It was at the entrance to Zampa Road, which leads people coming from South Bermondsey station directly to The Den, that those attending Millwall's match against Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday first got notice of the club's imminent FA Cup semi-final appearance.
There, flapping in the wind, were a handful of souvenir flags proclaiming Millwall are "Up For The Cup" ahead of the meeting with Wigan at Wembleyon Saturday evening. On those same flags, however, was another message, one that drives straight to the heart of the club's dark profile. "No one likes us, we don't care" it read, word for word the chant that has become a mantra for supporters hardened to the outside view that those who follow Millwall are trouble, thugs and racists who should be avoided at all costs.
This is also why many neutrals, when tuning into the encounter between a Premier League and Championship side separated by 18 places, will not be rooting for the underdog.
Certainly events over the past decade or so have not helped change perceptions. In May 2002 there was a riot outside The Den in which 900 Millwall fans embarked on a rampage of such ferocity that the Metropolitan police considered suing the club, while last year Millwall had to ban a 13-year-old boy after he admitted abusing Bolton's Marvin Sordell.
There is a sense that the fans are out of control and the club are tolerant of such behaviour, tarnishing their own reputation as a result. However, those closest to the cause insist perceptions do not fairly portray reality and that the Lions have a soul and a spirit of which to be proud.
Take, for instance, the T-shirts Millwall's players will be wearing during the warm-up at Wembley, ones that read "Save Lewisham Hospital", highlighting the club's support for a campaign that was sparked off last autumn when plans were announced to sell off 60% of the site, including its accident and emergency department, as part of the government's austerity measures. Millwall have allowed campaigners to petition outside The Den as well as pledging to remain steadfast against the cutbacks, which were approved by the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt in January, albeit with a decision to scale down the A&E department and not scrap it altogether.
"Millwall have backed us from the start and shown they are a genuine community club," says Pat Sikorski, a member of the Save Lewisham campaign, which is now seeking a full judicial review of the government's decision. "We cannot thank them enough."
A sense of community responsibility is firmly rooted at Millwall, born out of an awareness that many of those residing in the club's catchment areas are devoid of the opportunities on offer elsewhere. That is why the Millwall Community Scheme (MCS), a charitable trust based by The Den and which receives funding from the club, continues to grow. Currently, 20 full-time staff and 50 part-timers run programmes ranging from coaching sessions for six-year-olds to internet classes for the over-50s.
"We were one of the first football community departments established in this country, in 1985, which ironically was the time Millwall's reputation was at its worst," says Dave King, MCS's scheme director. "We don't recognise that reputation here, we see a family club that is committed to engaging with local people."
That engagement runs through to Millwall's youth setup, where all of the 120-plus lads on the books are from London and 50% from south London specifically. While Scott Fitzgerald, the academy director, admits this is partly because the club do not have the resources to attract raw talent from further afield, he insists there is also a conscious desire to make Millwall a place of opportunity for local boys.
"We see ourselves as an extension of the club's community department and, in turn, they are our eyes and ears in terms of spotting youngsters who have a desire to make it in football," he says.
Millwall's academy has just been recommended for category two status under the Elite Performance Plan, recognition of its commitment to producing homegrown players for the first team. One player who made that very progression is Alan Dunne, who joined Millwall as a 10-year-old and made his first-team debut in March 2002, aged 19. Ahead of what is likely to be a second Wembley appearance in four years for the Lions, the right-back is another who believes they do not get the praise they deserve.
"This is one of the best clubs around in terms of fighting racism and getting kids off the streets," says Dunne, speaking after his team's 2-1 defeat to Sheffield Wednesday. "I remember visiting Peckham after Damilola Taylor was killed [in 2000] and speaking to kids there about getting into football. That is the type of thing that goes on here and people should recognise that as opposed to focusing on [negative headlines]."
It is impossible to ignore the negativity. This, after all, is a club that had to close their old stadium in Cold Blow Lane due to crowd disturbances as far back as the 1920s, and in practically every decade since their fans have been involved in controversies and flashpoints, none more infamous than the riot at Kenilworth Road 28 years ago that led to 47 injuries and 31 arrests.
Accusations of racism also dog the club, most recently via a Sky Sports undercover report that showed one fan, Gerrard Scanlon, abusing the Leeds striker El Hadji Diouf. Scanlon was ordered to pay more than £500 after pleading guilty to a racially aggravated public order offence.
He was also banned for life by Millwall, which the club say is proof that they are committed to stamping out such behaviour. It should also be noted that the 13-year-old banned for abusing Sordell was put on one of Millwall's education programmes in the hope "we change his outlook on racism and life in general", pointing again to the club's sense of community responsibility.
In any case Graeme Smale, secretary of the Millwall Supporters Club, insists these are isolated incidents. "We are not blameless but I remember seeing Clyde Best being abused by West Ham fans in the 70s, and rioting by fans at many other clubs, yet none of them have got Millwall's reputation," the 55-year-old says. "Our fans have given up on ever being given a fair chance and that is where the 'nobody likes us' chant comes from. It is a siege-mentality created by people who are angry and fed up."
Smale was particularly aggrieved with the Sky documentary – so much so that he complained in person about it to one of the company's executive producers – as he feels Millwall's reputation for having racist fans is not only overblown but also damaging. Smale himself is married to a West Indian, Sady.
"Ethnic-minority people do attend Millwall games," he says. "Sadly there are not enough and I think many are scared to come because of the hype surrounding our supporters. What's also forgotten is that Millwall have a tradition of black players, like our captain, Danny Shittu. They wouldn't play for us if we were a racist club.
"Millwall doesn't suit flash types. We're down-to-earth, working-class people who care deeply about their club and about each other. It's never reported that we regularly donate huge amounts of money to the Help The Heroes campaign, or have annual Dockers Days to support fans who used to be dock workers."
Smale attends Millwall matches with his 84-year-old father, Ronald, evoking the author Mike Calvin's assertion that supporting the Lions is one of English football's true "cradle to grave experiences". They will both be at Wembley as the club "no one likes" seek the glory those within feel they deserve.