Support Millwall FC’s cause and do Wrexham FC a favour

millwall_protest

Millwall fans deliver a Valentine’s Day card to Lewisham Council

So, what does a man do when he has a train ticket to Braintree burning a hole in his pocket and no match to go to? There’s only one real option, a trip to see The Lions!
Well, that was literally the only option as it was the only professional level match going ahead in London on Saturday thanks to the weather and the FA Cup! But I was glad I went: as ever, Millwall presented a football experience full of genuine character.
It also presented a rather unpleasant reminder of Wrexham’s recent troubles. As my lad and I approached the ground we were greeted by a PA system appealing for support for a petition. Supporters were strung across the street asking for signatures against a development which looks dangerously like what happened to us.
It all felt so familiar. Millwall’s plight revolves around a lack of council support while property developers circle around, looking for parcels of ground around the stadium. We all know about the damage caused by developments on land historically used by a club, of course. At least the decisive action of Glyndwr University meant the danger of losing the ground was averted, for the moment at least, and the takeover of the club by the WST meant we have cause for cautious optimism. Millwall, however, have no hope of a benevolent organisation taking over the land around The New Den, and therefore are hostages to fortune. They may well find themselves living the nightmare scenario we faced for so long.
Basically, Lewisham Council have decided to sell land around The Den currently leased to the club to a property developer, despite Millwall’s plans to develop the areas themselves, not only allowing them to improve its long term stability but also providing affordable housing for the area.
A campaigning community club

A campaigning community club

It’s no surprise to see community put at the heart of their proposals, as there are few clubs who are so plainly part of the surrounding area as Millwall. Put aside the cartoon hooligan image: to visit The Den is to experience what, to me, is the essence of what football clubs ought to represent. The imprint of the local area is deep in the match experience, unlike the sanitised multinational entertainment experience you get at the big clubs these days. Milwall are what have always been and what they damn well ought to be: a working class club for the people of the area. Visiting The Den is visceral, sometimes a little scary and indubitably a pure footballing experience. Sky might try to sell a sanitised version of TV-friendly passion to their armchair subscribers; pop into the Cold Blow Lane stand and taste a bit of the real thing!
Just looking at the programme gives you a flavour of what the club means to the people. All other clubs’ player sponsorship pages feature the names of local companies and the odd enthusiastic fan, which is fair enough; Millwall’s features fourteen tributes to departed supporters. This club means something to folk.
Whether such sentiment cuts with Lewisham Council is a moot point though. While Millwall want to develop housing for the community, the council’s decision to sell the land, which is currently leased to the club, not only means they are cashing in on publicly-owned assets, but also means that Millwall’s long-standing and highly respected community scheme, which is housed on one of the parcels of land, will be evicted and their home, The Lions Centre, demolished. So which body has the community at heart, the council or the football club?
Quite plainly the council haven’t played fair with Millwall. The club’s chairman, John Berylson, outlined in his programme notes the basis of his grievance: he says he submitted the club’s regeneration plans to the council in August but they refused to consider them. The property developers have said the redevelopment will safeguard the club’s future: I invite Millwall fans to ask any of their Wrexham counterparts about the validity of promises made by property developers as we’ve all got chapter and verse on it. They’ll say what they need to get planning permission, and then do whatever suits them. We have student accommodation on what used to be our property, which was granted permission because it was promised that all income would go to the club. We have never, and will never, see a penny from it. It was also reported, with some regret, that the new stand which would be built from the profits would probably not be finished until 2012. Guess what? There’s still a great big derelict stand there, and if that ever changes it’ll have nothing to do with promises made in 2008.
Millwall hope to get the council to come to the table and consider their plans. I urge you to sign their petition and support a fellow community-centred club.
 
It’s not only right to support Millwall’s cause from a sense of kinship with fellow supporters; there’s also a hint of self-interest to backing them, There is, after all, no guarantee to the long term future of our stadium.
I’ve no doubt that Glyndwr are, and will continue to be, genuinely altruistic landlords, motivated in great part by a desire to support important elements of Wrexham’s community like our football club, but only a fool would guarantee that they will retain the ground in the long term.
Things change swiftly in education, and we have already seen pressure from without exerted on the University to cut their losses and sell the stadium. If budget cuts forced them to do so, or a future chancellor saw The Racecourse as an asset to be capitalised upon, then we would be dropped into the same nightmare situation we faced a couple of years ago and become desperate for support from the wider football community.
What goes around comes around: if we hope for help from other clubs in the future, we’d better earn it by showing our support for the likes of Millwall now.
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13 thoughts on “Support Millwall FC’s cause and do Wrexham FC a favour

  1. Its nice to read a bit of positive stuff about Millwall and us fans.
    Unfortunately, it seems Wrexham have had experience of what we are going through and the challenges ahead.
    Lets hope that if us football fans stick together, we can get the local councils to listen and keep the valuable community work these football clubs provide in the local area.
    Get signing Wrexham fans and thanks!

    • Cheers! I find going to The Den a proper football experience. Let’s try to make sure it stays that way for generations to come. Letting property developers anywhere near a football ground’s bound to end in tears.

  2. An excellent and well written article with another club actually saying something positive about Millwall.

  3. Great read we at Wrexham have been through it & nearly finished the club .
    Millwall fans act NOW don’t think he will do it & leave to the last minute by acting now SAVE YOUR CLUB the greedy Fat Cats are lurking & as always will be lying .

