There aren’t many clubs around the country has disliked as Millwall, so there is an argument that virtually every team they play could be called their rivals. In fact, they are so universally disliked that the fans often sing ‘Everyone hates us and we don’t care’. If there is one club that might claim to hate Millwall even more than everyone else, however, then it is unquestionably West Ham. The two teams were located less than three miles from each other when they were first formed, back when it was Millwall Athletic playing Thames Ironworks playing in the Dockers Derby.
In the years that followed the rivalry died down slightly, not so much because there was less hatred between the two teams but because they were no longer geographically close to one another thanks to moves to new stadia and the fact that they were no longer playing in the same division as often. Of course, football rivalries might cool and alter, but they never die off altogether and that is why the Millwall and West Ham rivalry is one that will not end entirely unless one or other of the two teams ceased existing and the requirement to play matches disappears.
How It All Began
In 1885, tinsmiths at the canned food factory of JT Morgan on the Isle of Dogs decided to create a football team. Millwall Rovers Football Club was born in the East End of London, offering local people a side to watch and support. Ten years later on, Dave Taylor, a foreman working at Thames Ironworks and Shipbuilding Company, which was the last major shipbuilding company in London, decided to form an alternative team. So it was that Thames Ironworks Football Club was born, given the full support of Arnold Hills, the owner of the company, who thought it would improve morale.
Whilst a rivalry would almost certainly have been formed regardless on account of the fact that the two clubs were situated less than three miles from each other, there was also the fact that they were the responsibility of rival companies. As a result, the workers were competing for the same contracts when doing their jobs, resulting in even more bitterness forming between the supporters of the clubs. It was only reserve matches that happened during the early years, the first of which saw Millwall Athletic’s reserves win 6-0, with the first game between the senior players being, ironically, a friendly.
Familiarity Bred Contempt
The first competitive fixture between Millwall and West Ham, although they didn’t have those names then, occurred on the ninth of December 1899 when they played an FA Cup fifth qualifying round. Millwall Athletic defeated Thames Ironworks 2-1 at the Memorial Grounds of the latter, seeing Millwall make it into the cup proper. They eventually progressed to the semi-finals before losing 3-0 to Southampton, earning themselves the nickname ‘The Lions’ after a newspaper article dubbed them the ‘Lions of the South’ for their exploits in making it so far in the competition.
In what was unique circumstances, their next competitive match actually spanned two decades. They played each other on 23rd December, 1899 but smog meant that the game had to be abandoned with Millwall leading 2-0. You might think that the match was replayed, but instead the remaining 21 minutes were played out on 28th April, 1900 in the wake of the return fixture. Ironworks had won that 1-0, but there was no score in the 21 minutes that was played after the two teams had enjoyed a brief rest following the full-time whistle on the first game.
If the two clubs disliked each other before that match, such disdain was only going to heat up in the years that followed. Disputes over the running of the club led to Thames Ironworks disbanding in the June of 1900, reforming a month later with the new name of West Ham United. The way that the leagues and cups were structured at the time meant that the two sides ended up meeting each other on countless occasions, playing the derby out 60 times between 1899 and 1915. That included playing each other seven times in both 1901-1902 and 1902-1903.
Whilst it would be untrue to suggest that the rivalry between the two sides has cooled off entirely, there is certainly some truth in the fact that not playing in the same division as one another on a regular basis has meant that they two teams have had bigger fish to fry at times. Even so, there have been some memorable battles between them over the years, which we’ll take a closer look at here:
Millwall 7 – West Ham 1 (1903)
During the period of time that the two clubs played one another on a regular basis, Millwall seemed to have something of a hex over their bitter rivals. They were unbeaten in 12 consecutive games, of which they won nine and drew three. One of those wins came in the Southern Professional Charity Cup, where they faced each other in the semi-final. It was on the second of April 1903 and Millwall defeated West Ham 7-1, which was the largest winning margin of a match between the two sides. Millwall’s successful run only ended when West Ham won 3-0 in 1904.
Millwall 1 – West Ham 1 (1906)
There isn’t often a scoreline accompanying reports of this match, which is largely due to the fact that the score wasn’t the main takeaway. If you want to know about what the two teams are all about then this is perhaps the match to look towards, trouble seeming likely ‘from the very first kick of the ball’. The dam burst when Millwall’s Alf Dean was hurled into a metal advertising board by West Ham’s Len Jarvis, leading to fights breaking out between both the players on the pitch and the supporters in the stand. The East Ham Echo rather euphemistically referred to it as ‘considerable excitement’.
Millwall 0 – West Ham 3 (1978)
the rise of hooliganism in the 1970s was one of the darkest times for football, with West Ham’s Inner City Firm and Millwall’s Bushwhackers at the forefront of it. In spite of the two teams not meeting very often, the clashes were horrendous. In 1976, a Millwall fan fell out of a train during fighting between the two sets of supporters and died. When the clubs met again two years later, Millwall supporters distributed leaflets saying ‘A West Ham fan must die to avenge him’. There was a considerable show of police force for the match, but six officers were injured and 70 people were arrested, as well as many weapons being seized.
Millwall 4 – West Ham 1 (2004)
After West Ham were promoted to the Premier League and Millwall remained in the divisions below them, it took 12 years before the two teams met at Millwall’s new ground. When they eventually did, it was Mothering Sunday 2004 and the home team beat the Hammers 4-1 in a match that went on to be known as the ‘Mothers’ Day Massacre’. It was the largest winning margin between the two teams in the Football League, with Millwall also missing a penalty and seeing another one saved in a dominant display over their fiercest rivals.