In August 2009, a Carling Cup match between West Ham United and Millwall hit the international media headlines as rival supporters and the police were involved in disorder and racism, on the field and off, a ‘lawlessness’ which was seen to be reminiscent of an earlier phase of football’s ‘ modernity’, namely the late 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s. The next month the self-styled English Defence League sought to stir up racism on British streets in a number of English cities. Former football hooligans were identified by the media as playing a part in this organisation, one of them having previously set up the Welsh Defence League. How can we make sense of the media moral panics without falling into the trap of either dismissing these events as ephemeral or over-simplifying a deep seated culture with a complex history? A research project directed by myself in the Chelsea School at the University of Brighton in the UK has for a number of years been monitoring the output of football hooligan memoirs published since the late 1980s. These print tales of what I have termed elsewhere ‘hit and tell’ and ‘low sport journalism’ (Redhead, 2010), are now regularly showcased in all kinds of media. For example, in 2007 Carlton Leach (Leach, 2003, Leach, 2008) witnessed his story of the transition from Inter City Firm football hooligan at West Ham United in the 1970s and 1980s to Essex gangster in the 1990s fictionally portrayed in Julian Gilbey’s film Rise of the Footsoldier, which stands as the most pervasive and extreme use of the crossover football hooligan/gangster style pioneered by Danny Dyer’s character in the film of John King’s novel The Football Factory. In 2008 Cass Pennant, another prominent former member of West Ham’s Inter City Firm saw his own story (Pennant, 2008) committed to celluloid in the film Cass. Pennant was asked by the Guardian to write an article ‘explaining’ the West Ham United/Millwall rivalry and the ‘reasons’ for the hooliganism at the Carling Cup match. In an earlier interim report (Redhead, 2008c), I considered some aspects of post-subcultural research and football hooliganism. In this essay I want to delve into the full research I conducted into the production and consumption of these memoirs, especially relying on the copious words of our interviewees, in order to signpost a post-subcultural socio-legal studies and criminology which may make better sense of the sort of the media events which took place around Upton Park in August 2009.
The ‘hit and tell’ football hooligan literature has been a surprising commercial success over a number of years. Pete Walsh of Milo Books, publisher of Guvnors, a Manchester City football hooligan gang memoir, has claimed that ‘ our small expectations’ were exceeded:
Walsh has noted other factors about the popularity of this football hooligan ‘hit and tell’ genre:
Large formats A-L and M-Z of Britain’s Hooligan Gangs published in 2005 sold out within a year and went into new paperback editions in the 2007-2008 British football season (Lowles and Nicholls, 2007a, 2007b). A hardback historical account of Leeds United’s football hooligan gangs (Gall, 2007) published in December 2007 sold out by the New Year 2008 and set the internet fans’ forums and websites buzzing with gossip and rumour as one of its top boy interviewees, Eddie Kelly, was arrested by West Yorkshire police within days of the book’s release. This football hooligan literature is unashamedly partisan and often boastful, recounting up to 40 years of aggressive male football fandom associated with a particular British league club, popular music and fashion obsessions and the behaviour of its ‘mob’, ‘firm’ or ‘crew’.
There is fierce debate amongst academics about how useful these documents are as narrative texts (Dart, 2008, Gibbons, Dixon and Braye, 2008, Redhead, 2004c, 2010). By virtue of their age and their subcultural practices, however, the writers have become self-styled oral historians and archivists of a period when post-industrial Britain, and its football culture, was said to be undergoing fundamental modernisation. International academic research can learn from these documents, if they are utilised carefully. But the hooligan literature writers, for the most part, baulk at expertise, criteria for measurement and learning. I, personally, am taken to task by one ex-hooligan author Chris Brown (Brown, 2009) for over-intellectualising and confusion in my analyses of the football hooligan memoir field. Indeed academia, like the media, is frequently the enemy for the hooligan authors, seen as partly responsible for the myriad misrepresentations of football fan culture and its history which these books perceive as a fundamental problem and consequently seek to put to rights in an accurate oral history of the scene. Recently, though, a serious academic book on research into football hooliganism by University of Liverpool authors Geoff Pearson and Clifford Stott has been published by Cass Pennant’s publishing company Pennant Books (Stott and Pearson, 2007). In the late 1960sand early 1970s ‘new criminologists’ wrote ‘speculative sociologies’ of ‘soccer hooliganism’ as part of the radical National Deviancy Conference (NDC) debates (Cohen, 1970) and furious argument about accuracy, truth, authenticity and realism in such criminology and socio-legal studies has persisted for the following 40 years.
