I’d like to start by wishing supporters throughout the country and across the world a very Happy New Year. I hope you all enjoyed the festive period and that any impact of COVID on your own health and plans was not too severe.
The beginning of any year brings about a fresh wave of optimism, eagerness and determination and this one is no different. As a team of staff we are incredibly committed to being the best we can be for supporters and we look forward to developing different plans and initiatives which we hope can enhance relationships and improve the matchday experience in the months ahead.
And it’s along those lines where I’d like to start this column. There is a lot to cover, and regrettably much of the latter content is negative, but I’d like to begin by covering some positive updates. It will be broken down into headers to make everything more digestible and easy to follow.
Zampa’s Family Stand
Those of you who watched Saturday’s game from Zampa’s Family Stand will have noticed and hopefully enjoyed a complete refurbishment of the area. It was previously award-winning but needed some care and attention and we’re delighted with how it has turned out.
There is now a jungle theme throughout, and we’ve also now built a Sensory Room, which is a significant enhancement as a club in terms of accessibility of young supporters. More info on that will follow later in the week.
You can view a gallery of images by clicking here.
Ticket Office phone number change
I’m pleased to confirm that from today we have removed the premium rate number needed to call the Ticket Office. Please do not attempt to call this number moving forward as you may still be charged.
The new number to contact is 020 7231 9999, which is chargeable only at your local rate.
We are busy updating all our website communications and digital/print collateral to reflect this change, but please do take make a note of the new number so as to ensure nobody is charged beyond what they need to be.
Hopefully you have noticed that we have recently joined the video content platform Recast, which allows the club to generate revenue without any additional outlay from supporters.
You can generate ‘Cast Credits’ – what you need to watch videos - by joining up, watching adverts or sharing content. You do not need to directly pay for Cast Credits if you don’t want to, which is a key point.
We were able to stream this week’s U23 match on the platform which was watched by several hundred people. Many more have already joined the platform and are engaging with our video content.
Recast is a different service to iFollow and no video will ever be uploaded to the former which is not also available for free on the latter, just at a later date.
In this COVID era, and as is plainly evident following the release of our accounts, we need to explore as many ways of generating revenue as we can and Recast is a great way of doing so without hurting fans in the pocket.
You can find out more by clicking here.
EFL Digital Exit
For many years the club has been part of the EFL Digital agreement, which means the official website and video/commentary subscription service (iFollow) is hosted and managed by the EFL and associated partners.
We have now started the process of exiting from the agreement and so later this year, most likely in the summer, we will be launching a brand-new official website and supporting video and audio content and streaming platform, plus a new mobile app.
This is seen a substantial step forward in our digital offering for supporters which we hope will be well received by fans.
Crystal Palace match
The atmosphere generated by fans during last weekend’s big FA Cup tie against Crystal Palace was nothing short of extraordinary. At so many points during the match the noise was deafening and unquestionably contributed enormously to a very good performance from the team. Unfortunately, a couple of moments of individual brilliance won them the game but there is no doubt the display deserved more, which would have been just reward for your backing throughout.
Away from matters on the pitch, COVID checks seemed to work well and a very large percentage of the crowd followed advice on arriving early, which was a huge contributory factor to such operational successes. Thank you for your assistance and please keep that up to help us manage these government regulations while they are in place.
While the absolute majority of supporters behaved impeccably and did nothing other than provide unwavering backing of their team, there were a small group of people who regrettably and depressingly overstepped the mark.
Countless missiles were thrown on to the pitch, one of which as we all saw struck a Palace player; there were three separate incidents of individual discriminatory abuse; unsavoury chanting; a physical assault of a steward; numerous reports of drug taking in toilets; and a pitch incursion.
It is with tremendous regret that I am having to communicate in such a way but this is all an unfortunate and uncomfortable truth which as a club and as a fan base we must address.
Don’t be a Tosser
If one of the missiles thrown on to the pitch caused any sort of injury to a player or member of staff then the consequences would be beyond anything the club or supporters have experienced in recent history. I cannot stress that enough.
The severity of this threat is very real, and it is with that in mind that we are launching a new ‘Don’t be a Tosser’ campaign which we hope will contribute to the prevention of such incidents in the future.
A campaign like this is clearly not enough on its own, however, and in certain areas of the ground – starting this Saturday – we have no choice but to start decanting all bottles into plastic cups.
