When Millwall’s name came out the hat for the FA Cup quarter-final, there were plenty of reasons for Brighton & Hove Albion supporters to be happy.
The most obvious was that the Lions are the lowest ranked team left in the draw, which gives the Albion a real shot of making it through to the last four.
It’s a local game, an hour away by train which makes it so much easier than trying to arrange travel to say, Swansea City away for a Sunday afternoon at a month’s notice.
For me though, the best thing about drawing Millwall is that it is probably the best away day in the country, which is something that may surprise a lot of people.
The name Millwall has long been associated with the deepest, darkest problems that can swirl around football fandom.
We’ve all heard the stories of trips to The Den from bygone eras.
Supporters being chased around South Bermondsey by angry locals. Policemen’s hats being set on fire. Riots, stabbings and a danger level on a par with anything you might find in any war zone.
That may have been the case 30 years ago, but not anymore. Unless you actively go looking for trouble away at Millwall, it’s safer than leaving your gold in Fort Knox. But that isn’t the reason as to why a trip to The Den is one of the best in the country.
As already mentioned, it’s an hour away from Brighton.
It’s also a 10-minute trip by train from London Bridge, home to some of the best pubs in the capital, which makes it an excellent day out for those who like to combine their day at the football with a few light, alcoholic beverages before and after.
It’s been an away game that has thrown up some great memories over the last 20 years. Kerry Mayo scoring the winner in a penalty shoot-out in the Paint Pot in 2006 and Dean White leading the Albion to victory as caretaker manager after Micky Adams was finally sacked on the morning of the game are two that spring to mind. Sadists like me will also have enjoyed Ryan Harley taking the worst penalty ever in front of the away end just a couple of days after saying in an interview he didn’t practice set-pieces because he is too good at them.
But the best thing about Millwall is The Den itself. It remains one of the few grounds in the country where you can get an authentic, British footballing experience. You won’t find the “tourist” football fan making their way to this particular corner of South East London, diluting the atmosphere by taking selfies and sitting in silence as has happened at previously intimidating stadiums such as Anfield or Stamford Bridge. It’s a club that is, by and large, still supported by local people, whose only interest is seeing Millwall win.
That makes for a red-hot atmosphere, especially when the scalp of a Premier League club like the Albion is up for grabs. When 20,000 Londoner’s begin signing about Cold Blow Lane and jellied eels when “Let ‘em all come down to the Den” comes on before kick off, it’s spine tingling.
When they all follow it by the absurd shout that is just bellowing MILLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL as loud as possible, it’s deafening.
Atmosphere is half of what makes going to football fun and you won’t find a better one in the country than at Millwall on a good day. The intimidation levels at the Den will actually make this a harder game than many people realise – it’s certainly not the easy draw that some Albion supporters seem to think it will be, as Everton found out to their cost earlier in the competition.
But you don’t go to football to watch easy games. You go to see your team overcome the odds in a red hot, deafening atmosphere. That’s what Millwall should provide on Saturday and that is why it is the best away day in the country. I can’t wait.
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