The football hooligan memoir authors’ interest in the male violence and male bonding of what were once labelled in pulp fiction ‘terrace terrors’2 is wrapped up in an almost camp fascination with hardness in male youth culture most famously exhibited by Morrissey of The Smiths as he pursued his solo career in the 1990s and 2000s (Brown, 2008). These are frequently cartoon tales of male violence and tribal ritual. The connections between football hooligan literature and football hooligan subcultures need to be taken seriously within contemporary studies of deviance and this essay suggests some theoretical and methodological signposts for the study of subculture. This current research into British football hooliganism literature also rethinks earlier work on rave culture (Redhead, 1990, 1993a, 1993b) and football hooligan subcultures (McLaughlin and Redhead, 1985, Redhead, 1987, 1991, 1997a, 1997b, 1997c, 2000) in the light of appreciation and critique of such work in recent youth subcultural theory debates (Blackshaw and Crabbe, 2004, Blackman, 2005, Hesmondalgh, 2005, Bennett, 2005, Greener and Hollands, 2006, Hall and Jefferson, 2006).
The research of which this essay forms a part maps, through a collection and reading of football hooligan fan memoirs, the history of the moments of the birth of ‘casual’ in the late 1970s and the coming together of the football hooligan and rave subcultures in the late 1980s and early 1990s and the later re-mixing of these moments. The present research shows that although these football hooligan subcultures disappeared from the mainstream media gaze for a time, there remain elements or traces of these ‘real’ subcultures today. The argument is that there is something of a comeback, or slight return, of football hooligan subcultures in the 21st Century (Redhead, 2008b, 2008c) buried in the retracing of the histories of the football hooligan subcultures of the past. Some hooligans who have returned to the fray after the 1990s have died (see dedication in Lowles and Nicholls, 2007b) or are in long term imprisonment after militaristic police operations and relatively severe court sentences frequently stimulated by media hyper-moral panics (Giulianotti, Bonney and Hepworth 1994: 229-261, Stott and Pearson, 2007). However, a trawl through the large number of football hooligan memoirs reveals a sustained contemporary commitment to fighting firms, especially in the lower leagues in Britain. Gilroy Shaw in his history of Wolverhampton Wanderers football crews suggests that:
A certain rethinking of the concept of subculture, as if we are now ‘after subculture’ (Bennett and Kahn-Harris, 2004) or ‘beyond subculture’ (Huq, 2006), has taken place over the past decade (Blackman, 2006, Greener and Hollands, 2006). The Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) seminal work at the University of Birmingham in the 1970s (Hall and Jefferson, 2006, Hebdige, 1979) is infrequently given its due but much of its critique of earlier work on subcultures remains pertinent. A second edition of its classic collection of essays on youth subcultures in post-war Britain, Resistance Through Rituals, re-emphasises the pioneering nature of the work whilst coming to terms with more recent approaches such as postmodernism (Hall and Jefferson, 2006, p.xix-xxi) and postfeminism (Hall and Jefferson, 2006, p.xxiv-xxv). As has been noted elsewhere (Free and Hughson, 2003), Angela McRobbie’s strictures about gender blindness in subcultural research are as relevant to what have been called the ‘new ethnographies’ (Hughson, 1998) of football hooligan subcultures as ever they were. The specific work on football hooligan subcultures at the CCCS by writers like John Clarke (Hall and Jefferson, 2006, p.80-3) linking skinheads, football hooliganism and the magical recovery of community was always exemplary. The origins of the concept of subculture’ in the Chicago School criminology (Jencks, 2005, Blackman, 2006) of the early part of the 20th Century risk being erased as new generations of scholars emerge in a new century, and new subcultures such as emo, from emotional punk (Simon and Kelley, 2007), as well as older subcultures like goth (Brill, 2008), punk and northern soul (Wilson, 2007) present themselves for sustained new ethnographic and theoretical analyses in ‘subcultural style’. 3
Nevertheless, the emergence of ‘club cultures’ and ‘post-subculture’ (Redhead, 1997c) as fresh concepts and the subsequent imagining of the figure of the ‘post-subculturalist’ (see Muggleton in Redhead, 1997c) and the development of a sub-discipline of post-subcultural studies have rapidly gained pace (Muggleton, 2000, Muggleton and Weinzierl, 2003, Bennett, and Kahn-Harris, 2004, Greener and Hollands, 2006). A symposium held in Vienna, Austria shortly after the turn of the millennium in 2001 entitled ‘Post-Subcultural Studies: New Formations within Popular Culture and their Political Impact’ (Muggleton and Weinzierl, 2003, p.3) helped to kick-start this new international sub-discipline which is situated at the intersection of criminology, socio-legal studies, sociology and cultural studies. Yet studies of football hooliganism have tended to eschew this sub-discipline in favour of more established views of subculture and hooliganism, however theoretically varied (Ingham, 1978, Cohen and Robins, 1978, Robins, 1984, Dunning, Murphy and Williams, 1984, Dunning, Murphy and Williams, 1988, Dunning, Murphy and Williams, 1991, Armstrong, 1998, Giulianotti, 1999, King, 2002, Dunning, Murphy and Waddington, 2002, Frosdick and Marsh, 2005, Stott and Pearson, 2007).
