Millwall Football Club is one of a small band of clubs that now do not play in the town or locality of their title. Millwall is on the Isle of Dogs whereas the club now play in Bermondsey, south of the river. However, the club did start life on the Isle of Dogs, in a humble way and in similar surroundings. The owners of the JT Morton jam and marmalade factory in West Ferry Road formed them as Millwall Rovers in 1885. The owners of the factory had recruited extensively for workers in Scotland. Hence most of the team’s early members came from north of the border and thus the club immediately adopted the Scottish flag’s rampant lion as its motif. At a meeting in the Islanders pub it was decided to call the new team Millwall Rovers.
Their first ground, nothing more than an unenclosed patch of land lacking any facilities was at Glengall Road, now Tiller Road, in an area that has now drastically changed both physically and in character. In 1886 a move was made to a field further south on the island, located behind the Lord Nelson pub at East Ferry Road. After four years of occupation, still in their formative years, Rovers were forced to move again, albeit only a pitch length away, to what can only accurately be described as a piece of swampland. Now known as Millwall Athletic the enthusiastic club members set about making drastic changes and a considerable amount of money was spent to develop their new home into a proper venue. It was some years however before the club could finally eradicate the smell of the former swamp!
The land on which the ground, capable of holding 20,000, had been built was owned by the Millwall Docks Company and was wanted for a timber yard. Millwall Athletic were given notice to quit in 1901 and were only able to acquire a piece of land at nearby North Greenwich Road. With cows grazing and potatoes being grown here it looked a far cry from a future stadium for a professional team.
The club managed to raise sufficient money to yet convert another piece of wasteland into a proper venue. Though The North Greenwich ground once accommodated 15,000 for the visit of West Ham United in 1910, gates averaged a mediocre 6,000 and eventually the club were never able to reclaim their earlier glories here. A move south of the Thames was considered where it was thought bigger crowds could be enticed. Bermondsey and New Cross were more densely populated than the Isle of Dogs. A new venue was found, located at The Den at Cold Blow Lane. Anxious not to lose their identity the club retained the, now plain, name of Millwall. At their debut south of the river, the club attracted an attendance of 25,000 for the visit of Brighton & Hove Albion. The club left the intimidating Den in 1993 for their newly built home, just a few hundreds yards away.
Millwall, like so many other clubs, often changed colours in the first decade of existence. Financial limitations usually meant wearing whatever was available. The initial colours of dark blue and white, inspired by the large Scottish contingent at the club, returned in 1895 after brief flirtations with red and white, black and white and all-blue and stayed until 1936
In 1936 the introduction of royal blue preceded yet another string of sartorial experiments, starting in the early Sixties with almost every imaginable combination of blue and white, even including blue and white striped shorts which did not quite match the Millwall image. All-white became en vogue during most of the Seventies. When the royal blue was brought back to the club, no one could foresee that Millwall would return to all-white for the 2000/2001 season.
Although this book in general tends to ignore shirt sponsors, it is perhaps worthy of note that for many years Millwall carried the name of Lewisham Borough Council on their shirts, a praiseworthy true example of community involvement in the local team rather than big business.
Not only did the first club colours reflect the early Scottish connection, so did the lion as the club’s motif. The rampant beast was taken from the Scottish royal standard and has appeared in various fashions on the club’s stationery and shirts.
Whatever gave rise to the club’s nickname The Lions, whether the creature in the club’s badge or the name of their former ground, describing a wild beast’s lair, it doesn’t stop the faithful from singing ‘No one likes us’. Maybe they don’t care….