  4. Finally a REAL journalist, not some oik from “The Scum” or some other tabloid trying to sell a hooligan story. I think you hit the nail on the head, we aren’t the big bad millwall people read about or see in football movies, but a club that means so much to the people around it and is proud to be a part of the community.
    Well done and thank you.

  5. What a refreshing change to have an enlightening, well-informed report on our club without the lazy and ‘sensationalist’ cliché of our ‘hooligan’ support. It may not bring you support and praise from any outside our mutual fanbases but our gratitude is real, heartfelt and genuine (as is our support of the ‘Wall and our community!
    Great job, greatly appreciated!

  6. Hi Mark
    To keep you in the picture

    Default FOTB Regen Statement
    The pressure of the petition has had the desired effect and meetings have been planned well done to all.

    Below is the statment I promised from JB to counter balance Renewals claims

    Pete

    STATEMENT BY JOHN BERYLSON, CHAIRMAN OF MILLWALL FOOTBALL CLUB

    17 February 2014

    I am most surprised to find Renewal, a private property developer, issuing a statement apparently on behalf of Lewisham Council about Millwall’s dealings with the Council over the potential sale of land adjoining The Den. In its statement Renewal refers to correspondence and meetings between Millwall and the Council. This seems most irregular.

    I have made it clear elsewhere, and I shall make it clear again here, that Millwall has been open and transparent in all its dealings with Lewisham Council. Jordana Malik, a director and spokesperson of Renewal, is quoted as being “perplexed as to why those in charge at the club are claiming they have had no knowledge of the land sale”. I’m perplexed that she should say that. Millwall has never made such a claim. Indeed we have made it clear that we were fully aware of the Council’s plans to sell the land.

    That’s why our lawyers wrote to the Council on 25 September 2013 challenging the decision to sell the land to Renewal, and why our property advisers wrote to the Council on 7 November formally confirming the Club’s wish to be permitted to bid for the land. On 13 November the Council responded refusing to provide Millwall with the information we required in order to make our bid. We were told that the Council had secured the best deal for the land even though Renewal was the only permitted bidder. We made one final attempt on 6 December when our lawyers wrote again to the Council asking them to stop the sale. But the Council ignored us again and exchanged contracts with Renewal for the sale of the three parcels of land on 20 December. They informed us three days later.

    I read that the Club “failed to provide any meaningful detailed evidence of its proposals”. This is of course nonsense. Millwall commissioned architects to draw up plans for the area around The Den as long ago as 2006 – before any sale of the freeholds materialised and before planning permission for the whole area had been granted. In order to ensure that our plans were fully in keeping with the overall agreed scheme for the Surrey Canal Triangle, we commissioned leading architects Mackay and Partners last year to review our existing plans and refine them into a revised proposal for the development of the three areas of land adjoining the stadium.

    Those plans were presented to the Council on 15 August 2013 in as much detail as could reasonably be expected at that stage. It was made clear that the plans fitted with the outline planning permission, that Chestnut Hill Ventures (Millwall’s largest shareholder) had more than enough money to carry out the development without recourse to any third party funding and that the Club could offer legally binding guarantees that the development would be completed within an agreed timescale.

    What other business case could the Council possibly have wanted at that stage?

    If the Council had deigned to consider the Club’s plans, the next stage would have been to refine the business case in conjunction with the Council and its advisers but there was no point in doing that – given the considerable further costs involved – if the Council wasn’t prepared to play ball.

    Renewal said on 5 February that they had never even been shown our plans, yet they seem to be full of opinions about them.

    Chestnut Hill Ventures is not a property developer. That’s why, in order to strengthen the Club’s finances, we have engaged top professional advisors who have managed property developments of this size. We are attacked for not submitting planning applications and not acquiring land. We aren’t interested in acquiring land other than the areas adjoining The Den. Once the Council made it clear that those areas were to be sold, we formally asked to be allowed to bid for them. We had no need of planning permission because it had already been granted for the whole area.

    We have invested more than £3 million in helping that whole process and in our own plans, as well as in protecting the interests of the Club.

    Assurances are being given about our community scheme. But the Council and Renewal don’t seem to understand the nature of its funding and how it operates. Although the Council and Renewal can match our offer of a new home and new sports facilities, only we can guarantee the financial support and access to the Football League funding on which it depends. Furthermore, the viability of the Millwall Community Scheme is not just about its funding. It’s also about its direct links to the Club and our resources – the provision of coaching staff, player involvement, the use of our facilities and tickets for our matches. We are very concerned about its long term future.

    Finally, I will reiterate the point that is behind all of this. Chestnut Hill Ventures has supported Millwall for the last seven years since I became Chairman and I have expressed my personal commitment to the Club, and to its home at The Den, many times. I am a huge fan and I have the most expensive season ticket! In the long term, Millwall Football Club needs to be a viable commercial enterprise, and that means that it needs non-football income that is stable and secure.

    We always assumed that we would be left to develop the land adjoining our stadium. The Council has said that we are at the heart of the community and core to their strategic plans for the Borough. So in good faith we have played our part, and incurred substantial costs, in supporting the overall plans for this urban regeneration. We haven’t been greedy. We have offered the Council a stake in our proposed developments.

    As things stand, we have been excluded from the benefits of the Surrey Canal Triangle development. Our stadium is shown at the core of the plans and we are expected to carry on staging football matches and investing more money in The Den. Meanwhile, the Council does deals with a private property developer and expects us to stand on the touchline and cheer.

    That’s not my style. I don’t want a fight with anybody, but I shall stand up and be counted for Millwall Football Club.

    John Berylson
    Chairman

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