The discussion of contemporary football hooligan literature and subcultures illuminates the general state of the sub-discipline of cultural criminology (Katz, 1988, Redhead, 1995, Ferrell and Sanders, 1995, Ferrell, Hayward, Morrison and Presdee, 2004, Presdee, 2000, Presdee, 2004, Young, Ferrell and Hayward, 2008, Hayward, 2004, Young, 1999, Young, 2007), and also theories of subculture, youth culture and popular culture overall, an amalgam I once labelled, with heavy irony, ‘popular cultural studies’ (Redhead, 1995, 1997b, 1997c). Especially, this is important in terms of the conceptions of modernity employed (Young, 2007). The idea of late modernity, employed by Jock Young in a stimulating cultural criminology discussion of the ‘vertigo’ of the current conjuncture is one version (Young, 2007). In the lonely hour of the last instance, however, late modernity seems forever present. The notion of postmodern tribe, deriving from the work of Michel Maffesoli, has received considerable discussion in the context of football and its fan communities (Crabbe, 2008), as has the idea of liquid fandom inspired by the work of Zygmunt Bauman (Crabbe, 2008, Blackshaw, 2008). In a recent series of debates, a binary division between subcultural theorists and post-subcultural theorists has appeared (Greener and Hollands, 2006, Blackman, 2006). For some (Blackman, 2006, Bennett, 2006), a general postmodern subcultural theory has been identified in these debates which includes post-subcultural theory drawing on such theorists as Jean Baudrillard. My own past work on subculture, rave and football hooliganism has been seen to be part of this cluster of postmodern subcultural theory (Hollands, 2002, Chatterton and Hollands, 2003, Greener and Hollands, 2006, Blackman, 2006, Bennett, 2006) where youth styles are seen to be ‘ depthless, transitory and internally fragmented’ although both the theoretical endeavour and the subcultures themselves have proved to be rather more enduring. As part of the rethinking of my own earlier work and the connections to a more general long term project of reworking social theory and its relation to modernity, I have introduced the terms accelerated culture (Redhead, 2004a, 2004b) and non-postmodernity (Redhead, 2008a). The notion of non-postmodernity is conceived in stark contrast to those who see postmodernity as an era (Guilianotti, 1999), in other words something to follow on, historically, from modernity.
What about the explicit connection between football hooligan subcultures and subculture in general? A recent book covering subculture as a whole fails to mention football hooligan subcultures at all (Gelder, 2007). Significantly, too, work on football hooligan subcultures has not featured in this rethinking of subculture in post-subcultural studies, or in the sub-discipline of cultural criminology (Redhead, 1995, Ferrell and Sanders, 1995, Ferrell, Hayward, Morrison and Presdee, 2004, Presdee, 2004), though related studies of contemporary rave culture have figured strongly (Presdee, 2000, Muggleton and Weinzierl, 2003, p.101-117, Bennett and Kahn-Harris, 2004, p.65-78, Gelder, 2007, p.64-5, Nayak and Kehily, 2008, p.56-9). Perhaps the reason for this omission is that little sustained sociological and anthropological theorising and rigorous academic ethnography of football hooligan subcultures has been conducted over the last 25 years. Honourable exceptions to this rule are relatively rare (Armstrong, 1998, Robson, 2000, Sugden, 2002, 2007, Slaughter, 2004). In these and a few other cases long term participant observation work has been carried out. Clubs whose football ‘firms’ have been involved include Sheffield United, Millwall and Manchester United. In many other instances, it is clear that fans winding up gullible authors and journalists with hooligan stories have become almost a full time job. Another reason is that the specific intertwining of football hooligan subcultures and rave culture was generally a UK phenomenon rather than an international one (Redhead, 1990, 1991, 1993a, Anderson and Kavanaugh, 2007). A further reason is that football hooliganism has become something of, in Jean Baudrillard’s terms (Pawlett, 2007, Merrin, 2005), a simulacrum through media simulation. The extreme form of football hooligan subculture has manifested itself in the strange ‘pulp faction’ of the once underground football thug writing scene. Much of this is now online. I suggest that one way into a realm of better informed ethnographies of contemporary football hooligan subcultures is through this simulacrum (Redhead, 2008b, 2010).
As opposed to the relative dearth of recent criminological, sociological or cultural studies accounts of football hooligan subcultures, ‘low culture’ amateur journalistic accounts continue to proliferate; what I term low sport journalism, or hit and tell. They are now extensive in number and together form a vast library of hooligan stories in the fashionable, confessional form of sports fan memoir (Hornby, 1992, Redhead, 2004c, Redhead, 2010, Cowley, 2009). Part of the research work has been archival, involving a comprehensive collection and reading of over 20 years worth of football hooligan memoirs in book form. Other parts of the work involve studying the extensive cyberspace ‘hooligan wars’ which even includes an internet game based on ‘real life’ football hooligan gang wars called ‘Little Hooliganz’. There are now as many as 91 books written by self-confessed ‘hooligans’ about their football hooligan exploits or by writers who have interviewed them about these activities, collected by myself in a unique research archive in the Chelsea School at the University of Brighton. The firms, crews and gangs covered are associated with current professional Premier or Football League football clubs in England and Scotland, or clubs who have once been League members (although it is true that the general non-league scene also has firms associated with it).
