By Michael Lewis
Back in the 1990’s, particularly in the early part of the decade when there was no pro soccer as we know it in the states, I visited England quite frequently to write stories about Americans who performed in the various leagues.
My subjects included John Harkes and Jurgen Sommer and then Eddie Lewis, Marcus Hahnemann and Tim Howard in the new century, among others.
My second USA subject, for Soccer Week on a quick trip to London was to speak to U.S. men’s international goalkeeper Kasey Keller, who was pursuing a professional career in England, in 1993. He wound up signing with Millwall, which was in the English First Division (equivalent to today’s Championship) at the time.
The original Den was built in the middle of a residential area. I remember walking to the stadium on meandering streets after getting off at a nearby tube station. When I got there, it was a dilapidated wooden structure that looked like it could fall apart. I watched Keller and Millwall get whipped at home, 4-0, by Barnsley on Feb. 20, 1993. Not exactly the best of results.
We had this long interview at a Chinese restaurant in the SoHo section of London and several stories ran in Soccer Week about Keller about a week later.
Years later, I returned to England to do updates on Keller and then with Bruce Murray and John Kerr, Jr., who played at Millwall as well.
I got an opportunity to visit both versions of The Den – the original and the more modern one. The latter was built for the 1993-94 season.
At that time, Millwall supporters had developed a reputation for violence and hooliganism and were prone. It’s motto? “No one likes us, we don’t care”.
When the new Den was built near the docks in England, about a quarter of a mile from the old venue, the powers that made sure it was far from any residential areas and literally in the middle of nowhere. Fans had to walk at least a half mile to get to the venue and if my memory is correct, there were few houses to be found on the way.
The new stadium was much more modern and looked like a prototype of the early MLS specific stadiums with a seating capacity of 20,146.
One trip to the Den stood out for me. In 1993, when I was to interview Murray and Kerr after training, I was waiting for my train at a tube stadium when a policeman said that we should move away from a suspicious looking package on the platform. It was during the time when the IRA had been a part of some bombings in England. I walked as far as I could from the package, hiding behind a concrete pillar. For the first time in my life, I had this irrational feeling that a bomb could go off and I could get injured or die.
Nothing came of it. Apparently, someone had left his or her package there by mistake. Fortunately, I have not experienced a feeling like that again.