Portraits of Black Millwall Players and Fans
Black Millwall is a series of portraits of black Millwall players and fans. It was first shown as an exhibition at The Shortwave Café, London in October 2018 and was a part of a larger project called Millwall’s changing communities: Memories of football and neighbourhood in South London.
The project was originally triggered by media coverage of the death, in 2012, of Tiny, a highly regarded black Millwall supporter. To the outsider, being black and being Millwall would seem a contradiction, certainly strongly at odds with widely held popular images of what Millwall fans are all about. (In)famous for the chant ‘No one likes us, we don’t care’, Millwall Football Club is historically known less for its footballing achievements and more for a fan base with a reputation for intimidation and racial abuse of opponents. But although the wider popular image of Millwall remains clouded by this reputation, it is also a perception that blanks out both the lesser known history of black Millwall fans and decades of Millwall involvement in a local community increasingly dominated by black and minority populations.
Millwall Fan since 1986
‘I didn’t personally get any attacks or insults from Millwall fans, but I did hear it, you know. I think, at first it was kind of shocking but then, for me, going to other games, football matches and other stadiums with my uncle who was a Man United fan, you know, I used to hear racism at those grounds as well. So, for me, it always just felt systemic. It felt to me that racism was just at every club. That’s how I grew up, you know, understanding it. And, yeah, I think, it is kind of fair to say that I think, you know, the idea of racism is just, I think Millwall is a reflection of that being in society, really, you know.’
Millwall Fan since 2014
‘And then I came back here and obviously I was still really into the football, but I didn't really support an English club […] I decided, I'm going to pick a game, any game in the Championship and go to it. So I picked Millwall versus QPR, and I went and sat in the Millwall stand at home, and I said, “I really like it here”. Because, you know, everyone treated me sort of with respect, you know, everyone was really nice to me, you know, there's always people that offer to give me lifts to and from games, things like that.’
Millwall player 2009 - 2018
‘Like I say, we play football, and we can see how football can bring people all together, and maybe I am an example now, like I say, I am a black player, and a Muslim as well. So what I heard about the Millwall fans, outside the pitch, it didn’t work for me because I am here, and they support me all these years, and a lot of them love me, so I think it shows it is a great thing for the football and for the club as well, to see how the fans can support a player no much what colour he is, and no matter which religion he is.
Millwall fan since 1968
‘All my friends, when I got to know them so good, and their families as well, I have never thought of them in the way of colour sense. The best example I can ever think of is my friend come to my house, he wasn’t joking, he looked at the pictures on my wall, know what he said: “Norman, I am shocked to know that you’ve got black family, like your mum is black”. I said, “what are you talking about? You’ve been around me for so long that you have forgotten that I am black”. So that shows you a lot, you understand.’
Millwall Fan since the early 70s
‘If you are a little kid who ain’t doing very well in life, who ain’t got no mates, Billy-no-mates blablabla, you support Millwall and you’ve got mates, you’ve got people looking after you, and you become like family. I’d say that‘s representative of how I always will know Millwall, as a family. Certainly, we always looked after each other, definitely, you know, from sharing fags, to drinks, to chipping in if someone got a fine for getting nicked, you know what I mean? I know people used to go to court to support each other. So yeah, that’s how it was.’
Millwall Player 1975 - 79
‘We played against Stoke and I come up against Garth Crooks. And Garth Crooks was all the names underneath the sun. But I was Phil. I mean, he got so much abuse and I “had to kick hell out of ”, “go on Phil”. It was all “Phil”. So, then you think to yourself, well, I know some of them are racist but they can’t be all racists because on one side they’re calling a black guy all the names under the sun, the other black guy they’re calling him by his first name wanting him to do well. So, in the end, you think well, you get to think, are they all racists or they just want to put you off because you’re not wearing their colour shirt?’
Millwall Player 1975 - 78
‘It was my last game for Millwall, before moving to Colchester, and the supporters were outside the players’ entrance. As I went out, they said to me, “Come on, we are going down to Bermondsey, to a pub”. They took me and my wife to Bermondsey, into the pub, and it was packed with Millwall supporters. They stood me up on the bar, so everyone could see me, they were singing away, they had a song for me at one time, “he’s here, he’s here”, with expletives at the end. A good experience, that shows you how far we’ve come, you know.’