The earliest memoir can be dated from 1987 and there are further memoirs in the pipeline today. In 2002 a considerable boost to the low sport journalism genre was given by the ‘Writing on the Wall Festival’ in Liverpool, organized by author Phil Thornton (Thornton, 2003).4 The Festival that year focused on the rise of the hooligan gang memoir. Authors Cass Pennant (West Ham United), Martin King (Chelsea) and Tony Rivers (Cardiff City) were panellists at the event. Pete Walsh of Milo books represented the publishing arm (John Blake publishing was the only other independent competitor and was not represented). Subsequently Walsh commissioned many more hooligan books at Milo, in a sense concentrating on the angle of ‘aggro’ rather than culture to sell the texts to eager consumers. Pennant and King saw there was an opportunity to set up independent publishing ventures and Pennant books and Headhunter books were created within a year or so of the Liverpool writing event. The fast increase of football hooligan memoirs since 2002 slowed considerably later in the decade. In the 1980s and early 1990s these hit and tell football thug authored writings appeared in underground fanzines or very limited edition, poorly distributed, hastily printed books (Redhead, 1987, 1991, 1997a). But by the late 1990s a distinctive market had been created and a number of tiny independent publishers with a finger on the pulse of the vagaries of football fan culture responded by commissioning a host of new books with relatively small margins for profit.
The best example of the hit and tell genre are the true confession writings published since 1997 by Milo books, based in the north west of England, a company with its own internet website. But other small independent publishers, (also now equipped with internet sites) mainly shipping product to eager individual virtual customers, as well as high street book and music shops, have, as we have seen, been emerging in recent years. The most prominent apart from Milo are: John Blake publishing, begun in the 1990s by the journalist John Blake; Headhunter books, begun in 2004 by the former hooligan and writer Martin King; and Pennant books, begun in 2005 by the former hooligan and writer Cass Pennant. Milo, a small scale Lancashire publishing business, originally located in Bury and subsequently removed to Lytham St Annes and then Wrea Green, is the brainchild of journalist Pete Walsh, who is in the same age bracket as the ‘old boy’ hooligans who write the memoirs that he publishes. Walsh, who was educated in Blackpool, worked as a reporter for various newspapers in his career including the Manchester Evening News, The Daily Mail, The Sun and the Coventry Evening Telegraph, and also the BBC. As an investigative reporter in these media outlets he came across a number of people who had been involved in hooligan gangs. Discussions led to the ex-hooligans writing their memoirs for his publishing company:
Walsh himself has produced provocative investigative journalism on contemporary gang violence for various different media. In particular his study of the Manchester gang wars in the 1990s is an outstanding, well researched journalistic account of organised and disorganised crime in a contemporary urban setting which would easily qualify on quality grounds for university criminology reading lists (Walsh, 2003). Milo has also showcased other sharp journalistic portrayals of the historical contours and current shape of the British underground economy. Walsh, the publisher, has also worked jointly with his authors in some cases, especially in the writing of the histories of Manchester United (O’Neill, 2005) as well as Manchester City (Francis and Walsh, 1997) football gangs. Walsh has subsequently expanded his publishing enterprise to include books on boxing, street fighters, bare-knuckle fighting, anti-fascist left wing violence, histories of city gangs and biographies of American gangsters but it is the hooligan memoirs which fill the bookshelves and gain most lurid publicity for his company. Walsh has recalled that he ‘founded Milo books in 1996 with the intention of publishing books on topics that I was personally interested in, but that were not being adequately covered by other publishing houses. These topics included sport generally, with a bias towards football, boxing and martial arts, and true crime, in particular organised and gang crime’. He had a ‘range of ideas, but little knowledge of, or experience in, book publishing. So there was a certain amount of trial and error when it came to finding books that would sell sufficiently well to make the business work.’6
As a small, hand to mouth operation, Milo has gained from moral panic on the one hand and the mixing of music and football culture on the other. Along with Pennant, John Blake and Headhunter Books, Milo rapidly became part of a ‘cult’ publishing category; the football hooligan memoir. This style has now become so familiar that it has provoked publishers to produce their own comic parodies of the genre (Fist and Baddiel, 2005, Cheetham and Eldridge, 2006) extending to contents pages, ‘Chapter Fucking One’, ‘Chapter Fucking Two’, and so on, and general subcultural argot. Academic analysis of this media form by Emma Poulton has resulted in the label ‘fantasy football hooliganism’ (Poulton, 2006, 2007, 2008a, 2008b). Ultimately, in2008, Walsh announced that the company was not commissioning any more of what it termed ‘hoolie’ books due to the saturation of the market. He has admitted that ‘time is finite and there are other things I want to do; I am a bit jaded with the genre, having done it well for over a decade (though) if a great one came along that was fresh and original and vibrantly written I would change my mind’. He has further argued that initially he ‘did not intend to publish a succession of hooligan books’ but that originally he did ‘feel there was a gap in the market for an account of an English football gang by a leading participant’. At that time (the mid-1990s) Walsh knew that ‘none existed, with the exception of the ground-breaking Bloody Casuals by Jay Allan, which focused on a Scottish gang and Colin Ward’s Steaming In (which) was well written but Colin came across more as a loner than part of a gang.’7
Other publishers have had public fallouts with the potential authors of these hooligan confessions further increasing the likelihood of fewer such books being published in the future. Moreover, bookshops such as Waterstone’s in the UK have been involved in controversy over the sale of football hooligan memoirs; the shop in Cardiff in Wales for example was inundated with complaints after hit and tell books on Welsh football gangs were included in a section in the shop entitled ‘Pride of Wales’. Many authors have turned to self-publishing internet websites like lulu.com in order to get their memoirs published. Legislation may however bring the low sport journalism genre to a premature end. In late 2008 the UK Labour government announced a bill which, if passed, would criminalise the publishing of confessions of criminals for profit. Both John Blake and Milo publishers condemned the proposals as unworkable and unreasonable at the time. As Walsh books has reflected:
Modern British football gangs date back to the mid/late 1960s. This section will audit the archive of hooligan memoir books so far published in order to see what resources for a future post-subcultural criminology, based on participant observation and ethnography of these gangs, they may contain. Table 1 has in A-Z alphabetical order of author the football hooligan memoir books collected in the research archive.
