I’m re-publishing this short piece that I wrote for Millwall Football Club as it was printed in the programme from yesterday’s 3-2 victory over Bristol Rovers FC. As invited guests to the match by the Millwall Press team (thanks Neil), we had a great day and enjoyed the match.
I can’t reminisce about Millwall’s first season in the top flight of English football without remembering one person: my grandad, Ernie Allen.
As a lifelong supporter, the fact that Millwall had finally made it to the top was a dream come true. For years I remember him taking stick from my uncle Joe about how great Spurs were as well as his brother-in-law about Crystal Palace. Despite giving as good as he got – which was admittedly sometimes difficult after a home drubbing against Grimsby on a wet January evening – he never gave up his dream that the Lions would one day come good. And at the end of the 1987/88 season, he was there to see the Lions finally come good.
Looking forward to the Club’s first season in the old First Division, Ernie relished the likes of seeing Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United come to the Old Den. Standing in the same place he had done for years – on the terrace towards the Ilderton Road end – he looked forward to no game more than the one against Spurs. Finally, he was handed the opportunity get his revenge on Joe. All Millwall had to do was win.
Arriving at the match, Ernie was as excited as a kid. Nearly giving himself a heart attack in the process, he barracked every Spurs player, saving the special stuff for a very young looking Gazza. In between bouts of profanity, he found the time to smoke almost 20 cigarettes, something that I repeatedly told him had to stop. But as the match went on and the 5-0 reality of the final score became apparent, his enthusiasm wasn’t quashed.
In fact, the stick he took because of that match didn’t seem to matter. Having seen Millwall struggle in the lower divisions for so many years, just seeing them in the top flight was enough.
The 1988/89 season was the last season that Ernie was able to follow the Lions. From the autumn, his health quickly deteriorated and just before Christmas, he died of a stroke. On his final journey, the funeral parade took a detour and took Ernie for the last time past the Old Den. It was a fitting tribute for a man that had stuck with Millwall through both the good times and the bad: a man that had seen the Lions play at the top of the English game.
This work by Chris Allen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License. Based on a work at www.chris-allen.co.uk.