Millwall Football Club (/ˈmɪlwɔːl/) is a professional football club in Bermondsey, South East London, England. They compete in the EFL Championship, the second tier of English football. Founded as Millwall Rovers in 1885, the club has retained its name despite having last played in the Millwall area of the Isle of Dogs in 1910. From then until 1993, the club played at what is now called The Old Den in New Cross, before moving to its current home stadium nearby, called The Den. The traditional club crest is a lion rampant, referred to in the team's nickname 'The Lions'. Millwall's traditional kit consists of dark blue shirts, white shorts, and blue socks.
Millwall was one of the founding members of the Southern League in 1894. They competed in it for 22 seasons until 1920, claiming the title twice in 1895 and 1896. Since joining the Football League in the 1920–21 season, the club have been promoted eleven times (five times as champions in 1928, 1938, 1962, 1988, and 2001) and relegated nine times. They have spent 88 of their 94 seasons in the Football League yo-yoing between the second and third tiers. The club did have a brief spell in the top flight between 1988 and 1990, in which they achieved their highest ever league finish of tenth place in the First Division in 1988–89. Millwall reached the 2004 FA Cup final and qualified for Europe for the first time in their history, playing in the UEFA Cup. The club have also won two League One play-off finals in 2010 and 2017, the Football League Group Cup in 1983, and were Football League Trophy finalists in 1999.
In the media, Millwall's supporters have often been associated with hooliganism, with numerous films having been made fictionalising their notoriety. The fans are renowned for their terrace chant "No one likes us, we don't care". Millwall have a long-standing rivalry with West Ham United. The local derby between the two sides has been contested almost a hundred times since 1899. The club also share a rivalry with Leeds United, and contest the South London derby with local rivals Crystal Palace and Charlton Athletic.
Entering the Football League: 1920–1939
Millwall fans watch a South London derby against Crystal Palace in a 1922 FA Cup replay.
Millwall, who had now also dropped "Athletic" from their name, were invited to join the Football League in 1920 for the 1920–21 season, along with 22 other clubs, through the creation of the new Football League Third Division. The Southern League was shorn of its status, with almost all its clubs deciding to leave—Millwall followed suit. Millwall's first Football League match was on 28 August 1920 at The Den, and they were 2–0 winners against Bristol Rovers.
In the 1925–26 season Millwall had 11 consecutive clean sheets, a Football League record, which they hold jointly with York City and Reading. Millwall became known as a hard-fighting Cup team and competed in various memorable matches, notably defeating three-time league winners and reigning champions Huddersfield Town 3–1 in the third round of the 1926–27 FA Cup. In the 1927–28 season Millwall won the Third Division South title and scored 87 goals at home in the league, an English record which still stands. Matches against Sunderland and Derby County saw packed crowds of 48,000-plus in the 1930s and 1940s. Their 1937 FA Cup run saw Millwall reach the semi-finals for the third time, and a fifth-round game against Derby still stands as Millwall's record attendance of 48,762. Millwall were the 11th best supported team in England in 1939, despite being in the Second Division. Millwall were one of the most financially wealthy clubs in England. The club proposed plans to improve the Den and signed international players. Winger Reg 'JR' Smith was capped twice, scoring two goals for England in 1938. The Lions were pushing for promotion to the First Division toward the end of the decade, but one week into the 1939–40 season, World War II broke out and Millwall were robbed of their aim.
Wartime doldrums and relegation to fourth tier: 1940–1965
Annual table positions of Millwall in the Football League, 1920–2019.
On 7 April 1945, Millwall appeared in a Football League War Cup final at Wembley Stadium against Chelsea, but because it was a wartime cup final it is not acknowledged in the record books. With the war in Europe in its last days, the number of spectators allowed to attend games was relaxed. The attendance was 90,000, the largest crowd Millwall have ever played in front of, which included King George VI, whom the team were introduced to before kick-off.
The loss of so many young men during the Second World War made it difficult for clubs to retain their former status. This was especially true for Millwall, who appeared to suffer more than most. From being one of the country's biggest clubs before the war, Millwall were reduced to one of its smallest afterward. The Den sustained severe bomb damage on 19 April 1943, and one week later a fire, determined to have been caused by a discarded cigarette, also destroyed an entire stand. The club accepted offers from neighbours Charlton Athletic, Crystal Palace and West Ham United to stage games at their grounds. On 24 February 1944, Millwall returned to The Den, to play in an all-standing stadium. This was achieved with considerable volunteer labour by Lions fans.