Added to the myriad websites, blogs, e-zines and fans’ forums on the internet, these 91 football hooligan memoirs can be rigorously studied for their contribution to a rough version of ‘popular memory studies’ around sport (Brabazon, 2005). These archived memoirs are, if appropriately employed, able to add to the pre-existing body of knowledge produced in the late 1970s and 1980s (and to some extent 1990s) about football hooligan subcultures, especially in the context of moral panics about football hooligan gangs in the mainstream media. Accuracy of accounts of events, however violent and unpleasant, has been important to the independent publishers of the football hooligan memoirs in stark contrast to mass media accounts. As Walsh has candidly admitted:
The somewhat ludicrous mass media media moral panics about soccer yobs are still prevalent, although not as numerous as they were in the 1970s and 1980s (Ingham, 1978, Whannel, 1979, Redhead, 1987, 1991, 1997a) but the press and TV news stories are even further removed from the street culture that they portray than they were twenty or thirty years ago. Predictably they trumpet a so-called drug fuelled ‘new’ soccer violence. For instance, a self-styled News of the World crime investigation (Panton, 2008) in 2008 labelled a ‘new breed of football louts’ as ‘hooli-sons’. It claimed that they were ‘causing mayhem at matches’ and that ‘there was an alarming rise in the number of teenage soccer yobs’ many of whom it alleged ‘were the offspring of football thugs from the 1970s and 1980s’, the very ‘ old boys’ who write the football hooligan memoir books. The News of the World confidently asserted that:
In the context of this kind of journalism the ‘amateur’ hooligan memoirs make a lot more sense than the accounts of the so-called professionals. There are many dozens of low sport journalism published accounts by self-proclaimed top boys, with a variety of club firms, crews or gangs involved. There are also, as we have seen, A-Z volumes of hooligan firms, mapped historically and geographically throughout the nation. As one book’s dust jacket proclaimed, it ‘covers the whole spectrum of gangs from Aberdeen to Luton Town…the Barnsley Five-O and their vicious slashing at the hands of Middlesbrough…the combined force of Dundee Utility…the riots of the Leeds Service Crew…Benny’s Mob, the Main Firm, the Lunatic Fringe, the Bastard Squad – they’re all here, together with numerous photos of mobs, fights and riots’ (2005 first edition of Lowles and Nicholls, 2007a). The majority of these ‘hoolie lit’ books by self-styled ‘hooliologists’ (Pennant, 2008) have been published in the last few years and are mainly about events in the era of the 1970s and 1980s, and, to some extent, the 1990s, and even the 2000s. ‘Facts’ about these events, and conversations during them, are seemingly treated in a cavalier way and in a completely un-chronological order, though many of these texts are adorned with photographs and newscuttings kept contemporaneously by the authors in their hyper-diarising of their hooligan activities and media notoriety. The ritual stoking of the historical and geographical rivalries between fans, clubs and gangs, however, is often the aim and this purpose is more or less achieved (King, 2004). As Walsh has stated:
As well as the England national football team (Pennant and Nicholls, 2006) 36 British football clubs are represented in the most comprehensive list that can currently be compiled from the football hooligan memoir archive (see Table 1 above). In the following audit the list is in A-Z order of football club, with book authors associated with each club listed alongside in brackets.
The question is: how many crews or firms have been in existence since the 1960s according to the ninety football hooligan memoirs? The following crews or firms are ‘represented’ (or, by extension, implicated because of the club history) in these football hooligan memoirs. The following list audits those football hooligan crews or firms and is in A-Z order of football club with which the gangs are associated.
