Chelsea almost lost their ground in the 1980s because developers wanted to redevelop Stamford Bridge, but the Blues were saved by Ken Bates.
Now in 2017, Millwall’s Den is similarly under threat, but an unlikely pro-Millwall candidate has emerged, funded by the Association of Millwall Supporters (AMS) to save the Lions’ den.
The £1billion New Burmondsey development regeneration scheme, led by a British Virgin Islands-based developer Renewal, is at the heart of a land grab which would threaten the existence of Millwall Football Club.
“I was offered just £58,000 for my estate along with a letter threatening a compulsory purchase order,” said Willow Winston, 72, a resident of 16 years in the Den’s surroundings.
The artist said the sum was not enough to purchase her garage, let alone a new place to live, and with the threat of eviction, she started her mission to fight the controversial scheme.
Winston’s stubborn resistance and vocal opposition to the development alerted the AMS, who are funding her campaign against Heidi Alexander in the labour stronghold of Lewisham East.
Realising their carparks, academy and café could be subject to the CPO and therefore put the Den under pressure, the AMS approached Winston, who became an unlikely supporter of the Lions, both on and off the pitch.
A regular at Millwall games this year, including at Wembley during their 1-0 League One play-off victory over Bradford City, Winston believes strongly that the club are a binding force in the community.
The club saves the council over £7million a year, providing support for what Winston says are the most vulnerable groups in the community, including those involved in gangs and the disabled.
She is standing for them because: “It’s an opportunity to make sure people understand that they can stand up for themselves and be heard.”
Following months of public pressure from Winston and others, Lewisham Council’s elected mayor Sir Steve Bullock pulled the plug on the order in February.
Dubbed Mr Bannanaman, after it was discovered his foundation was registered at the comic book hero’s fictional address, Bullock cannot sit on council meetings involving the CPO due to his personal interests in Renewal.
Millwall’s infamous chant claims that no one likes them and they don’t care, but they will need people to at least like Willow if they are to succeed this election.
“The general election is going to be the first test for us,” said an AMS spokesman.
“So roll on next year in May: if they thought we were going to go away, we’re not.
“We don’t forget.”
Charlton fans famously formed the Valley Party, a fan-led, single issue political party, who brought back their club to the Valley following a successful campaign in the May 1990 local elections in Greenwich Borough.
They won 15,000 votes, successfully pressuring the council to U-turn on their plans to not renovate the Valley.
In regards to the CPO and the future of London clubs, Winston said: “It’s stalled: they say it won’t come back but there’s no guarantee it won’t come back under a different disguise.
“If we fail, Charlton and Crystal Palace will be the next to go like bowling pins because that land they’re on has become so precious.”
The CPO is on hold while a £500,000 inquiry is launched into whether it was right for the council to behave in the way that it did and select this possible controversial scheme.
As London prices continue to balloon and football clubs are threatened with expulsion, Winston did have one suggestion: “We could take a leaf out of Boris Johnson’s book by building a raft on the Thames and play football on it there.”