The Missed Chance: How Close West Ham Came To A Docker’s Derby This Season

Author: . Published: at 5:08pm

Written by James Matthews

When West Ham surprisingly lost 4-2 to AFC Wimbledon in this year’s FA Cup, it meant two fierce rivals had to wait a little longer for one of England’s most intense derby matches.

It was certainly one of the shocks of the round, with the Hammers expected to turn over a side bottom of League One and seemingly heading for the basement division. Instead, they lost 4-2 and crashed out of the competition.

Just a couple of days later, their fiercest rivals of all were drawn as Wimbledon’s next opponents. Millwall later went on to beat the Wombles 1-0 and are amongst the rank outsiders in the latest FA Cup betting markets.

Had it been the Hammers who came through their fourth-round tie, it would have seen a resumption of one of the bitterest rivalries in the English game. It was once known as the Dockers Derby, as supporters of the two sides, known then as Thames Ironworks and Millwall Athletic, predominately worked on the docks.

The two clubs have barely crossed paths since the turn of the Millennium, with just seven encounters taking place between them, all but one in what is now known as the Championship. Millwall haven’t beaten the Hammers since November 2004, but they do lead the way with 38 victories in total, compared to the Hammers 34.

Currently, bragging rights belong to West Ham, having won the last tie 2-1 in 2012. Most rivalries have some needle and passion, but nothing quite compares to West Ham and Millwall. It’s a working-class derby, a game between two sides who still claim staunch ties to their history and retain the same fervent support so often drowned out in the modern game.

Millwall haven’t been in the top flight since it became the Premier League, and they’re still seen very much like a traditional club, with their new stadium built less than a mile from the old one. They even kept the old name, to add to the element of nostalgia.

West Ham, on the other hand, have embraced the Premier League, becoming a key part of it and only occasionally dropping out of the level to face their rivals. There’s a feeling that the club have moved away from their roots, into the new Olympic Stadium, leaving Upton Park for good.

Whilst the location changes, the fan base will not. West Ham will always claim to be a working-class club and whilst so-called big derby matches between Manchester United and City, or Arsenal and Spurs might see half and half scarves and fans mixing freely, that will never be the case in East London.

These two sides might not have met in a competitive fixture for seven years but the vitriol never goes away. Fans clash regularly whenever they meet, flying in the face of the modern game with its sanitised seating, prawn sandwiches and manufactured atmosphere.

Wimbledon might have stopped the two meeting this season, but one day soon a cup draw will be made pitting them against each other and then English football will once again get a glimpse at a proper derby, at a match and atmosphere seen so rarely in the new age.

When that happens, football will be given a glimpse into its past, warts and all.