Through this methodology, drawing on the 91 football hooligan memoirs and extrapolating from the clubs they mention, there are narrative testimonies of the existence of 154 British football hooligan gangs over the last 40 years with a connection to the fans of the particular football clubs. Sociologically this is an interesting statistic and enables researchers to conduct historical or ethnographic work on these gangs. This statistic though is likely to be a considerable underestimate as many football hooligan gangs come in and out of existence very quickly or simply change their names. Another complicating factor is that ‘main’ football firms or crews are frequently made up from smaller gangs in the local area. For instance, it has been suggested in web forums that Middlesbrough’s infamous main firm Frontline comprised, at least in the past, local gangs known as: B-Farm Boys, Border Boot Boys, Park End Crew, Newport Gang, Dogg Mob, Stockton Firm, Stockton Wrecking Crew, Redcar Reds, Port Boys, Haverton Hill Mob, NTP (actually Netherfields, Thorntree and Park End estates mob), Block 2, Bob End Crew, Ayresome Angels, Eston Boys, and Whinney Bronx Boys. The same is true of the other crews in the list (see Table 3, above).
So far, in this audit, I have concentrated on the gangs who have had football hooligan memoirs written about them, or are alluded to in the football hooligan memoirs. However there are many other volumes in this considerable football hooligan literature which cover numerous other firms, or faces, or top boys of single clubs, as well as namechecks of countless British professional football clubs (Ward, 1996, 1998, Brimson, 2000, Pennant and King, 2003, Pennant, 2005, Lowles, 2005, Lowles and Nicholls, 2007a, 2007b) often from the lower leagues. Other crews or firms listed in this cultural mapping exercise, which exclude the firms which have so far had specific memoirs written about them are listed below in A-Z order of football club.
On this methodology there are estimated to be 242 other firms, distinct from the ones talked about in the football hooligan memoirs themselves. All of these British hooligan gangs have been in existence at some time over the last 40 years; some are still in existence. The approximate total of football hooligan gangs in Britain since the watershed year of 1967-1968 (when skinheads were first emerging as a youth subculture) can be calculated, adding the previous 154 identified. It is a total of 396. It is noteworthy that the authors of two volumes on British football hooligan gangs history (Lowles and Nicholls, 2007a, 2007b) claim to have interviewed 200 hundred former hooligans.
This audit of football hooligan gangs for ethnographic and historical research purposes for post-subcultural studies and cultural criminology is thus aided and abetted by the extensive hit and tell, low sport journalism literature and its oral history of football, culture and modernity. The books are self-reflexive about their contribution to an oral history of football, hooliganism and youth subcultures. The introduction to one of them entitled Villains claims:
Some of the ‘old boy’ authors have published more mainstream, but still well documented alternative, accounts of football fandom and working class histories around certain clubs (Allt, 2007, King and Knight, 2006). The public launches of the hooligan memoir books have effectively been celebratory gatherings of dozens of old boy hooligans who 20 or 30 years ago would have been leading their firms into battle but who now swap authors’ stories over a few beers yet there is a self-reflexivity present which would possibly surprise academics. Mark ‘Jasper’ Chester, anti-gang campaigner and author of two Milo books plus a website which offers his services for hire as a speaker to university courses,11 recalls the media moral panic over the launch of one of them, his twenty-year story of ‘life with the Naughty 40 football firm’ attached to Stoke City. Chester says:
The hit and tell genre, recounts, indeed celebrates, hyper-violent male football fandom associated with a particular British league club and its mob, crew or firm.However, the authors are frequently at pains to emphasise that they are no longer involved in illegality and other forms of social deviance. An ‘author’s note’ to one book reads: ‘We would like to straighten out our fundamental position at the start of this book, which is that we are no longer football hooligans. We don’t believe in or condone any form of football violence on or off the pitch today. This is just a public documentation of our past’ (Brown and Brittle, 2006). Frequently the books come with a health warning about violence and read almost as moral tales. As Carlton Leach on watching the autobiographical film Rise of the Footsoldier recalls of his days with the Inter City Firm of West Ham United and Essex gang life it was hardly the life of a ‘glamorous hooligan’: 12
The rivalry between the crews or firms (the main content of the books: who did what to whom and when) is now compounded by the rivalry between the books, and authors, themselves.The books are written in the form of fan memoir but nothing could be further from the literary style and social function of the original ‘soccerati’ writing of Nick Hornby (Hornby, 1992) who helped to make football culture fashionable after Italia 90 (Redhead, 1991, 1997a, King, 2002, Guilianotti, 1999). Few of these books have any pretensions to formal style or literary protocol, though two (Gall, 2005, 2007) are fully authored by a female professional journalist, Caroline Gall, who made contact with the Birmingham City and Leeds United gangs in question. As Pete Walsh at Milo, who commissioned these two books, has pointed out:
