Interview with John Cooper
Some days ago, I had the privilege to meet John Cooper, a 101 year old Millwall fan from Bermondsey.
John is a fantastic person, who was born in Bermondsey on 30 June 1920 and who attended his first Millwall game at The "Old" Den in 1928... ninety-four years ago! Our meeting was organized thanks to the precious help of Kit Heren from Southwark News, who joined us at the Ancient Foresters.
John said that, during his 1st years as a Millwall supporter, the pitch was often full of mud.
Playing there was far from being easy, but only the worst injuries prevented the Millwall boys from entering the pitch.
Even if The Lions had a very good home attendance, it was complicated for local people to follow their club even away. Those times were very hard and families often struggled under an economical point of view and, as a consequence, not too many people used to follow Millwall up and down the country. However, an exception took place in 1937, when 'Wall reached the semifinals of the FA Cup after beating several top teams in the previous rounds of the aforementioned tournament. In fact, on that occasion, many hundreds of supporters travelled by train from London to Huddersfield. On 10 April 1937, Millwall played against Sunderland at Leeds Road, which was the old ground of Huddersfield Town. Even if The Lions were defeated 2-1 by the eventual winners of the trophy, the fact that a 3rd division team such as Millwall reached the semifinals of the Fa Cup turned our players of that memorable season into legends.
John remembered with a significant nostalgia the playing style of the past. Especially before the 2nd World War, it used to be very direct and attacking, and not so technical like now.
In addition to the unforgettable 1936/37 cup run, John said that some of his many wonderful memories happened during the four year unbeaten run at home (which lasted from 1963 to 1967), the 1982/83 season (when we won the Football League Trophy at Lincoln and we avoided a devastating relegation to the 4th Division after a dramatic victory at Chesterfield on the last day of the season) and the 1987/88 season (when the unthinkable happened at Boothferry Park - after a 1-0 victory against Hull, Millwall reached the top-flight for the 1st time in its 103 year history!).
Among his favourite managers and players, he mentioned Benny Fenton, John Docherty, Neil Harris, J. R. Smith, Bryan King, Harry Cripps and Barry Kitchener.
Even if he doesn't go to The Den anymore, he used to attend our games until a few years ago and always keeps himself updated about the result of The Lions.
He thinks Millwall will reach the play-offs by the end of the season...I really hope you are right, mate!
A lover of London and of the Thames, John Cooper used to swim from Tower Bridge to Wapping during the summers of his childhood. The Bermondsey man showed his great courage even on a sunny day of 1934, when, as soon as he heard that two kids were drowning into The Thames, he immediately jumped into the river and managed to save them. After this wonderful action, he received a hero reception at the Bermondsey Town Hall.
John is a fantastic inspiration both for past and for future generations and it was such a privilege for me to meet him. God bless him!