Nick Hart, from Millwall fanzine I Left My Heart at Cold Blow Lane, looks at the reaction to the FA Cup Fifth Round draw which pitted Luton Town and Millwall together…
“Luton/Millwall in the FA Cup? ‘Oh good’, says absolutely no policeman in the South of England.” So tweeted the terminally unfunny Piers Morgan when this draw was made. Aw give over Piers, you’re killing us here mate with your funnies … not.
The thing is of course that some fixtures are seared into the national psyche. And the infamous Luton-Millwall 1985 cup quarter-final between the Lions and the Hatters at Kenilworth Road is not so much seared, as branded with a red hot poker into the collective folk-memory.
Why? Well even now, 28 years later, the grainy BBC footage of rioting Millwall supporters charging a retreating police line on the pitch is used as a catch-all clip whenever the problem of football violence is mentioned. Some say that this was the final straw for Margaret Thatcher to launch her personal war on the football culture of the country. Culminating of course in the away fan ban and ID cards systems implemented by her stooge MP David Evans at Luton.
So when the FA draw sent Millwall to contest the 5th Round tie at Luton, the easy and near-instantaneous reaction of the media was to refer back to the ‘80s and that footage all over again. Never mind that the two clubs have played each other since over 20 times – most recently in 2008 – without any major incident (apart from a smashed up pub in Surrey Docks on that last visit by Luton).
So a fixture with what we might call some baggage then. But how will the game actually pan out? Luton will ohave been slightly disappointed to draw such unglamorous opponents as the Lions after two spectacular win over Wolves at home in the Third Round and then Norwich away in the Fourth.
The fact that we will be seen in this light will of course suit us down to the ground. The Lions are the eternal underdogs and that is how we like it. Indeed there’s nothing so detrimental to the Millwall mindset as the pressure of expectation. Give us a ‘backs to the wall’ dog-fight any day…
Both sides will approach the match with different shades of indifferent league form. As strange as it still seems to describe a club as illustrious as Luton Town as being ‘non league’, their main priority really has to be restoring their Football League status. However they will think that, being six points off of the vital sixth play-off spot in the Conference, the glory of the Cup is in some ways a distraction from the bread and butter of reclaiming a place in the fourth division.
But truly, who lives on bread and butter?
Football if it is to mean anything, is all about glory. Something that the FA Cup offers in spades. So they will be gunning for Millwall this coming Saturday. Just as we will too on the back of a lull in league form that has taken us from the top six down to mid-table over the last two months. Whisper his name round London SE16 way, but whether we like it or not the departure of on-loan Chris Wood for the moneyed environs of Leicester City probably put paid to any dreams of the Premier League for this season. But the cup? Now you’re talking…
The game is due to be shown live on ESPN at 12.45pm this Saturday and will be heavily policed and controlled in ways unimaginable back in ’85. So I for one do not foresee any repeat of Thatcher’s nightmare this time around. But I do expect a fight of the right kind on the pitch. Both clubs will see their respective season’s as being on the line – and although it won’t be a game for the purists, it WILL be dramatic.
How dramatic or in what way, I don’t know. But the cup is the great leveller and Luton won’t be seeing themselves as being underdogs for this game. Millwall? Well we will relish the role reversal. Miss it at your peril.