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The Den
v Nottingham Forest
Saturday 13th, August, 3pm, 2011
Championship League
Jason Jandu
(Neutral fan)

My first trip to a competitive match this season saw me making the journey to Bermondsey to see Millwall play Nottingham Forest in the Championship. I had decided upon this game, as it seemed the most attractive and affordable fixture near me on that particular weekend and also gave me my first opportunity to go to a ground which might have been a no-go for a lot of people until recent years. A friend of mine said that he thought I was “brave” to go there;  that said, Millwall have made great play in recent years of their efforts to make the club and their matches less intimidating to watch. With that in mind I wasn’t overly worried about going to The Den - although I did have the advantage of not going as an away fan, I guess.

The journey to the ground from my home in Bexleyheath involved a straightforward train to Peckham Rye and then one to South Bermondsey, after which a five minute walk down Ilderton Road and Zampa Road past a few burger stands and a cafe brought you to The Den. I must admit I didn’t do much hanging around before going into the ground, but I didn’t feel I had the time to as I had to collect my ticket from the box office first – which actually didn’t take long at all – and buy a programme for £3, the Millwall version of which is a very smart and well-designed small glossy magazine.

After making my way to the Cold Blow Lane end and going through a turnstile which could do with some WD40, I got into The Den itself. I would describe it as a modern, no-frills ground with its four, two-tier stands. The concourses were a bit on the dingy side with their bare breezeblocks and low-level lighting, but the blocks were well signposted. Generally it’s a smart enough ground compared to some of the others in the Football League.

Interestingly, the seating at the Cold Blow Lane end was unreserved so you could sit anywhere, which I preferred as I was able to get a seat behind the goal in the upper tier - albeit at the expense of having the guy next to me spread out and encroach onto my seat – but I doubt the few hundred Forest fans had the same luxury as they were flanked by police and stewards in the upper tier of the opposite North Stand.

After the pre-match routine of music and announcements – not that I could understand them, as Millwall’s PA system is a bit ropey – and Zampa the Lion prancing about with a brolly to emulate the Forest manager, the match began. The home fans saw Millwall dominate almost all of the first half against a lethargic looking Forest side. The workrate was high, the pressing was hard, the passing was crisp and this led to a deserved early goal when Darius Henderson flicked in a corner at the near post.

My half-time was spent not standing in a queue for either the toilets (strong bladder) or the food counters (resolved not to buy any food at matches anymore as it’s just too expensive) but watching the entertainment of a race between youngsters from both clubs around the perimeter of the pitch and trying to work out a new journey home; as news filtered through from the PA that South Bermondsey station was suffering severe delays and we’d all be better off going to other nearby stations instead, but more of that to come...

The second half began with Forest’s only period of dominance against a tiring Millwall side which culminated with Robbie Findlay hitting the post. But the match was fully secured by the home side when substitute Danny N’Guessan sprinted past Forest’s left-back and pulled the ball back from the by-line to be turned in by Liam Trotter – a goal which illustrated Millwall’s impressive wing play throughout the match.

The atmosphere was predictably noisy and raucous throughout the game from the Millwall fans, who launched into several blasts of the legendary Lions roar and took great and understandable pleasure in trying to get under Steve McClaren’s skin with chants of “where’s your brolly gone?” and “you let your country down”. You don’t need me to tell you that the language was very spicy at times but I didn’t feel that the atmosphere become overly hostile in any way, which as I mentioned at the beginning has become something people almost expect to be the case at Millwall matches.

During the second half the PA announcer repeatedly reminded us of the situation with South Bermondsey, but I begun to wonder whether this was a bluff in order to get both sets of supporters to disperse themselves more thinly at other nearby stations – and this combined with not really knowing alternative ways to get home made me go to South Bermondsey anyway. The approach road and staircase to the platform was inevitably lined with police vans and police officers to potentially deal with both sets of supporters ending up there, but fortunately I got there early enough to catch the last train heading to London Bridge for an hour to change over for one to Bexleyheath.

In conclusion, my trip to The Den was an enjoyable one overall. It would’ve been better had Nottingham Forest made an even match of it. I recognise that my experience might have differed had I been there as a Forest fan and not a neutral, but the most important thing was that at no point did I feel intimidated or threatened both within the Millwall ground or around the Millwall fans, which would seem to bear out the good work the club has done to quell the hostility around it.

If you keep yourself inconspicuous, and maybe steer clear of the volatile matches like Cardiff or West Ham, you should enjoy going to see Millwall too – particularly if they play as well as they did against Forest.

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