As Millwall had acknowledged, this was a night when the eyes of the football world were on the club from south‑east London. But despite warning before the match that “they want us to fail”, this time there was no repetition of the events that marred their last game here, with both sets of players standing arm-in-arm before kick-off in a welcome show of solidarity against racism.
After a week during which Millwall’s reputation has once more been placed in the dock, there was a tangible sense of relief as applause rather than booing broke out among the 2,000 supporters – a feeling that returned later when the substitute Jon Bodvarsson’s equaliser rescued a point for Gary Rowett’s side after Ilias Chair’s stunning goal for Queens Park Rangers.
“They responded to the message that we were trying to portray, which is what we all want,” Rowett said. “None of us want racism or discrimination in society and football is a very powerful tool for trying to fight it.
“What we tried to do today was almost create a line between the knee being the only gesture and another form of a gesture, which the fans got behind. I’m sure that there were people looking on in the football world who were hoping that there was more negativity but I’m proud of the club and the fans for at least trying to make this a positive thing. I hear a lot of statements and comments but what we haven’t seen is enough action from the authorities about this.”
Rowett’s QPR counterpart, Mark Warburton, said: “Millwall deserve a lot of credit.”
The fallout from the defeat by Derby on Saturday led to the anti‑racism charity Kick it Out replacing Millwall’s usual shirt sponsors for the evening as well as the joint gesture with their opponents before the start.
The club have also launched their own initiative called United for Change and underlined the importance of this match in an email that was sent to all supporters in attendance describing it as “one of the most important days in Millwall’s history”. The email read: “The eyes of the world are on this football club tonight – your club – and they want us to fail. Together as one, we will not let that happen.”
Aside from one small section at the front of the Barry Kitchener stand who were quickly drowned out by applause and heckles of “Shut up” when several of QPR’s players took the knee, thankfully they did not let them down.
Many of those that were here on Saturday were again in attendance, with the club having prioritised tickets on a rotation basis for around 2,800 who paid for their season tickets in advance back in March. One who did not want to be named suggested that the crowd’s reaction before the game against Derby had not been about players taking the knee and blamed it on Colin Kazim-Richards’s decision to raise his fist in a black power salute. “That’s what kicked it off,” he said.
Millwall’s Mahlon Romeo – the son of Soul II Soul’s Jazzie B – heavily criticised fans for their reaction, saying he felt “personally disrespected”. But having led the home side out instead of the captain, Alex Pearce, he was one of the standout performers in the first half down the right flank as they enjoyed the majority of possession but failed to take advantage.
Mason Bennett’s cross 10 minutes before the break was the closest Millwall came to breaking the deadlock but Jed Wallace could not quite stretch far enough to get the vital touch, while the referee Jarred Gillett waved away appeals for a penalty after Shaun Hutchinson went down in the box – much to the annoyance of the home fans.
Their mood was not improved six minutes into the second half when Chair took aim from outside the box and curled an exquisite shot into the net to give QPR the lead, with the Moroccan and Bright Osayi-Samuel both taking the knee and raising their fists in celebration.
The Scotland striker Lyndon Dykes should have made it 2-0 soon afterwards but his shot was well saved by Bartosz Bialkowski and the Poland goalkeeper had to be at his best to deny both Osayi-Samuel and Dominic Ball.
They would live to regret spurning those chances as Bodvarsson – one of three substitutes thrown on by Rowett with almost half an hour still to play – equalised with a heavily deflected shot. The man mountain Matt Smith, who joined Millwall last summer from QPR, looked the player most likely to find a winning goal as both teams pressed forward late on. But on an occasion like this, a draw felt like the most appropriate result.