"Why is our game that’s played in front of just over 10,000 fans each week so divisive?"
Few beers with mates, having a catch up, getting out of the house for a couple of hours, taking our kids to their first game, letting out a week of pent up frustration to those within earshot and perhaps, just perhaps, seeing some good football on the field in front of your seat that you spend your hard earned money on. Football is so much more than just a game of 22 people kicking a piece of leather around and part of its global appeal is that it can bring together people from all kinds of different backgrounds around the world. So why is our game that’s played in front of just over 10,000 fans each week so divisive?
Our ship had its loyal captain, but the barbaric and unforgiving Championship waves that kept hitting our vessel in the 2019-20 season was just too much for Neil Harris who departed only a couple of months into that campaign. Gary Rowett climbed aboard, fixed the rudder and chartered a new course on the pitch. The waves had settled, the clouds had parted and the sea seemed calm enough to sail on again. Our craft which was as doomed as the Titanic started to resemble the Black Pearl and we cruised towards Championship safety and a respectable 8th place after a wobbly start under Rowett’s predecessor. Home victories against Charlton Athletic and an away demolishing of Nottingham Forest were particular highlights at the start of Rowett’s reign, but the curtailment of football for several weeks due to the Covid-19 outbreak affected our side and in truth, we haven’t really recovered since the resumption of the sport we love.
The 2020-21 season behind closed doors was difficult for fans to endure. The smell of sanitiser and sight of face masks was around the world, as well as the removal of those things we cherished and craved. Whilst we were living under the strictest of lockdowns, Millwall fans were looking towards our weekly iFollow streams and our club to provide the entertainment and action we were so desperately after to take us away from the bleakest of times we were living in. How wrong were we? Signings such as Troy Parrott had us salivating at first, but quickly turned into the wrong move for the wrong player who at the time of writing is now at MK Dons, the football on the field wasn’t entertaining to watch and although Karl Bates and Max McLellan did their best with their narrative and commentary to paper over the cracks of what was very average performances, the fans were longing to get back in The Den and support our side, as we could see through our TV screens and IT monitors that the team were clearly missing the 10% extra the home fans gave. Some signings, such as Mason Bennett, Maikel Kieftenbeld and Scott Malone were bright stars in what was a black and lifeless night sky, but the signings of Ryan Woods, Kenneth Zohore and the aforementioned Parrott balanced these out and offered very little. All of these players are clearly talented and brought promise, but they could not fit in the Rowett way of the game and slowly became afterthoughts behind players who they were seemingly brought in to replace. The season saw Millwall finish in a comfortable 11th place, but the position was hiding a list of problems that we had and issues we needed rectifying for the 2021-22 campaign.
Along with Covid-19 vaccinations and the easing of imposed restrictions, the fans were finally back in stadiums for the 2021-22 season. It may have been the stuttering and intermittent iFollow that made it feel longer, the removal of Angelo Poretti from the kiosks, or perhaps seeing ever other sport and activity used in scientific trials, but whatever it was, the 7th August could not come quick enough and the fans took their seats to watch The Lions play QPR at the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium. Some supporters had seen the new signings of George Saville, Daniel Ballard and Benik Afobe in earlier pre-season games against Gillingham and Ipswich Town, but this was proper league football and a proper Millwall away day without having to stay two metres away from others. Jed Wallace’s goal gave us the perfect start in a game that ended 1-1, and although the game did not have many high points, it just felt great to be back with the fans and the club. Or so we thought…
Since that game, we have had disappointing defeats against Fulham and Luton Town, we have had boring draws with Blackburn Rovers and Coventry City, and barely scraped wins against a dire Bristol City and Blackpool – who for the majority of the game had ten men and were at one point 1-0 up. Also, what needs noting, is these games have all been at home and with The Den at full voice. The Lions at The Den was always an intimidating place to go to for a visiting side, and even on our worst days we were still defensively rock solid and hard to break down. This strength has now become an Achilles heel for Millwall and we look as shaky on the back foot as Deontay Wilder did in three fights against Tyson Fury. Up top, we have very little to offer tactically, and for another successive season we seem reliant on either a hyper active attacker in Jed Wallace, or a centre forward who has a questionable amount of mobility and the capability of playing for a full 90 minutes. This is not meant as a detrimental comment to the ability of these individual players, but the fact tactically we seem to get a nose bleed and appear amnesiac once we step foot in the opponent’s half of the field. Are we playing a 5-2-3, or a 5-3-2, or a 3-5-2, or a 4-2-2-2, or a 6-3-1? Who knows, because from the stands we cannot seem to see any real shape or direction at the moment. We are playing a brand of football at the moment that is not easy on the eyes and although we will certainly not go down with Gary Rowett at the helm, we certainly won’t be the first on Quest on a Saturday night due to our artistic and flamboyant style of play.
However, in Gary Rowett’s defence, is it a case he simply does not have the players to play the style he or the club needs? Yes, there have been plenty of in’s and out’s during his tenure so far, but at the beginning of the August 2021 transfer window Rowett said that he needed to ship players out to get new ones in. What was the result? Certain players well past their sell-by date were still here, whilst others were let go too late in the window to allow for adequate replacements. Is this Gary Rowett’s fault? Arguably yes, but if he does not have the financial resources or a good enough scouting network in place, can he be fully at fault for a squad lacking in serious depth? Millwall have spent big money for a club of our size over previous years, however, in the modern game when a striker who scores 20 Championship goals is now worth multi-millions, how can we realistically compete and be a top end club with attendances that aren’t anywhere near the 20,000 mark and the revenue that would bring in?
Whispering and murmuring is echoing around The Den, and Rowett’s name is now in sentences along with Spackman, Holloway and Lomas, but what do you think: give the team more patience, time and support and hopefully see a transformation on the field? Whatever your thoughts, Millwall FC could make that decision a lot easier for all if the performance levels are drastically improved in the coming weeks and months.
Come on you Lions…