Millwall's fortunes fluctuated in the immediate post war years, they were relegated to Division Three South in 1948 and had to apply for re-election to the league in 1950 after finishing in the bottom two. An upswing in fortunes saw Millwall finish 5th, 4th, and then runners up in Division Three South in 1952–53 season; but with only the Champions being promoted, Millwall found themselves stuck in the third tier despite averaging crowds of over 20,000. Millwall then suffered a down swing in fortunes with a number of bottom-half finishes. One highlight of the period was one of the biggest giant-killing upsets in the Fourth Round of the 1956–57 FA Cup on 26 January 1957, when Millwall beat Newcastle United 2–1 in front of a crowd of 45,646. Millwall suffered the ill fortune of becoming a founding member of Division Four in 1958. While initially suffering from this reorganisation, the de-regionalisation of Third Division North and Third Division South opened up the way for promotion via the runner up spots. Millwall won the Division Four Title in 1962 with the help of 23 Goals from Peter Burridge and 22 from Dave Jones. They were relegated again in the 1963–64 season, but were to bounce back by winning back-to-back promotions as runner up. This is the last time Millwall played in the fourth tier.
Unbeaten home record and the class of '71: 1966–1987
Later in the decade, Millwall established a record of 59 home games without defeat (43 wins and 16 draws) from 22 August 1964 to 14 January 1967. During this spell, Millwall played 55 different teams, kept 35 clean sheets, scored 112 goals and conceded 33. This was thanks largely to managers Billy Gray, who laid the foundations, and Benny Fenton, a former player who continued to build on Gray's side. All the players, which included winger Barry Rowan, goalkeeper Alex Stepney and strikers Hugh Curran and Len Julians, were presented with a commemorative gold cigarette lighter by the Football Association. The record was eventually broken by Liverpool, who were unbeaten for 63 games at home between 1978 and 1981.
In the early 1970s, the Millwall team included many notable and memorable players, now remembered by some fans as "The Class of '71". This was a team that included; goalkeeper Bryan King, defender Harry Cripps, goalscoring midfielder Derek Possee, Millwall's most capped international player to date, Eamon Dunphy and the club's longest serving player, Barry Kitchener. They missed out on promotion to Division One by one point. By remaining unbeaten at home in Division Two for the 1971–72 season, Millwall became the only club to go through an entire season without losing a match at home in four different divisions 1927–28 Division Three South, 1964–65 Division Four, 1965–66 Division Three and 1971–72 Division Two. In 1974, Millwall hosted the first game to be played on a Sunday against Fulham. The Lions reached the quarter-finals of the League Cup in 1974, and again in 1977.
George Graham managed Millwall from 1983 to 1986, and during that time he guided the club to a Football League Group Cup win, beating Lincoln City 3–2 in the final in the 1982–83 season. The 1984–85 season was particularly successful, Millwall reached the FA Cup quarter-finals and gained promotion to the Second Division, going unbeaten at home again in Division Three, winning 18 games and drawing five. In the FA Cup they were beaten 1–0 by First Division Luton Town at Kenilworth Road. The match is remembered for all the wrong reasons, after hooligans rioted at the game. 81 people (including 31 police officers) were injured in the disturbances.
Promotion to top tier, new stadium and administration: 1988–2000
In their three seasons together at Millwall, Tony Cascarino and Teddy Sheringham scored 99 goals between them.
Graham's replacement was Glaswegian John Docherty. In his second season as manager, Millwall won the Second Division championship and gained promotion to the top flight of English football for the first time in the club's history. Starting the 1988–89 season strongly, Millwall topped the league on 1 October 1988 having played six games (winning four and drawing two) and rarely slipped out of the top five before Christmas. This was mainly due to Tony Cascarino and Teddy Sheringham, who scored 99 goals between them in three seasons playing together. Millwall's first top division season ended with a tenth-place finish, which was the lowest place occupied by the club all season. The following season, they briefly led the league for one night in September 1989 after beating Coventry City 4–1, but won only two more games all season and were relegated in 20th place at the end of the 1989–90 season.
