Being a contended Millwall supporter is a precarious affair. Just a short while ago I was able to laugh at that Grimsby fans brilliant, but despairing account of following his club’s unending bad fortune – safe in the knowledge that my team was looking a decent bet for automatic promotion and a rosy future in the Championship.
Fast forward a few weeks and the Grimsby fan is now probably full of irrational hope, whilst after Saturday’s defeat and performance, the bottom has fallen out of my Millwall world. Our rivals keep teasing us with unexpected opportunities, but I now realise second place is simply not going to be. I just wish Leeds had won and put us out of our misery. And as for our chances in the play-offs, you’re having a laugh! I should be too old to let it still get to me after all these years following Millwall, but the Tranmere debacle has really got to me.
So what about hopes for next season – Kenny will be poached by rivals Charlton, Berrylson will take his money to Palace (after our customary playoff-defeat riot) and the spine of the team will be sold to Southampton to keep us afloat. My cup isn’t just half-empty, but bone dry.
The feeling after Tranmere got me thinking about other games that have left me equally despondent. Where do you start – losing to local rivals, bottom of the table teams or going out of cups to lower or non-league opposition? Most of mine seem to be at the end of the season – usually when there’s a whole summer to mull over the implications. In no particular order, these are my Bottom Ten days of supporting the not-so-super Lions: -
1. Ipswich Away 1996. This was the ultimate experience; top in December, still play-off contenders in March, but relegated back to the dreaded Third Division after slipping into the bottom three with a record number of points on the final day of the season. Like this one, that was a very long May Day Bank Holiday weekend. And the press still want us to feel sorry for plucky cup-finalists Pompey!
2. Brighton Away 1991. A stroll to Wembley was odds on against an inferior Brighton side who’d scraped into the play-offs. We’d given them a real tonking at the Den just a few weeks before and finished streets ahead of them in the league. Cue an uncharacteristic period of defensive madness in the second half and it was goodbye to Teddy, our much anticipated trip to Wembley and the rapid return to the top flight that we knew was on the cards.
3. Wigan Away 2000. A spirited away performance by Rhino/Macca’s up-and-coming young Lions was undermined by a late flukey deflection. Add in the jeering inbreds on the pitch, unprovoked baton-charges from the friendly Lancashire constabulary, plus the long drive home and you have just about the right formula for a truly awful night.
4. Scunthorpe Wembley 2009. Twenty minutes from victory and a much heralded return to the Championship. What is it about these so called ‘lesser’ teams who just make it into the play-offs on the final day of the season?
5. Birmingham Home 2002. Yep, another play-off defeat, but this time with the added spice of a last minute goal, the sight of a jubilant Karen Brady and a post-match riot with immense long-term effects. That was a very long summer.
6. Tranmere Home 1993. Under McCarthy we saw some of the best football for years in a promotion charge that suddenly started slipping from our fingers, because of a slump in form and a certain fucking Tranmere team deciding to go on an amazing run. Moralee’s goals had dried up, whilst bargain-buy Armstrong was banging them in for Palace – how different things should have been. This was a game that we had to win, but didn’t.
7. Preston Home 1979. A 2-0 home defeat in a very empty Den, typified by former-Palace Nicky Chatterton’s twice taken and twice missed penalty. Meanwhile, down the road, the Team of the Eighties were winning promotion to the top-flight in front of over 50,000 fans. The tide had certainly turned the wrong way in South London.
8. Everton Away 1989. A personal one this – a 2-1 loss in a run of three defeats (incl. Norwich & Palace) in games that we should have won and that seemed to turn our season. The Everton game had everything – a half-time lead overturned by a dodgy penalty a late disputed winner and a cheating Scouse ref thrown in for good measure (sound familiar?). What particularly makes this injustice stand out for me was the painful memory of a subsequent night spent on Merseyside with unsympathetic Scouse in-Laws – oh, how they like a good laugh.
9. Sheffield Weds Home 2006. This one was similar to yesterday’s scenario, except Wednesday did the business. To quote the cliche’, this really was a relegation six-pointer. Our must-win position was undone with a perfectly good winning goal that was disallowed, quickly followed by a dodgy losing goal at the other end that virtually condemned us to relegation. To be fair, relegation was always likely after such a turbulent season, with the Millennium Stadium and UEFA Cup a distant memory.
10. Oldham Home 1996. The play-off defeat at Derby in 1994 is a strong-contender, but as bad as that was, I probably felt worse after this particular game. We were slipping perilously close to the bottom three and we knew it. This was our last easy game before two tough encounters with play-off chasing Stoke & Ipswich, so victory was vital. What ensued was one of the most one-sided affairs I can remember, but somehow ended in a 1-0 defeat. We may have had more points in the bag than our rivals, but with games running out they were all winning and Nicholl’s team were feebly falling like a stone. The writing was on the wall - like the final run in 1993, all you could do was watch on helplessly, knowing what was going to happen.
So that just about sums up my current disposition. My family are sick of my mood and in return I’m sick of everyone and everything – especially the ‘look on the bright side’ merchants. I haven’t been able to watch any league highlights or look at the tables, and the live game at Hillsborough yesterday was the final bloody straw. We won’t win next Saturday, Leeds and Charlton will be victorious, and fuck it, I don’t care anymore.
But you know what, after getting this off my chest, I’m remindedl that Leeds are prone to getting over-confident, Oldham aren't the pushovers they were and Swindon are bound to leave themselves vulnerable at the back next Saturday. I’m definitely not getting my hopes up, but maybe, just maybe, that Tranmere game might not yet make my dreaded Bottom Ten.