The roar from the crowd was as loud as the Lion on our chests, and although Millwall at times showed their fangs, the lack of bite again was evident.
Aside from the riverboat, I experienced practically every mode of public transport on Saturday morning, as I made my way from Canada Water in South East London, across the city to Shepherd's Bush to see our Millwall take on Mark Warburton's QPR.
The rattling of the Central line on the tube tracks and the monotonous cracking of train line meeting train wheel mirrored the inner adrenaline that was slowly building through the veins of every travelling fan, and the deafening sound of a train at full speed just represented the buzz as we got closer to our destination. Bond Street... Marble Arch... Lancaster Gate... Queensway... Notting Hill Gate... Holland Park.......... Shepherd's Bush. We were there - back in a full stadium with a potentially packed out stadium for a league game for the first time since March 2020. The heavens may have opened when we bordered the train on the Jubilee Line, but the sun was shining and radiating on the 2,000 fans who had made their way to W12.
Stepping into Belushi's was like being back with family you've not seen for a long time, and the conga line of policemen nervously laughing at the pleasantries from those outside the pub, street preachers with microphones and speakers, and local shoppers with their head down as they headed to Westfields made this feel we were back in a time before lock downs and restrictions. There may have been warnings of coming apocalypses from those with signs and biblical texts around their necks, but this felt like football had been re-born, and there is no other place you'd rather be then with Millwall fans when you feel like this.
The walk to the ground was eventful, but in good spirits, as those with the fluorescent jackets and truncheons were hugging us tighter than Anton du Beke when Strictly Come Dancing is brought back to our screens each year. The reject horses from the Olympic dressage on display outside the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium were trying to be on their best behaviour, although those on top of them were trying to get them to canter and trot at the faintest sign of a Millwall fan who was taking too long to count their change outside the away end.
Inside the ground, the atmosphere was electric in the away end; and those in the home stands who were given scarves to try and re-create what those from SE16 were organically generating stood silently a-gasp at the noise we were creating. Was it fear? Awe? Respect? We'll never know, but for a ground that was majority filled by those in hoops, it was the visitors in navy that seemed most fired up for the opening day of the 2021/22 season.
The game kicked off with a huge roar, and it wasn't long before a Scott Malone cross was heading to the top corner, but the clunk from the crossbar saved the blushes of the home side, who many have tipped as outsiders for promotion.
His left laced boot. The unfancied back up weapon of our number 7 was what the away fans focused on as Jed Wallace's shot flew like slow motion into the back of the net and left the home fans silenced. After a few seconds of standing there with our jaws locked open, the away fans exploded like a volcano which had been dormant for hundreds of years, and the cringe-worthy twitter videos with 'Limbs' written above them were shown what a real goal celebration was like. The players ran the length of the pitch to join the fans behind Bartosz Bialkowski, and the passion for the club from everyone there was clear to see. First game back and three points, what a return.... or so we thought.
Not long after the first goal, Robert Dickie was given the freedom of West London and ran through the Millwall defence like Moses parting like the red sea. This was perhaps the end of days that the street preachers were warning us about before, as his strike from range was a bitter blow that nestled nicely into the bottom corner of the Millwall net.
Half time: 1-1, and although the Millwall fans were excellent all game singing and cheering their team on, the second half had very few chances to speak of and aside from an effort from Kieftenbeld, there was a lot of huff and puff without the house being blown in.
The final whistle signalled the end of the second half, and an away point for Gary Rowett's side. The game itself was slightly disappointing after a promising start, but hindsight suggests a point at the ground formerly known as Loftus Road was a result we would have taken before the game.
We Need To Know?!!!
Were the tactics right up front?
Benik Afobe has been brought in as the main strike force for Millwall FC this season, but a lot of the time the ball over the top was too short and easily cleared, or too long and asked a lot from the Stoke loanee. Would it have been better playing a less direct game and having a more patient and controlled build up? When Matt Smith was brought on and winning headers, they weren't being read by his Millwall team mates. Is this an area we have to work on?
Many, including myself, saw Mitchell and Saville as potentially the two midfielders in Rowett's 5-2-3, but with Kieftenbeld performing excellently, Leonard looking steady when he was on the field and Saville looking off-colour yesterday, does this mean that the midfield selection this season is back to the drawing board? With a number of talented players in the middle of the park who may miss out, this could cause a bit of a headache for the manager.
Last season's ever present on the bench for the foreseeable?
Jake Cooper was in the form of his life last year and it was only injury that stopped his impressive run of games, but with Murray Wallace, Shaun Hutchinson and Daniel Ballard being rock solid, does Jake miss out? If not, who do you drop?