Gall herself has recalled that there could have been a similar, third ‘social history’ book on West Bromwich Albion gangs following on from the books she wrote on crews from Birmingham City and Leeds United:
Pete Walsh has also pointed out that, ‘if you think the books are poorly written when they hit the shelves, you should see them in manuscript form. In truth there is a lot of dross now in the genre. Some of the self-published books are awful. And, yes, rewriting is the norm rather than the exception. But then most of these lads are not writers. It is their story that is important, not necessarily their syntax.’15 Many of the books written by ex-hooligans indeed adopt deliberately trashy formats. It is a self-conscious punk, Do-It-Yourself trash aesthetic which is frequently pursued. Titles are long and winding. Even if the headline is snappy, the effect is a parody of a blend of tabloid journalism and hard boiled crime fiction. Although there were female football casuals, the authors are almost always male and in their 40s or 50s, the ‘old boys’ in Patrick Slaughter’s term (Slaughter, 2004). Originally what was once referred to by Nick Hornby and his media cheerleaders as the ‘new football writing’ (King, 2002) steered clear of hooligan stories. But later in the 1990s and early 2000s, as gangster chic British movies flooded the cinemas, a market was created for the hooligan hit and tell, or what the late pop cultural writer Steven ‘Seething’ Wells (Wells, 2003) once called ‘kick lit’, accounts which were often fictionalised, in form if not in content. These non-fiction commodities were effectively pulp, appearing for sale in True Crime sections of bookshops and libraries as well as sport journalism shelves. They became so ubiquitous that it started to be a badge of honour for firms to refuse to co-operate with publishers to produce the authorised ‘old boy’ memoir of their crew. That was the only way for the contemporary mob to look distinct and different from its rivals. Leeds United hooligans were an example of this for some time but succumbed eventually to a Leeds Service Crew memoir (Gall, 2007).
‘Smaller’ clubs, ostensibly without well know firms, have often been covered in these texts. In particular, the Brimson brothers Dougie and Eddy have contributed numerous hit and tell accounts, initially about Watford but eventually over the years on British football hooliganism in general (Brimson and Brimson, 1996a, 1996b, 1997, 1998, Dougie Brimson, 1998a, 2003, 2006, 2007, and Eddie Brimson, 1998b, 2001). Dougie Brimson has denied that his, and his brother’s, books fall, properly, into the specific football hooligan memoir genre:
Dougie Brimson says he is happy that people are still talking about his work at all:
Dougie Brimson was also responsible for the early script for a football hooligan gang feature film directed by Lexi Alexander and starring Elijah Wood, originally called The Yank but renamed Green Street (after the film’s fictional football firm the Green Street Elite) when released for the cinema in 2005.18
Colin Ward (Ward,1996, 1998, 2004, Ward and Henderson, 2002, Ward and Hickmott, 2000), one of the first of the hooligan authors, publishing an early memoir in the late 1980s before Nick Hornby had cornered the market for football fandom, has argued that there are a number of reasons Millwall, among the most notorious clubs for hooliganism whose away cup tie clash with Hull City in the 2008-9 season created banner headlines in the press and dire warnings of catastrophe in the broadcast media, has not had a memoir published:
Despite the strictures about ‘not trying this at home’ the hit and tell books celebrate and generally romanticise the history of ‘modern’ football hooligan subcultures which began in the late 1960s with skinheads’ emergence as a British youth subculture. Caroline Gall, journalist and author of the book Zulus a genuinely multi-racial gang of Birmingham City fans, has claimed that the books testify, too, to a changed multi-racial culture:
The late1970s witnessed the development of casual youth culture (Redhead, 1987, 1991, Thornton, 2003, Allt, 2007: 59-100, Hough, 2007, 2009, Blaney, 2004) and mutated to some extent into rave culture in the late 1980s. Designer labels and soccer styles have gone hand in hand since the late 1970s and early 1980s subcultural moment of casual, becoming mainstream sometime in the mid 1980s and an international youth style ever since. Casual history, or history of the casual,21 in fact, is the missing key to the sociology of British soccer hooligan culture over the last forty years. As the publisher of Phil Thornton’s Casuals (Thornton, 2003) Walsh has noted:
Casual youth culture began in the late 1970s. It is still going strong today. Casual has in fact been far from a transient youth culture predicted by some postmodern criminologists in the 1980s and 1990s. Merseyside was the birthplace of what became casual youth culture quickly followed by Manchester and then London, and eventually other cities. As Milo books proclaimed when they published Ian Hough’s initial memoir of the casual gangs of Manchester and Salford:
Manchester, then, had its ‘Perry Boys’, Merseyside had its ‘Scallies’ and London, eventually, had its ‘Chaps’. But as Hough recalls, ‘the nameless thing’ as it became known eventually mushroomed outwards from the north west of England. He says that he had ‘seen it writ by another, namely Andy Nicholls in his book Scally, that Tottenham brought the first cockney teams up in the early casual days’. Hough agrees ‘100%’ with this picture. He argues ‘ Tottenham came to OT in green windjammers, Doc Martens and skinheads in late October 1981, in the League Cup, and then we played them again in mid-April 1982 in the league and there they all were, in Ellesse and Tacchini trackies, black guys sporting gold and top training shoes… Leeds and Tottenham were properly the first lads to formulate a semblance of style outside the north west but the rest blundered along soon enough.’ (Hough, 2007, p.116)
