Tuesday, 21 January 2014

The origins of the conflict between West Ham Millwall

I have recently been researching the origins of the conflict between West Ham United and Millwall.  It has to be remembered that Millwall was established in 1885, ten years before Thames Ironworks and fifteen years before West Ham United.

Millwall were in fact champions of the Southern League when Thames Ironworks was established. Therefore the first game between the two clubs took place on 14th December, 1895. That day Thames Ironworks played a game against Millwall Reserves and lost 6-0. A return match was arranged on 25th April, 1896. This time the result was 1-1.

Thames Ironworks won the Southern League Division 2 in the 1898-99. That meant that in the 1899-1900 season they were playing in the same league as Millwall. The first game took place on 23rd December 1899. Up until then Thames Ironworks had home gates of between 1,000 (Chatham) and 3,000 (Bristol City). However, for this game they had an attendance of 12,000. John Powles, the author of Iron in the Blood (2005), does not report any crowd trouble in the game. Millwall won the game 2-0.

That year Thames Ironworks also played Millwall in the FA Cup. This time 13,000 people saw Millwall win the game 2-1. It might be this game that caused the conflict between the two clubs. Tom Bradshaw scored the Hammers goal. It was the last game he played dying on 25th December 1899. Officially the 26 year old Bradshaw died of tuberculosis. However, friends claimed that he had been complaining of terrible pains when he headed the ball. This he blamed on a game he had played several years previously when a member of the Liverpool team.  Did he receive a blow to the head while playing against Millwall? Bradshaw was a popular player and if the fans thought this was the case might have caused considerable anger towards Millwall.

Interestingly, Bradshaw’s death also increased hostility towards Spurs. In 1899, Francis Payne, the club secretary, was given the task of finding good players for Thames Iron Works to prepare them for the first season in the top division of the Southern League. His record signing of £1000 was Bradshaw from Spurs.  Hammers’ fans were convinced that Spurs would have known he was suffering from tuberculosis when they sold him. Bradshaw only played four games for Thames Ironworks before that fateful game against Millwall.

The third game against Millwall was even more important. Thames Ironworks was second from bottom of the league when they played Millwall on 28th April 1900. In front of 8,000 people the Hammers won 1-0. This stopped them from being automatically relegated and had to play a “Test Match” against Fulham. The Hammers stayed in the league by winning 5-1.

The following season Thames Ironworks changed its name to West Ham United. For the next 14 years the West Ham v Millwall was the most important game of the season, attracting nearly double the attendance of any other game. More importantly, West Ham obtained dominance over Millwall during this period. In 1919 West Ham joined the Second Division of the Football League. In the 1922-23 season West Ham was promoted to the First Division and was beaten by Bolton in the 1923 Cup Final.

After this, West Ham was rarely in the same division as Millwall.  Although we did beat them 4-1 in the FA Cup on 15th February, 1930. The next time we played them was in the 1932-33 season after we had been relegated to the Second Division. On 17th September 1932 we beat them 3-0 (two of the goals were scored by the great Vic Watson). The relative size of the two clubs is reflected in the fact that 30,000 attended that game, but the return match at Millwall only had a crowd of 5,000.



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