In Depth

Millwall stadium battle: Why it matters for other clubs

Lewisham Council's redevelopment plans have put the club's future at the New Den under threat

Millwall

Millwall are facing eviction from their New Den home in London after councillors agreed to sell land around the stadium to offshore property developers.

Lewisham Council had been expected to vote through a compulsory purchase order on Wednesday. However, Millwall have been given a stay of execution after the ballot was pushed back to next month.

The club says it could be forced to relocate if the deal, which would see the area around the New Den taken over by developers, is approved.

The situation has prompted a huge public outcry and even attracted the support of national figures such as Lib Dem leader Tim Farron, who said it would be "heartbreaking" if Millwall were forced to move.

It has also headlines everywhere from Private Eye to The Sun, which described it as "a dark, strange and worrying story"

So what is going in south London? 

Redevelopment plans

Lewisham Council wants to redevelop the area around the New Den stadium in Bermondsey, Millwall's home following their 1993 move from the nearby Old Den, where they had played since 1910.

The plans are expected to create 2,400 homes, community facilities and a new Overground station, but they require the use of land around the stadium, including the car park and the site of the club's Community Trust.

To enable that to happen, the council has approved a compulsory purchase order (CPO), under which they would take the land from Millwall and sell it on to developers.

The plans have been in the pipeline for some time and the CPO was first approved last year.

Why might the club have to move?

Although the stadium itself is not affected by the plans, there are concerns that with new landlords owning the surrounding land, there could be operational problems for the club.

"If Millwall lose the land around The Den, the club's award-winning community trust - which has won by friends and admirers within the Football League - will be homeless," says The Sun. "They also believe their commercial operations would be under threat and the academy would not be able to function."

Club chairman Steve Kavanagh told Sky Sports: "The Millwall Community Trust could find itself very easily and very quickly relocated out of the borough because we will not allow our badge, our brand and our Community Trust, which we absolutely want out there to further the good community work we do, to be used under the umbrella of another organisation."

Ironically, one of the reasons Millwall chose to move to the New Den rather than redevelop their old stadium was that there was more room at the new site.

"Millwall also claim they previously offered to buy the freehold of the land in question - on which they were granted a 150-year lease upon moving into the New Den in 1993 - only to be told by the council it was not for sale," reports the Daily Telegraph.

Who wants to buy the land?

This is where the controversy escalates. The council has close links with the company behind the regeneration plans, Renewal, which is owned by two anonymous offshore trusts based in the Isle of Man and the British Virgin Islands.

"Renewal's chief executive is a former Lewisham officer and colleague of the current Lewisham chief executive, Barry Quirk, an unelected official best known locally for being paid more pro rata than the prime minister for working a three day week," says The Guardian

"In another bizarre twist Renewal was also set up and originality part-owned by the previous Labour mayor of Lewisham, Dave Sullivan."

It has also emerged that Sullivan's successor, Sir Steve Bullock, is a director of a Renewal-associated company, the Surrey Canal Sporting Trust.

What happens now?

"The club and their fans had been increasingly resigned to the CPO being rubber-stamped in defiance of the staggering chain of events that led to it being voted through in September only for it to be blocked by the council's own Overview and Business Scrutiny Panel," reports the Telegraph.

This week's delay to the CPO could provide an opportunity for Millwall and the council to resume talks, but the club plans will appeal if it goes through.

Kavanagh told Sky Sports: "In all likelihood, the next stage will be a public inquiry because we will contest this through the right channels and the right ways because we don't think this is in the public interest."

What does it mean for other clubs?

"Should the order be confirmed the ripples will be felt by other league clubs in areas where rising land prices are likely to attract developers with an eye on regeneration. Supporters of nearby Charlton Athletic and Leyton Orient will be watching with interest, as will other mid-size Football League clubs across the country," says the Guardian.

The Sun agrees. "Any football fan who thinks it is funny that Millwall could be relocated 75 miles to the Kent coast should stop and think for a second because it could be their club," it warns.

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