| HOOLIGANS REUNITED
Firms, football and middle aged flab
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By Adam Porter 2002
It's a dying art.
Thank God a lot of people will say.
Loads of growling thirty/forty pluses jostling about getting all sweaty. Paunches and girth crowded together in a sea of writhing hormones and adrenalin.
No, I don't mean the suburban wife swopping scene, I mean football hooliganism.
It is difficult, and probably fruitless, to dissect the modern version of football 'violence'. Nevertheless that is what we are doing here.
A few stories and incidents recently have fuelled the mass media notion of a 'return' of football violence. Two weeks running that famous firm from Coventry City, (the...er...what were they called ?) have "run amok" at home and away.
The appalling Donal MacIntyre series resulted in the ludicrous conviction of Andy Frain and Jason Marriner for 'planning football violence' when it appeared from the programme that they couldn't plan an evenings viewing in front of the TV, let alone ritual gang warfare.
Then there has been plenty of trouble lower down the league. Burnley versus Blackburn, Stoke City fans here and there, QPR versus Luton and Arsenal and then even Fulham got a mob up of about 100 chaps to visit Loftus Road. Yes, really.
Add to this the continuing success of authors like Martin Knight, Martin King, Jon King and a proliferation of web sites on the subject by hooli-nerds and one has a sort-of-revival 'phenomenon'. It is just, well, different now.
It seems amazing to most people who were into the old time hooligan tea party (I can't call it a 'scene' or 'culture' it just makes me sick) that it still persists today.
Not in the fact that people can get worked up enough about football to have a punch up but the fact that people still want to 'get a coach together' or 'mob up at 10.30 at Kings Cross'.
To most people a variety of things put paid to the glamour and dynamism of football violence back in the 1980s. Lots of bollocks was talked by Face readers and contributors about Ecstasy usage being the sole reason for 'ending the terrace war'.
But then they never went to football pre-Pavarotti anyway. (I now class all fans as BP and AP, before and after Pavarotti, by the way.) No, the main killer was killing.
No one who understood the feeling of football gangs could mistake the sheer wrongness of the Heysel disaster in 1985.
When innocent Italian people died as a result of a Liverpool/Italy vendetta, but mainly from corrupt politicians and greedy stadium managers, hooligans everywhere saw this as a disaster.
Probably more so than the rest of the public. Hysel was the ultimate liberty taken.
Couple it with CCTV cameras, hideous and often wrongful sentencing (especially for Kevin Whitton at Chelsea), admittedly a little bit of the E/Acid House vibe and a concerted attempt by the corporate media to reverse a life time of sensationalism by refusing to mention hooliganism at all, and one can map the decline in such activity post-Heysel.
One of course cannot forget the service undertaken by Mrs Thatcher and her free-market monetarist cohorts like Alfred Sherman, Keith Joseph and Alan Walters. They moved the criminal goalposts radically in the 1980s.
Only money mattered and matters. Why fight over such 'higher' notions such as group loyalty, geography, comradeship and sport. If you are going to get in trouble with the law at least make money out of it.
Hence the serious end of the business, the thug end as opposed to the hooligan end, moved into more lucrative work. Drugs, armed robbery, protection, enforcement and so on.
But then, that's capitalism. Violent and greed-based.
Also, many hooligans unavoidably grew a little older and met other hooligans from other clubs. You could hardly fail, after all everyone was at it.
To a lot of people, certainly myself, there came a point where it was obvious that one was going about antagonising other people who were basically a bit like oneself. In fact quite a lot like oneself.
My antipathy for the police has never waned, but I ended up – shock horror -actually liking people from other clubs. But of course I would, they were me, give or take.
My latest view of trouble at football was also interesting.
When my team rustled up a mighty firm – not only in size but also in weight, age and clothing quality – it was undoubtedly an exciting experience. Another team had, quite amazingly, turned up the previous season and caused trouble at our ground.
Word had spread, my team's old timer mob had gone to the return match last season and caused a rather large stir around their stadium in revenge. It was anticipated that our foes would then try and do the same thing again this season.
A feud had developed. The various web sites on the subject proliferated with abuse and threats made by the two teams over the forthcoming match. Everyone knew the score. Everyone was there.
Everyone was also over the age of thirty, in fact I would say 35. Plenty of chaps came out for the days jolly-up leaving behind their new lives to participate in the ritual stand-off.
And their new lives are ? Well, several children, arthritis pills, a pension plan, a Daewoo estate and much nicer clothing than a poxy Tacchini tracksuit ever was.
It was actually far nearer to the 'ideal' of what firms were meant to be in the old days than they ever were then. Big hard well dressed men, as opposed to scraggy self-conscious boys in nylons and deer stalkers. Resplendent in the crowd were some major over-achievers.
Top DJs, authors, journalists, a broker, a former pop star, two major...er...'businessmen', a city tech-analyst and no doubt many more who were never meant to 'make' anything of themselves.
I wandered around on my own, saying hello to a few old faces on the way. The main refrain of the day seemed to be "you've put on a few pounds" and "I don't/can't touch the gear anymore."
It was quite a pleasant meeting, a kind of impromptu outdoors social club punctuated by incessant mobile usage. "They're up XXX Bridge Rd..." , "No, they are with us," "where are they?" "I'm not coming up there, I'll be knackered," and "I'll pick them up from your Nans when I get back about six."
There was also a realisation amongst plenty of people that they may well not want to actually fight at all. Whilst the tingle of anticipation, the rushes of adrenalin, the – dare I say it – sensory arousal was still there I personally had no intention of getting smacked. Something I had steadfastly retained from the eighties.
I was always just back up and I'm not ashamed to say so. I much preferred sideshow hooliganism. Throwing cans... looking 'cool', that sort of thing.
At one stage of the social club re-union a minor scuffle was in danger of breaking out. Some of their rather raggedy firm had actually turned up. Fortunately for everyone concerned the Police got in between the two groups before anything other than insults could be thrown.
However, neither set of micro-firms seemed truly intent on getting at each other. Rather than sprinting like their lives depended on it to jump each other in a major off it was more of a stately jog-ette, allowing the forces of law and order to direct the hooligan traffic.
Ritualised, quite silly and, unless anything had gone wrong, almost completely safe.
After wards everyone admitted that very little really happened. Phrases like "I'm not sure what I was doing there," ,"I had to ask myself..." and "don't tell the wife she'll kill me" abounded.
It was generally accepted that we had a great firm out. We were old, we looked good, there were hundreds of us and we could still growl. The fact that no one under the age of retirement for a footballer was actually there was discussed.
The fact that youngsters don't go to games anymore because global capital's takeover of football has priced them out was discussed. The craziness of bothering was discussed. Would we still be doing it aged 65 was discussed ?
The feelings of adrenalin highs were discussed.
And you know what, despite it all, I'll be there again someday, just remember, if you see me, I'm in growl-only mode these days.
It's so much easier. Grrr.
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