MILLWALL will today begin attempting to rebuild their shattered reputation after a group of their fans ruined Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.
During the second half of their 2-0 defeat by Wigan, pockets of Lions fans began fighting among themselves, and then with police as they tried to intervene, in scenes which shocked the football world.
Images of bloodied men and crying children were broadcast to a worldwide TV audience as Millwall’s name was dragged through the mud again.
It was a throwback to the 1980s, when Millwall were synonymous with hooliganism, and could undo decades of hard work behind the scenes to try to rid the south London club of its tarnished image.
The Football Association launched an immediate inquiry into the “deplorable” scenes while Millwall have vowed to ban the yobs.
It took the shine off a thrilling cup run which should have been memorable for all the right reasons. Millwall captain Danny Shittu said: “No players want that to happen. It was supposed to be a happy day. Regardless of the result it was meant to be good day out at Wembley.
“I’m disappointed by it but as players we just have to keep doing what we do. At the end so many supporters showed they were there just to spur us on but it’s disappointing to hear about such things happening on a day like that.
“It’s a small minority but things like that should not be happening. It should have been a great day for both sides.”
Millwall defender Shane Lowry, playing in the biggest game of his life, was also disappointed with the off-field events. The 23-year-old Australian said: “Sometimes you get a minority, but we brought almost 32,000 fans and the majority were fantastic.
“They outsung the Wigan fans and backed us throughout the whole game. It’s disappointing to see incidents like that but the majority of fans have been fantastic this season.”
Wigan chairman Dave Whelan couldn’t believe the scenes he was witnessing. “I can’t understand why the Millwall fans would fight each other,” he said. “I understand if they want to fall out with the visiting team, but why would they fall out amongst themselves? It just gives football a very, very poor reputation.
“We know Millwall are a tough club, their team’s tough to play, the supporters are Millwall Millwall Millwall... straight through. But don’t fight each other.”
Millwall were outclassed on the pitch as well, with goals by Scotland forward Shaun Maloney and Callum McManaman securing a deserved victory and a first FA Cup final for Wigan. Maloney opened the scoring, sweeping the ball home from eight yards after latching on to an Arouna Kone pass, while McManaman made sure of the win 12 minutes from time after he rounded goalkeeper David Forde and slipped the ball into an empty net.
But there was no time to celebrate as Wigan remain in the Barclays Premier League relegation zone with seven games left to save themselves, starting with a trip to reigning champions Manchester City on Wednesday. “It’s imperative we stay up,” said Maloney afterwards.
“Obviously it’s a major achievement to have reached the final but, it sounds pretty harsh, we are straight back in training and it’s back to league business.
“We have a big game against Manchester City on Wednesday. We have to put the cup to the back of our minds for the next few weeks. We’ve got that massive game and then West Ham at the weekend so we are just going to have to forget about the cup.”
Maloney added: “After we scored that first goal we settled down a bit. It was a sense of relief. But all credit to Millwall. For large parts of the second half they pinned us back, they got a few corners and put us under a fair bit of pressure.”
The victory means Whelan can realise his dream of leading the team out, 53 years after he broke his leg playing in the final for Blackburn.
“The chairman was delighted with the result,” said Maloney. “He’s been pretty public about wanting to lead us out and now he gets his chance.”