From disputes with the council regarding the possible relocation of their home ground The Den to a shock FA Cup victory over the Premier League champions, the 2016/17 season has been an exciting one for Millwall.
Yet, the climax to the season hangs in the balance with the south London side locked in an exciting battle for the play-offs, and the Lions hoping not to repeat last year’s final heartache.
Millwall narrowly missed out on promotion last season after a disappointing 3-1 play-off final defeat to Barnsley at Wembley. However, Neil Harris’ side are in a strong position to reach the League One play-off spots once again this season, they currently sit in joint 6th with Southend United but have a game in hand over the promotion rivals.
As the largest sporting club in the Lewisham, Millwall’s success is vital to the surrounding Lions fans of the area and is the main focal point for South East London football. Members of the Official Millwall Fans group spoke to Eastlondonlines about the importance of Millwall FC to the people of the borough.
They said: “Millwall isn’t just a club it’s a family. We stick by each other no matter what. There isn’t a club out there that has as much pride or passion as Millwall. Millwall give 110 per cent every game and this season just proves what we can do.”
However, the impact of a successful football team reaches further than its direct fan base. With an impressive run in the FA Cup, Millwall claimed victories over Premier League teams Bournemouth and Watford, and even last season’s champions Leicester City, and these big fixtures pull in large revenues for businesses in contrast to the team’s regular League One ties.
Promotion into the Sky Bet Championship brings with it many things, but the most important factor for the club would be the rewarding TV coverage. In the 2016/17, Sky Sports broadcasts 91 Championship games, which brings income as well as support for those televised clubs.
Millwall however, are currently in League One, and only 15 games were televised by Sky Sports during the same season. John Kelly, landlord at one of Millwall fans’ most popular pubs, the Marquis of Granby, New Cross, spoke to ELL about the importance of Millwall to local people and how beneficial promotion would be to fans and businesses alike.
Kelly said: “Millwall being promoted has big benefits not only for the club but also for local business and local people.
“If they are to go up a division it would certainly bring more supporters into the local area, subsequently increasing revenue for local shops, bars and cafes.
“In terms of what it would do for the local community, going up a division means more coverage nationwide with the possibility of investment for things such as infrastructure, education and training. All these things can bring in employment to local people.”
Millwall enjoyed a five-year spell in the Championship following their promotion in 2009/10, but were relegated into League One in the 2014/15 season. The Lions failed to bounce back at their first attempt, but hope to make it second time lucky this year. Fans have had a taste of big game occasions in the FA Cup this year, but the landlord of another popular Millwall pub recognises the importance of big fixtures for local businesses.
Five Bells landlord Antony said: “With the home games on a Saturday the trade varies depending on the strategic importance of the game for the team. Bigger crowds come along for cup games or for clashes against local rivals.”
“However, during the off-season there is a noticeable drop in trade.”
With only nine games to go, Millwall are quickly approaching the conclusion of the season with a tricky run in of fixtures, five of which are against teams in the top 10. Each game is of vital importance for The Lions in the race for promotion, their next game is at home to Swindon United, a match that head coach Neil Harris says is “massive.”
“This is a massive game for us.”
— Millwall FC (@MillwallFC) March 24, 2017
Automatic promotion looks unlikely for Millwall, but should the Lions make the play-off final, it will take place on May 20 at Wembley.