Violence erupts at The Den

IT'S almost 30 years to the day Ipswich Town and Millwall clashed in the sixth round of the FA Cup. Town were on the way to their one and only FA Cup triumph to date.

Mike Bacon

IT'S almost 30 years to the day Ipswich Town and Millwall clashed in the sixth round of the FA Cup. Town were on the way to their one and only FA Cup triumph to date. But it wasn't a smooth journey. Indeed Saturday, March 11, 1978 at Cold Blow Lane, in south London, was all terribly ugly. MIKE BACON looks back at one of the most frightening days ever for Town fans.

NOBODY likes us, we don't care.

An infamous football chant that fills innocents with fear and signals all that was bad with football in the 1970s and 80s.

The chant was used by Millwall “fans”, many of whom revelled in the club's notoriety of having a hooligan element in their midst.

But as Ipswich Town fans cheerfully made their way to south London on what proved to be a frightening winter's afternoon, on Saturday, March 11, 1978, the vast majority were unaware of the horror scenes they were walking into.

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The Den at Millwall, was a tinderbox waiting to explode. And Ipswich Town fans felt the full force when it did.

Just three months before Town's visit, a BBC Panorama team had investigated the “English Disease” of football hooliganism and had taken their cameras to Cold Blow Lane, invited by bold Millwall manager Gordon Jago and his chairman Herbert Burnige.

The pair had suggested changing Millwall's home ground name from Cold Blow Lane to Montego Bay, to lighten the sense of fear and greyness in south London.

The BBC found however the overall picture wasn't that bad at Millwall. But it was a finding which wasn't on their expected agenda.

They were seeking to prove a theory, that football hooliganism was more than just a bit of Saturday afternoon violence and that it might even be linked to fascism and the National Front.

The National Front's “national activities organiser” was interviewed and appeared to lend substance to this claim, with pictures of NF supporters selling fascist literature outside The Den - something never witnessed before or since - were transmitted to the nation.

For Jago it was too much. After seeing a preview of the film, he begged the BBC not to transmit it.

His pleas fell on deaf ears and Jago resigned.

Myth and reality eventually fused as a full-scale riot broke out at The Den during the quarter-final tie against Bobby Robson's side.

Fighting began on the terraces, spilled out on to the pitch and into the narrow streets around the ground.

Bottles, knives, iron bars, fists, boots and concrete slabs rained from the sky. Dozens of innocent people, including many Millwall fans, were injured by the thugs.

Town had taken an early tenth minute lead from the unlikeliest of sources, full-back George Burley.

His thunderous 30-yard shot put Ipswich in control, but nine minutes later the violence that had been brewing on the terraces spilled on to the pitch.

Referee Mr Gow announced the game, which was held up for 19 minutes, would be completed whatever, as Millwall's hooligans threatened to get the match abandoned.

Order was eventually restored on the terraces, as on the pitch Paul Mariner put Town in control with two strikes in the 52nd and 72nd minutes.

A late Dave Mehmet strike six minutes from time gave the game a bit of interest, but Town finished in style with three goals in three minutes at the death, Mariner completing his hat-trick and Town - on their way to a semi-final place - winning 6-1.

Outside in Cold Blow Lane the violence erupted again, Town fans fleeing a raging, ugly mob.

Coach windows were broken with the old and the young caught up in the violence.

If Millwall's hooligans wanted to make a statement, then they had done just that - and Ipswich Town fans were the victims.

Throughout most of the 80s Millwall failed to shrug off the bad name of their hooligan element - ferocious scenes at Luton Town in 1985, where 31 policemen were injured, only served to drag their name through the gutter.

For Ipswich Town fans, that awful March afternoon will still be remembered by most.

The only silver lining being, it was one round closer to Wembley, where the memories were filled with happiness.