Experimental documentary Millwall on the Screen challenges stereotypes about the football club’s hooligan culture.
In November, Millwall Community Trust won the ‘Best Community Contribution’ category at the 2023 Mayor of Lewisham Business Awards, which celebrates businesses’ positive contributions to the borough.
The three-screen, 52-minute documentary by Harry Lawson is an observational, tender story of the Millwall community – portraying small businesses tied to the club, employee diversity, devoted supporters of all ages and South Bermondsey residents.
“Football is a vehicle for community action,” said Lawson, who shot the film over the course of two years.
“My goal was to create this collage of various voices who have a role in the community and see if my engaging with people who care about it could diffuse some of the aggression that is tied to the image of Millwall.”
It was the stark contrast between Millwall’s positive community action and negative public reputation that inspired his project.
Since its 1885 founding, Millwall has always had a rough image.
Being associated with violence, hooliganism and the far right, its fans have become known for their chant ‘No one likes us, we don’t care’.
For Lawson, the slogan also points to the sociological neglect the community faces as part of a working class in a borough with a poverty rate of more than 30%, according to Trust for London data.
To help tackle some of the issues, Millwall Community Trust tries to identify and address specific needs of the area.
Sean Daly, CEO of the Millwall Community Trust, said: “We like to think we are the best kept secret of Millwall.
“The club funded 7,500 meals this year delivered to children during the school holidays.
“Harry told our story very well about the work we do in our community.
“That’s what we want to be known for – we do think we have entitlement to go out and help people in this community, it’s our responsibility to go and do that.”
The film shows how Bermondsey residents find material relief through the story of a mother who depends on the Lions Food Hub stocked in part by fan donations.
The food bank, ran in collaboration with the Millwall Community Trust, was founded by Kelly and Ellen Webster who had their wedding reception at The Den, the club’s home ground.
According to Daly, the food bank feeds around 150 families a week.
“The food bank is a complete melding of community and the football club and the relationship is really working,” said Lawson.
Lawson also documented the unexpected alliance between Millwall and the Bermondsey art collective ZONA MISTA, when the club supported the artists in their fight against a developer.
“That’s the moment when the artists started to think about their prejudice towards Millwall and whether they were perhaps unfair in their perception,” continued Lawson.
The seemingly separate worlds of artists and Millwall supporters collided during the film screening at Lewisham’s Chemist Gallery this month.
Kineret Lourie, Chemist Gallery curator and director, said: “It is important for us as a gallery to be connected locally.
“During the opening night, we had a very mixed crowd, with lots of people who are interested in art, but also Millwall fans.
“I think a lot of art works that try to make connections between community and art fail because there is not enough engagement, but this project feels truly engaging.”
Millwall on the Screen is showing at Chemist Gallery until 3 December.
Featured Image Credit: Harry Lawson