Millwall Chairman John Berylson has claimed that 'the long term future of the club is being put at risk' and a 'Defend the Den' online petition has been started by 'fan on the board' Pete Garston. Meanwhile the Council has defended its position, stating that notwithstanding the land sale there is still a formal Planning Agreement in place for the area that includes 'safeguarding the existing Millwall Stadium, undertaking improvements to the north, west and south facades of the Millwall FC stadium and relocating the Lions Centre operated by the Millwall Community Scheme to a new location within the regeneration area'.
So what's really going on here? Well first of all this all about the larger Surrey Canal development that is planned for the area near to the Millwall ground. This is a big development which I have shied away from covering mainly because I haven't had the time to get my head round it. I'm glad therefore that the new 'The New Cross' site has summarised its main features, suggesting that it amounts to 'creating an entirely new area of London with shops, houses, health and sports facilities and a brand new East London Line station' on a largely brownfield site. The developer is 'Renewal New Bermondsey Two Ltd' - the official site is here.
|From the developers site:|
'1,200 person Church with offices, children's area, cafe, meeting rooms, rehearsal space and library'.
I think it's misleading though to present Millwall as a little community outfit threatened by rapacious property developers. I do think that as a football club, Millwall has a fairly good track record with the community. My children have taken part in their holiday football schemes, they give out tickets to local schools, and they supported the campaign to save Lewisham Hospital. And of course they are passionately supported by many people in the local community.
But Millwall Holdings PLC is a profit-seeking company - its chair John Berylson, is an American businessman. Its subsidiary company Millwall Properties Limited is 'engaged in the preliminary assessment of the potential redevelopment and regeneration of the area surrounding the group's football stadium'. As a company, it has developed its own proposals for the land in dispute, including building a hotel and conference centre on the site of the car park. Millwall's own plans would also involve building on the current site of the Lions Centre and rebuilding it elsewhere.
|From recent Millwall publication 'ambitious plans for a secure future'|
There may be some validity to Millwall's argument that as the football club loses money it needs non-football income to flourish. That is true of most clubs given the current economics of the game. But there is no threat to the stadium itself and it seems to me that this dispute isn't about developers vs. the community but about the competing interests of rival property developers. I'm not advocating selling off council land but selling the land to Millwall's owners (as they advocate) doesn't seem to be any different to selling it off to Renewal.
For Millwall fans a bigger long term issue might be the future of the New Den, not as a result of this land sale but because of the wider impact of the Surrey Canal development - whoever leads it. New affluent and vocal residents might not be so happy to have this unreconstructed bastion of working class culture on their doorstep, but Millwall have another 100 years or so to go on their lease so perhaps they would have to lump it. The fact that the land is owned by the Council (I believe) rather than the club might be an advantage, because it means that current or future club owners don't have the scope to asset strip by selling off the ground. But with the Surrey Canal redevelopment likely to increase the value of the land occupied by the New Den, there could still be a lucrative deal to be cut involving the club's owners being paid to give up the lease. Charlton fans successfully campaigned last year to have the Valley listed as an Asset of Community Value which would give it some short-term, limited protection from redevelopment, perhaps Millwall fans should do the same.
(lots of discussion about this at Millwall Online as you might expect, including speculation that longer term the club could move elsewhere, maybe even to Southwark Park on site of current semi-derelict running track. I think the latter is very unlikely - Southwark agreed funds last year to refurbish athletics facilities in Southwark Park and I understand that this will be going ahead, with a new athletics club operating there. Not all Millwall fans are fond of the current ground, but I think if they lose the New Den they might struggle to find somewhere else in London).
Meanwhile at Dulwich Hamlet... very interesting article at 200% about Dulwich Hamlet FC, which despite doing well on the pitch appears to be in a financially perilous position and at risk from property deals.