In January 2009 Scunthorpe United a professional football team from the north of England travelled to south London to face Millwall in a League One fixture. In 2009 Scunthorpe were experiencing their most succesful era in over fifty years. The apogee had come two years earlier when they claimed the League One title and gained promotion to the Championship. The following season in the Championship Scunthorpe had a good run of results at the beginning of the season including a notable 3-2 win over local rivals Sheffield United, who were at the time managed by old England and Manchester United captain Bryan Robson. However as the season dragged on Scunthorpe's results started to dip, early leads were squandered, the end result being that Scunthorpe were relegated from the Championship.

Back in League One for the 2008-09 season, and the Iron, as Scunthorpe United are known, after making a dreadful start, went on an eight match winning run which took them to the top of the League. History seemed to be repeating itself, and Iron fans started rubbing their hands in anticipation at a second League One title. Unfortunately the following games highlighted a gradual decline in the Iron's performances. By January 2009 the match against Millwall had become a battle between two teams who were competing for a play-off place.


Going to Millwall is not a trip to Alton Towers. Millwall have long had a reputation for possessing one of the most dangerous firms of what people call hooligans, in the UK. For most away supporters who don't have intentions of getting into a fight it is wise to approach the Millwall ground, The New Den, in a humble and relatively sober manner.

The New Den is buried in an industrial estate. A long winding concrete alleyway, guarded by metal railings takes you there. Walking to the ground is like walking to a prison camp.

In the stadium the more vociferous and provocative of Millwall's supporters situate themselves next to the away supporter's end. The Scunthorpe fans were confined to the central part of the away end to maximise the distance between the two sets of supporters.

After the referree blew his whistle to start the game between Millwall and Scunthorpe United it became clear that both teams were vulnerable to making mistakes and poor passing. The game took its toll on Scunthorpe as well as Millwall supporters. But it was Millwall who had the first laugh when Gary Alexander scored a goal in the 63rd minute.

The Millwall fans, who had been relativel subdued before the goal, broke out into celebrations. This photograph captures Millwall fans before and after their goal celebration. The familiar stretching of the arms to indicate just how big and powerful a fan can grow in the light of an opening goal is demonstrated. It is accompanied by the masturbatory gesture, often used to indicate that fans of the opposing side are not attractive enough to find a female mate, and have to resort to manual self stimulation to recreate the experience of sexual intercourse with a woman.

The best display of celebratory emotion, not captured on camera, went to a young man with cropped hair, who celebrated the goal by jumping around like an ape, rubbing his bear chest, and swinging his arm pendulously suggesting that Millwall's goal had given him a manhood the size of an elephant's trunk. Most of the Scunthorpe end were temporarily mesmerised by this surreal expression of dominance, which for entertainment value eclipsed what had been provided on the pitch up to that point.



Scunthorpe fans look on, some with resignation. Football is an emotional game but Scunthorpe fans have more reason than most to be stoic.

Traditionally Scunthorpe have been a mid-table side in League Two, flirting at the edges of both promotion and relegation, but more often than not delivering neither. Scunthorpe fans seasoned to a well balanced diet of wins, losses and draws, and anaesthetised by mediocrity, have had time to develop that unemotional glazed over look, that thousand yard stare.

In 2009 manager Nigel Adkins, who used to be the clubs' physio, and of who it was once sang 'Who needs Morinho we've got our physio', had assembled a young team. The team was capable of attractive inventive play, but all too easily lots its concentration and shape.

The photos show how the team caused fans to express a range of emotions from frustration to nail biting. Every football match usually has its dull moments, so much so that even the most ardent of supporters can momentarily switch off, and indulge in a good yawn.

Scunthorpe fans can be demanding. A large number insist on fair play. Some fans will boo their own players for feigning injury or fouls even if it accrues an advantage to Scunthorpe. "Get up" you'll hear them shout as if they've seen it all before.

You can find self-flagellation in both Christianity and Islam.

It is also present in some suppoters' ritual demonstration of their dedication to Scunthorpe United.

Scunthorpe United fans, like fans of other northern football clubs, have a habit of bearing their skin to the cruel winter airs - as a symbol of their unflinching support.

Whilst Millwall were marginally the better of two teams both struggling to impose their will on the match, it was Scunthorpe that went on to take the glory.

The winning goal came within three minutes of the full time whisle, Gary "Hoops" Hooper running in behind the Millwall defence to bring down a looped ball from Matt Sparrow, and deal a devestating finish with aplomb.

When a goal goes in - hot steaming gold runs through your veins - you become invincible for as long as the feeling lasts.



And with defeat causing the metaphorical Millwall manhood to shrivel to the size of a falafel and two garden peas the it was time for Scunthorpe fans to revel in their new found symbolic dominance - all forged in the fantasy fire of footballing fortunes.

Questions were asked.

Who's the big man now?

Who's stopped singing their songs?

Suprisingly, the police let Millwall and Scunthorpe United fans out of the stadium together. On the way back to South Bermondsey train station I found myself surrounded by a hundred Millwall supporters. We were crammed into a corridoor which led up to the train station, waiting for the police to allows us access to the platform. The Millwall fans started to give the police a bit of gip. Every now and then you'd hear a fan shreik "Mill" which was an invocation for another fan to do the same and so on and so forth. These high pitched mosquito like shreiks were eerie, they sounded like the beginning to a pagan ritual. There was a nervous tension in the air. Stood next to my mate, who was conversing freely in his London accent, I frustratedly communicated nothing more than grunts, not wanting to give anything away of my northern roots. Now was not the time to introduce myself to a hoard of Millwall fans who were cold, bored and humbled by the might of the Iron.
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