Just before relegation was confirmed, Docherty was sacked and replaced by ex-Middlesbrough manager Bruce Rioch. Striker Teddy Sheringham, who later played for England and was the highest-scoring player throughout the Football League in the 1990–91 season, was sold to Nottingham Forest for £2 million after Millwall's 6–2 defeat to Brighton & Hove Albion in the Second Division play-offs. Rioch left Millwall in 1992 to be succeeded by Irish defender Mick McCarthy. McCarthy guided Millwall to third place in the new Division One at the end of the 1993–94 season. This was their first season at a new ground, at first known as The New Den (to distinguish it from its predecessor) but now called simply The Den, which was opened by the Labour party leader John Smith on 4 August 1993. The new ground was the first all-seater stadium to be built in England after the Taylor report on the Hillsborough disaster. The Lions knocked Arsenal out of the 1994–95 FA Cup in a third-round replay, beating them 2–0 at Highbury. They also reached the quarter-finals of the League Cup in 1995. Millwall lost 5–1 on aggregate to Derby County in the play-off semi-finals that same 1994–95 season, in a tie blighted by crowd trouble. McCarthy resigned to take charge of the Republic of Ireland national team on 5 February 1996, shortly after Millwall had been knocked off the top of the Division One table by Sunderland, following a 6–0 defeat.
Jimmy Nicholl of Raith Rovers was appointed as McCarthy's replacement, but could not reverse the slump in form which saw Millwall relegated at the end of the 1995–96 season in 22nd place. Just five months earlier they had been top of Division One, but now Millwall found themselves in the third tier for the 1996–97 season. The club experienced severe financial difficulties that resulted in them being placed in financial administration for a short time. Nicholl was relieved of his duties and John Docherty returned on a short-term basis to stabilise the club.
Millwall came out of administration, and new chairman Theo Paphitis appointed ex-West Ham United manager Billy Bonds as manager. The 1997–98 season was not a successful one, with the club hovering close to relegation to the fourth tier. Bonds was sacked and replaced by Keith "Rhino" Stevens, with Alan McLeary as his assistant. McLeary was later promoted to the role of joint-manager alongside Stevens. Stevens and McLeary led Millwall to their first ever official appearance at Wembley Stadium. The Lions reached the 1999 Football League Trophy Final with a golden goal win against Gillingham in the semi-finals, and a 2–1 aggregate victory over Walsall in the regional final. They faced Wigan Athletic in the final but, while playing in front of 49,000 of their own fans, lost 1–0 to an injury-time goal. Millwall also lost 1–0 on aggregate to Wigan in the Second Division play-off semi-finals the 1999–2000 season.
Champions, FA Cup Final and European football: 2001–2004
Mark McGhee was named as Millwall's new manager in September 2000, and eight months later the club won promotion as Division Two champions, with the team built by Keith Stevens, after five years in the third tier of the league. They finished with 93 points, a club record. Winning the first match of the 2001–02 season 4–0 at home to Norwich City set the team up well for a good year, in which Millwall qualified for the Division One play-offs, but lost to eventual winners Birmingham City 2–1 in the semi-finals. Millwall finished mid-table in the 2002–03 season and McGhee was sacked soon after the start of the 2003–04 season.
In 2003, Dennis Wise, ex-Chelsea and England player, became caretaker, and subsequently permanent player-manager, of the club. In his first season in charge Wise led the club to the first FA Cup Final in their history. When Millwall took to the field at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff they were only the second team from outside the top flight to play in the Cup final since 1982, and were the first team from outside the Premier League to reach the final since the foundation of the top tier in 1992. The club was missing 16 players from their squad due to suspension or injury. They played the Cup final on 22 May 2004, losing 3–0 to Manchester United. As United had already qualified for the UEFA Champions League, Millwall were assured of playing in the UEFA Cup. Midfielder Curtis Weston, substituted for Wise with one minute of normal time remaining, became the youngest Cup final player in history at 17 years 119 days, beating the 125-year-old record of James F. M. Prinsep. In the 2004–05 UEFA Cup, Millwall lost 4–2 on aggregate in the first round proper to Hungarian champions Ferencváros, with Wise scoring both Millwall's goals.
Upheaval, stability and first play-off success: 2005–2013
Millwall players celebrating promotion to the Football League Championship at Wembley Stadium in 2010.
