for months afterwards.

Since then, Millwall has strived hard, with the local police, to rid itself of its more aggressive element among its following. But its move to its modern ground, promotion for two seasons in the top tier of English football and even reaching the FA Cup final for the first time has not altogether erased the club’s unwanted reputation.

Millwall’s response to its national press coverage this week probably has much to do with the perceptions of the club by its current chairman, John Berylson.

As the club fanzine, entitled No One Likes Us, shrewdly observed before Saturday’s game: “One riot could mean non-existence for the Lions. This season’s improvement in form is down largely to the financial stability of our American chairman.

“How would he react to argybargy on a grand scale? He could just decide to fly home to Boston. We can’t afford trouble on any level.”

Examination of the coverage suggests that the club’s attack on the media is unwarranted.

Ladyman’s Mail report states quite clearly: “There were no missiles. No actual violence” between the fans.

The website of The Sun reported: “Millwall have confirmed that any fans arrested will be banned from all their games for the foreseeable future. Ankergren has also received apologies from the club.”

The Independent on Sunday‘s Conrad Leach reported the incident thus: “Some fans of the south London club showed they have still not made the great leap forward. After Harris beat Casper Ankergren from 10 yards, two fans ran on to the pitch and faced up to and ran around the Danish goalkeeper, taunting him with hand signals. Ankergren, to his credit, ignored them until a couple of stewards turned up and eventually escorted them away.”

Evidence of a media agenda? Hardly. Highly sensationalised? Certainly not.

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