"This is Sparta!"
Millwall's King Leonidas briefed his brave army before the game at The Den. These brave, chosen few would stand and defend their Spartan land in South Bermondsey from the onslaught of the most attacking side in England's top four divisions. Although Millwall had shown we had a strong and powerful legion of our own, the threat coming from West London meant our 300 would need to defend our land with our lives.
"No retreat, no surrender. That is Spartan law. And by Spartan law, we will stand and fight... and die." Neil Harris said, pacing up and down the line of Lions ready to defend the honour of all those in the stands watching them. "Spartans! Ready your breakfast and eat hearty, for tonight, we dine in Hell!"
The Battle of Thermopylae was due to start, with the Persians in the red and white stripes confident that they would defeat Neil Harris' Spartans. But it was the Lions who struck first. A mix-up in Brentford's back line meant Jed Wallace was able to leave Millwall's defensive unit and launch a stinging counter attack. Rising up to win the header, he passed the sharp spear in his possession to George Saville who threw with all his might. As the spear left him, we knew it would be a fatal strike and the ball landed in the back of the net. First blood had been drawn within the first minute of the battle and Leonidas' troops had a foot hold in the game.
Brentford were in early shock. They thought that the South London army would be a pushover but did not expect Saville's early strike, and more great link up play between Wallace, Gregory and Meredith who all spent the first five minutes chasing lost causes.
The Persians did find the back of the net in the 9th minute. Their heavy bombardment seemingly breached the Spartan backline, but after checking with the mystical Oracle who foresees all, the official in the middle of the pitch disallowed the goal. Leonidas' most trusted son with the captain's armband, Steve Morison, joined the taunting of the Brentford attack and our Pleistarchus with the number 20 on his back sarcastically saluted the opponent.
The Spartans in navy were showing how dangerous they could be, and sensing the Persian's unease followed up with another well worked move. The impressive George Saville unleashed another one of his spears, but luckily for Brentford this effort took a deflection and thundered against the post. The metaphoric 300,00 soldiers led by Xerxes in the dugout did not experience such hostility from their opponents.
The Persians then re-grouped, and apart from a long range attack from Jed Wallace in the 20th minute, decided to take the battle to Leonidas' men. The war had changed, and the Spartans were now receiving arrows from Brentford's wingers. In the 24th and 28th minutes, two low crosses came from the Persian long bows, but our metal shields held out, and Shaun Hutchinson in particular was key in keeping Brentford at bay. Another low cross came in from the West London side in the 32nd minute, but again the Lions managed to keep the arrows from hitting their target.
Realising the only way to stop the pressure from the Persians, Millwall decided to launch some attacks themselves. A cross in to Lee Gregory was just too high for the Millwall striker in the 40th minute, and Jake Cooper also tried to inflict more damage in the 44th minute, before the God-King's men tried one more attack. A last ditch effort in the 45th minute was kept out by Jordan Archer, before the whistle blew for half time.
The second day of the battle saw more attacks from the Persians, who were desperate to break up Millwall's brave 300, but did not realise the pride and passion that Leonidas' men had for their team and their fans. The South Bermondsey side's men had spirit, and as the Frank Miller graphic novel states: "From the time he could stand, he was baptized in the fire of combat. Taught never to retreat, never to surrender".
The Lions were showing signs they would never bow down to Xerxes, and although Brentford had Jordan Archer beat in the 51st minute, the post was not and the score remained 1-0. Brentford were sending in attacks that could only be compared to war-Elephants and Immortals, but George Saville was winning every 50/50 in the middle of the park and Shaun Hutchinson won the ball with a crunching tackle in the 54th minute.
The Persians had another moment that came agonisingly close, and left our citizens in Sparta thinking that our 300 had been finally breached. There was a huge let off for the Lions in the 56th minute when a Brentford arrow was unleashed, but the metallic point found it's way into the away end when it seemed to be easier to hit the back of the net.
Millwall's captain, Pleistarchus, managed to take some of the pressure from our back line when his header was tipped over in the 67th minute, but a minute later every single Spartan had the air sucked out of their lungs. A corner came into the Millwall box and John Egan took his sword out of it's holster. Standing alone on the penalty spot, Egan plunged the sword into the unguarded Lions, but the shield above Jordan Archer's head took the impact. With a huge clunk, the ball met the crossbar and bounced downwards, but luckily not over the goal line.
The Persians now gave it all they got, and was destined to finally defeat the Spartans, but our back up soldiers of Tom Elliott, Fred Onyedinma and Tim Cahill entered the pitch and showed the same battle and fight as those they had replaced.
Another moment displayed just what playing for Millwall meant to our brave legends, when James Meredith managed to clear a certain goal off of the goal line in the 77th minute. This was another spear that was going to hit the target, but Meredith sacrificed himself, took the impact and ensured the ball sailed over for a Brentford corner.
The last ten minutes was the toughest of the Battle of Thermopylae for Millwall's Spartans. Wave after wave of attacks kept hitting the Lions shields, but we stayed firm and strong. Mahlon Romeo continued to defend every arrow, sword, spear, punch, kick and scratch from the God-Kings troops, and when the final whistle sounded there was a huge roar from the Millwall fans. Unlike the story of the brave 300 where the Spartans were vanquished, our brave men had stood up to Xerxes' armies and not only survived, but were victorious.
They say that Spartans are descendants from Achilles, and our boys in blue defended our Sparta in Zampa Road superbly. To those who say that there wasn't one member of the Millwall side who didn't give their all for their side today, I simply say this: "This is blasphemy. This is madness! THIS IS SPARTA!"
🏆 Man of the Match 🏆
You have to be born to play for Millwall, and all those who are not deemed strong enough are thrown from a metaphorical cliff into oblivion. As a youngster, you are sent into the wilderness in front of the home fans to show your strength and never-say-die attitude. Romeo displayed this with every tackle, clearance, run and block, and showed why he is one of the first on the team sheet.