BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Millwall fans have been urged to play their part in the club inflicting another FA Cup defeat on Premier League opposition on Sunday – and ensure the headlines are for the correct reasons.
The Lions will be looking to progress to the quarter-finals by dumping Brighton out of the famous competition and booking themselves another trip to Wembley.
Millwall chief executive Steve Kavanagh reckons a rocking Den is hugely influential as the South Londoners look to topple top-flight opposition once again – already accounting for Everton in the fourth round.
“It’s the quarter-final of the FA Cup – a great day for the club,” he said. “Again we’re at home, which means a sell-out crowd. The atmosphere and day will hopefully be one to remember for all the right things.
“As a club and supporters, we should be looking forward to these sort of days. Two quarter-finals in the last three years is pretty unusual and testament to the core of our squad for the effort they have put in with the giant-killings we have achieved.
“Everton was a fantastic day and a brilliant cup tie. The atmosphere generated by the majority of the fans was unbelievable. Unfortunately it was ruined by a small minority. We can’t afford to keep having that for big events.
“Tickets have been sold to season-ticket holders and members in the main. Only a small amount went on general sale. Everyone there will be season-ticket holders and members, hopefully everyone can make sure the club is represented in the FA Cup in the right way.
“Everton would love to be in the quarter-final. And you can go back to Leicester – we beat them the year after they won the Premier League. They had themselves down as not being able to win the Premier League again, but to carry on winning things was on their agenda. It’s the same as Everton this year. They both came to the Den and were Millwalled.
“Yes, we had been having a hard time in the league but it’s important for the fans to remember how far we have come.
“We need the fans to get behind the team. We’ll get out of this sticky patch that we’re in by the fans getting behind the team and the whole place.
“The cup is a bit of light relief. It’s important for the players to know the fans are behind them.”
Millwall were charged by the FA over alleged racist chanting after January’s 3-2 win over the Toffees.
And their supporters will once again be heavily under scrutiny as Albion arrive in SE16.
“The Brighton game has obvious connotations,” said Kavanagh. “What I’m asking the fans to do is understand the line between banter and discrimination – and there is that line.
“There are chants some people consider banter and they are not.
“We’re living in a world where some things are not acceptable, and rightly so. I need the fans to just remember that. They can create a great atmosphere without crossing the line.
“We’ve done certain things. We’ve written to supporters and also got the campaign ‘Hear hate? Don’t hesitate’ – if people hear discrimination, racism or any other forms then we’d ask them to report it.
“What made Everton hard was that it was a small area, a small minority – but that has tarred the club. We have put extra resources and extra stewarding in.
“Any forms of discrimination will not be ignored. The stewards and police have been told to eject anyone doing so.”
Birmingham fan Paul Mitchell was jailed for 14 weeks on Monday for running on to the St Andrews pitch and flooring Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish. He was also banned from attending football for 10 years.
Asked if there is a greater spotlight on supporters’ behaviour, Kavanagh responded: “Yeah, there is. I said after the Everton game that society has a problem and that authorities and clubs need to come together to help each other.
“When you look at Birmingham, it is very easy to blame them – the talk of a points deduction, that’s madness. But providing their stewarding was carried out and done properly, which I’m not in a position to know, then they need help. That is a mindless idiot who has done that.
“For a club like Birmingham and ourselves, it is very, very difficult to deal with one mindless idiot.
“It is in the spotlight at the moment, but football also does a huge amount of good in terms of community work. That mustn’t be forgotten, because without football it would be a whole lot worse. Society should help us and not criticise us.”
Millwall did open the lower tier of the away end for the recent visit of Championship leaders Norwich City.
But only the upper section has been made available to Brighton, less than the 15 per cent they wanted. They issued a statement saying they had approached the FA seeking the extra seats, who said they would be guided by Millwall’s Safety Advisory Group and the Met Police.
Kavanagh said: “It is a little bit police advice, safety advice and common sense. Brighton don’t manage our ground week in and week out, like we do. We know the difference between the Norwich game and Brighton in the cup.
“I think no matter who it had been – whether Everton or any Premier League team – it’s unlikely we’d be opening the lower tier. Norwich in the league is a completely different game, a different kettle of fish.
“We’d have liked to have given Brighton more but we have to make sure the game is remembered for the football and not anything else. Therefore we’ll be risk averse. It will always be risk-based.
“It would be great to have more away fans at the Den actually, because the all-round atmosphere is better and it definitely helps our team. Unfortunately against Norwich we didn’t get the result.
“We need to get to the norm where we can open that. Opening the lower tier is another step in the journey from where we have come. We have to do that with care and caution.
“But in a cup tie, Everton is an example, a last-minute goal creates an explosion of emotion, rightly so, and we’ve got to make sure it is remembered for the right reasons.”