Millwall fans could launch a rival political party to challenge Labour’s dominance in Lewisham if a crucial decision tomorrow goes against the club.
Members of the Association of Millwall Supporters (AMS) already have financial and political helpers – as well as the backing of huge numbers of fans across the globe.
Their tweets have been see by more than one million people in the last week alone.
AMS joint chairman Micky Simpson believes they have the backing and the expertise to dent Labour’s stranglehold in a borough where its party holds all but one of the 54 seats.
A vote tomorrow will be crucial in whether the AMS decides to launch a political party: Lewisham’s cabinet will decide whether to seize three pockets of land around the football club’s stadium, The Den, and hand them over to offshore developer Renewal, using a compulsory purchase order (CPO).
If that is approved, Lions chief executive Steve Kavanagh has already declared the club might have to look seriously at relocating to Kent – see p6&7.
“The campaign against the CPO has gone global,” said Simpson. “We are looking at the idea of launching a political party.
“We have already had an anonymous backer who will fund any campaign. They know about politics – how much cash you need to put up candidates and how much expertise is required.
“Politics is not our game. But the offers of help we’ve been offered have been truly humbling – from corporate senior lawyers to the housewives from Bermondsey who want to talk about it at the school gates.
“The fans are obviously concerned about the future of their club. It has been in the borough for generations. If Millwall moves, there will be a large number of the older fans who will not be able to make the journey for home games. Others may not want to.
“Lewisham’s own scrutiny committee has already criticised the CPO and told its cabinet to look at it again. All the parties need to take a step back, sit around the table and come up with a solution. Common sense should tell everyone to come up with a solution.”
If Lions fans did form a political party, they would be sure to draw their inspiration from The Valley Party, which successfully campaigned for Charlton Athletic’s return to The Valley in 1992 after seven years in exile, by putting up candidates in Greenwich council local elections against the ruling Labour group.
Liberal Democrat national leader Tim Farron said: “Football clubs are a crucial part of British society and are at the heart of our communities. Aside from what goes on on the pitch, clubs create jobs, often support local initiatives and are a boost to local economies. Whilst I am a Blackburn Rovers fan I know how heartbreaking it would be for Millwall’s fans and the local community if their club was forced to move against their wishes. The details of this case seem quite extraordinary and I hope that the Council don’t take actions that could risk the club’s future in the area.
“Fans often worry about the impact a change of owner may have on their club’s future, they shouldn’t have to worry that a club’s own local Council would have a profound, unwanted impact.
“Sometimes fans and clubs want – or need – to move ground, or change how they operate, but this should be done with the fan’s having their say which is why the Liberal Democrats want to see recognised Supporters’ Trusts and fans should have input into major decisions affecting their clubs. We need to reclaim the people’s game – football is more than just a sporting contest and it is time that was recognised.”
Three Lewisham Conservative Association chairmen have written to the local government secretary Sajid Javid and London Mayor Sadiq Khan to ask them to block the CPO.
Ross Archer, chairman of Lewisham Deptford Conservatives, whose area will be affected by the proposed development, said: “I have no confidence in the Labour dominated Lewisham Council making the right decision on this scheme. I hope the Secretary of State or Mayor of London calls this decision in.”
A council spokesman said: “The New Bermondsey regeneration has the potential to deliver huge benefits for Lewisham and wider region which is why this CPO has been proposed. The scheme would deliver 2,400 desperately needed new homes, a new Overground station, new sports facilities and up to 1,500 new permanent jobs. An enhanced Millwall stadium, the Den, is at the centre of this regeneration.
“The area around the stadium is currently a run-down, under-used light industrial 30 acre site that needs to work much better for the borough. Renewal has assembled most of the land needed for the project. The prospective CPO will enable the acquisition of the remaining interests required so this important scheme can be delivered.
“Lewisham Council is very supportive of Millwall Football Club and has consistently said that its ability to operate the stadium must and will be protected. The planning permission and related planning agreements provide benefits for the club valued at around £7million, including recladding of the stadium. They also protect the club’s ability to expand the stadium should Millwall FC get into the Premier League.
“Lewisham Council’s Cabinet will consider all the points that have been raised as part of their decision making when they meet on Wednesday 11th January.”