In 2005, Theo Paphitis announced that he was stepping down as chairman of the club with Jeff Burnige to replace him from May 2005. At the end of the 2004–05 season, manager Dennis Wise announced that he was leaving as he was unable to form a working relationship with the new chairman. Former Millwall striker Steve Claridge was announced as the new player-manager of Millwall. However, when Burnige then stepped down just two months after taking up the post, it was announced on 27 July that Claridge had been sacked after just 36 days, without ever taking charge of the team in a competitive match. Former Wolverhampton Wanderers manager Colin Lee replaced him but lasted only five months in charge of the club. On 21 December, with the club bottom of the Championship, he became the club's Director of Football and was replaced as manager by 32-year-old player Dave Tuttle, on a short-term contract until the end of the 2005–06 season. Tuttle had no prior experience in football management. In February 2006, Lee left the club altogether. Millwall experienced a difficult season, having had four managers in 2005. Their 13 goals scored at home was the second worst in Football League history. Their relegation to League One was confirmed on 17 April 2006 with a 2–0 loss against Southampton. In the closed season Nigel Spackman was appointed as the new manager, but he lasted only four months after a string of bad results. In September 2006, Theo Paphitis (chairman from 1997 to 2005) ended his nine-year association with the club after a year-long spell as a non-executive director. On 19 March 2007, Willie Donachie signed a two-year contract following some progress which had seen the club climb to 11th place in the league. Before Donachie took charge, Millwall had taken only six points from their first ten games. In the 2007–08 season Millwall sat bottom of the table at the beginning of October. Donachie was sacked on 8 October, with Richard Shaw and Colin West becoming caretaker managers.
In March 2007, Chestnut Hill Ventures, led by American John Berylson, which have interests in business and financial services, retail, property and sport, invested £5 million into the club. The continued investment of Berylson, who has since become the club's major shareholder and chairman, has steered The Lions on a better course on and off the pitch. The appointment of Kenny Jackett as manager on 6 November 2007, proving crucial. Over the course of the next two seasons Jackett led Millwall to two top six finishes in League One, in fifth and third place respectively. He won the League One Manager of the Month award three times while in charge of the club. Several of his key signings helped propel Millwall toward the play-offs, and eventual promotion. After a play-off final defeat in the 2008–09 season against Scunthorpe United and losing out on automatic promotion on the last day of the 2009–10 season to Leeds United by one point, Millwall made it back to Wembley, finally breaking the play-off hoodoo run of five successive failures in 1991, 1994, 2000, 2002 and 2009, with a 1–0 win in the 2010 League One play-off final against Swindon Town, securing a return to the Football League Championship after a four-year absence.
Millwall's first game back in the Championship was a 3–0 away win at Bristol City. The game had been much hyped due to City's signing of then-England goalkeeper David James. Only days after the defeat, Steve Coppell resigned as City manager. The Lions celebrated the 125th anniversary of the club on 2 October 2010, which was the closest home game date to the first fixture Millwall ever played against Fillebrook on 3 October 1885. Millwall drew 1–1 with Burnley and wore a special one-off kit for the game, made by manufacturers Macron, which bore the names of every footballer who had played for the club. Kenny Jackett celebrated five years in charge of the club in November 2012, with a 4–1 victory away at Nottingham Forest. After a strong start to the 2012–13 season, including a 13-game unbeaten run and flirting with the play-offs, Millwall finished poorly, with only five wins in the last 23 games, narrowly avoiding relegation on the last day of the season. Their poor league form coincided with reaching the semi-final of the FA Cup for the fifth time in their history. They played Wigan Athletic at Wembley Stadium on 14 April 2013, losing 2–0 to the eventual cup winners. Kenny Jackett resigned on 7 May 2013. He was Millwall's fourth-longest serving manager. After a month of searching, Millwall appointed St Johnstone boss Steve Lomas as their new manager on 6 June 2013. His appointment provoked mixed emotions among some supporters, due to him being a former captain of West Ham United, their biggest rival. Club record goalscorer Neil Harris returned to Millwall as a coach on 23 June 2013 after retiring as a player through injury. Millwall sacked Lomas on 26 December 2013, after winning only five of his first 22 games in charge. Harris and youth team coach Scott Fitzgerald took over as joint caretaker-managers. On 4 January 2014 Millwall lost 4–1 at Southend United in the FA Cup, a team 31 places below them in the football pyramid. Harris described the performance as a "shambles."