This operational change will begin in the Dockers Stand (apart from Zampa’s Family Stand) and in our entire hospitality area, but in the weeks ahead this may well widen into all other areas of the stadium.
It is essential that staff having to carry out this process are respected as it is not their choice, and while it was a difficult decision the club simply has no other option. Any abuse towards them given they are only carrying out instruction would be grossly inappropriate and will not be accepted.
Bringing bottles into the stadium has not been allowed for some time which is a measure respected and followed by almost everyone and this is an unavoidable extension of that policy which again is designed to protect the health and safety of all in attendance, the reputation of the club and therefore the interests of the majority of supporters.
The club’s stance on discriminatory abuse of any form could not be clearer. There is zero-tolerance and any supporter found guilty will be banned from this club for life. Individuals with such unpalatable views are not welcome at Millwall Football Club.
There was one arrest for such abuse before kick-off on Saturday and the Metropolitan Police are dealing with two additional reports from later in the game. The two supporters in question have been identified by our CCTV system and we will of course assist the police with their investigations.
The club became aware of two of these three incidents following reports from other supporters, which serves to reinforce the very obvious fact that such behaviour is completely disgraceful and unwelcome at Millwall.
There was also chanting towards a Crystal Palace player which contributed, quite understandably, to widespread negative media coverage following the game. Chants including the terminology used are entirely unacceptable and cannot be tolerated. Again, such events could lead not just to punishment for the club but also for supporters by way of potential block or stand closures, or worse. Nobody wants that and so that should be at the forefront of minds.
Through the work of the club’s Equality Steering Committee we will continue to support victims and work tirelessly to eradicate discriminatory behaviour for good and the assistance and support of fans is absolutely imperative to that objective.
Booing the knee
We have had extensive dialogue with different groups of fans over many months about the impact that booing the opposition taking the knee is having throughout the club.
The way in which fans back all our anti-discrimination initiatives is clear for all to see, and that is greatly appreciated by all at the club. Clearly the debate around the taking of the knee is a complex one but what is inarguable is that the booing is causing extensive damage in so many different ways.
I’ve lost count of the amount of supporters who have contacted me or other staff to say they can no longer attend while the booing is going on, and we also have employees throughout the club, Academy and Community Trust who feel understandably very upset and angry both by it and the subsequent damage it is doing.
As our campaign asks, I again urge those booing to Think Twice.
Abuse of Staff
This season has seen a worrying rise in verbal and at times physical abuse towards staff, particularly stewards. They are employed to help ensure the health and safety of all supporters and do not deserve to be victim of any sort of abuse.
On Saturday one was assaulted, which led to a couple of arrests, and clearly this type of incident and behaviour is absolutely deplorable.
It is grossly unfair and entirely unjustifiable to treat staff in such a way and please remember that on matchdays we are all part of the Millwall family.
An issue being experienced by clubs up and down the country is that of drug possession and use, and unfortunately it is also prevalent at The Den on matchdays.
When we surveyed supporters back in January of last year, the reason most commonly cited as to why fans do not enjoy their matchday experience as much as they could, or why they no longer attend, is because of drug taking (and smoking) in the toilets.
We received multiple reports of it again on Saturday but it is not a behaviour which is exclusive to the biggest games.
With this in mind, I can confirm that we will now be having drug detecting dogs at matches and any supporter found in possession will of course be subject to police investigation and a long club ban.
Dogs will also be present at the away end to detect pyrotechnics which should also contribute to minimising the type of behaviour witnessed from visiting supporters on Saturday.
There is often a perception that issues such as those outlined above are caused by those who only attend the biggest of matches. We need to bring this view to an end, particularly so because two of those under investigation following incidents on Saturday are season ticket holders.
The damage to the club caused by events like we saw on Saturday is very real and ultimately we all care immensely for Millwall. Nobody wants to see our name or indeed the reputation of fans tarnished.
I would like to finish by stressing once again that the vast majority of supporters at The Den, and those who follow us up and down the country, are impeccably behaved and provide nothing other than exemplary and enviable backing of their team. And it is with the interests of those supporters at heart that I am coming out and being so open and transparent about the problems we are experiencing so as to bring them to an end.
Thank you for your understanding, support and co-operation.