Our rivalry with Millwall spans 98 years and exactly 100 games. We have played them in every division bar the top flight, as well as the League Cup, Auto Windscreens Shield and The Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
There was also the unforgettable meeting in the Division Two play-offs in 1991, which saw us pull off a 6-2 aggregate victory. The FA Cup however, has seen just one meeting between the clubs, a first-round tie in the 1956/57 season. Just over 63 years later we will be meeting again, with a semi-final place at stake.
Albion had enjoyed a frustrating time in the 1950s, finishing second in Division Three (South) on two occasions. Hopes were high in 1956 but although the league was the priority, a run in the FA Cup was always welcome. It’s good to see that all these years later, things don’t change!
In welcoming Millwall to the Goldstone in November 1956, Albion manager Billy Lane was at his most relaxed and his programme notes were typically sportsmanlike. “We receive Millwall and give a cordial welcome to their directorate, players and supporters”.
Mr Lane was particularly fond of praising our supporters and he paid them a back-handed compliment. “Millwall will bring along a large contingent who are famous for their “Lion’s Roar”, so it is up to the Albion to show them that the “Lion’s Roar” is just a whisper in the jungle as compared to ours at the Goldstone”.
His notes took up nearly half the eight-page programme, as he updated us on all events surrounding the football club. He also provided a potted history of the FA Cup, as well as relating a story of the players meeting “that charming and attractive personality “Sabrina”” on the way back from Newport the previous week. He stated the players were ‘very impressed by her very characteristic signature’. Some research shows that the lady in question was a 1950s ‘glamour model’, with some spectacular vital statistics. No wonder the players were keen to obtain her autograph!
Back to the match in hand, and Mr Lane made three changes from the previous week’s 0-0 draw at Newport County. Eric Gill retained his place in goal, behind full-backs Jimmy Langley and Rees Thomas. Centre-half Ken Whitfield was alongside wing-halves Des Tennant and Glen Wilson.
The front five comprised wingers Dennis Gordon and Frankie Howard, inside forwards Denis Foreman and Albert Mundy, with Peter Harburn leading the line at centre-forward.
The game itself was a rather dour affair. The magic of the cup drew a crowd of nearly 16,000 to Hove and they saw a Millwall goal cancelled out by Wilson’s equaliser. The score stayed at 1-1, so it was off to The Den for a replay, just two days later. The same team were unable to prevent Millwall racing into a three-goal lead, before Langley netted a consolation from the penalty spot.
For the first time in five years Albion were knocked out in the first round. Being able to concentrate on league matters wasn’t quite enough, as we finished fifth, again missing out on the one promotion slot available.
The stakes are different now, but Chris Hughton’s preparation will be just as meticulous as those of his 1950s predecessor, Billy Lane.
We travel to the New Den on Sunday with the carrot of a semi-final place being dangled in front of the players. With consecutive victories under our belts, surely we will not have a better chance of a return to Wembley.
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