Hough’s personal motivations for writing his two books about casuals were complex:
It is possible, through the various football hooligan memoirs collected in the research archive, to situate casuals in a youth subcultural timeline from the scuttlers (Davies, 2008) of the late nineteenth century through teds, rockers, mods and skinheads of the 1950s and 1960s and suedeheads, rastas, rudies, Bowie boys and girls, and punks of the 1970s until they join up with ravers in the ‘acid house’ years of the late 1980s and early 1990s (Redhead, 1990, Redhead, 1991). Casuals began as a ‘ post-mod’ (Hough, 2009, Hewitt and Baxter, 2004, Hewitt, 2000), post-skinhead subculture in the 1977-1978 football season in Britain, initially in the north west of England. By the time Eugene McLaughlin and I wrote our seminal essay on what we called ‘soccer’s style wars’ (McLaughlin and Redhead, 1985) on the eve of the 1985-1986 soccer season, several years of growth of football casual culture had meant that a majority of professional league teams’ fans in Britain could boast their own casual firm, or very often, multiple casual firms. Ian Hough has said that:
For Hough, the historical origins of casual youth culture are deep and detectable, and required the football hooligan memoir books to set the record straight. As he has argued:
Ian Hough had initially intended his social history of the casuals to ‘just focus on the early 1980s but ended up extending it into the rave era, which initially felt like a separate thing’. In the intervening quarter of a century since the early 1980smany of the most active football hooligan gang members have spent considerable amounts of time in prison, convicted usually of ‘football-related offences’. What I term ‘football legislation’, beginning with the Football Spectators Act 1989 followed by aspects of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, increased state intervention on football hooliganism in Britain and created a climate of militaristic policing and draconian prison sentences in the courts which extended to forbidding travel outside the country. The hit and tell memoirs often have a section of court trial and prison diaries. Increasingly, too, football hooligan subcultures overlapped in these years with a range of illegal activities in the underground economy (Sugden, 2002, 2007) from using and dealing recreational drugs, through gun running, planning heists, organising ticket touting and horse racing scams, to the routine ‘bunking in’ to stadiums and ‘jibbing’ train rides all over the world (Blaney, 2004, Allt, 2007, p.1-9, Hough, 2009). As Hough has stated, one of the books at the edge of the football hooligan genre ‘nails’ this world:
It is clear that the hooligan memoirs trace the common biography of men now in their late 30s, 40s and 50s many of whom heavily involved themselves in the rave scene of the late 1980s and drifted into various criminal activities in the 1990s (Allt, 2004, Blaney, 2004, Hough, 2007) only to frequently return to active British football firms in the 2000s. Tony O’Neill (O’Neill, 2004, O’Neill and Walsh, 2005), who entitled one of the chapters in two books on four decades of Manchester United gang hooliganism ‘They Think It’s All Over’, has claimed that his books ‘were written as I received a jail sentence and it was a way of me saying to the authorities ‘it’s over’ but they being vindictive will ignore the point’. 27 O’p Neill’s book (written jointly with publisher Pete Walsh) on Manchester United’s notorious firm Men in Black contained actual testimony from Greater Manchester Police in the form of PC Steve Barnes. As Walsh has remembered it:
Steve Cowens, author of books on the Blades Business Crew, has unashamedly admitted that his first book, with an introduction by Sheffield United fan Paul Heaton of The Housemartins and The Beautiful South,29 was ‘written by a hooligan for hooligans’ and that he ‘had good feedback from ‘normal’ Blades fans. Cowens has argued that ‘a hell of a lot of Blades know me and also know that I have been involved in violence in the past. First and foremost I am a massive fan of United and the football comes before the violence for me. I’ve signed young lads’ shirts at the matches so I think some fans are quite proud of me in a way’. Cowens has also recalled that for his first effort at a hooligan memoir (Cowens, 2001) about Sheffield United’s Blades Business Crew:
The second book by Steve Cowens (Cowens, 2009) on the Blades Business Crew, BBC 2, was initially published by the author himself. It went so well that it ‘sold out in months’ so he subsequently had it published with John Blake. Cowens has pointed out that the mistakes in it:
Chris Brown, author of a Bristol Rovers memoir steeped in the context of 1970s skinhead music and fashion (Brown, 2001), which has been considerably revised in a new edition with a new title (Brown, 2009), has claimed that it was indeed the music and fashion, rather than football gang fighting, that secured his original book contract:
Colin Ward, author of a number of football hooligan books for publishers like Mainstream, has argued that he stopped when he realised that ‘he was not making any money out of it’. As Ward has put it, ex-football hooligans from Britain no longer write books but ‘all sit in bars in the Far East…and have a good reminisce’. 33
What the hit and tell/low sport journalism genre provides, as has been seen in this essay, is a possible cultural criminology supplement for post-subcultural studies; in other words what I call a ‘post-subcultural criminology’. Methodologically it allows academics to add events, stories, language and colour to a history of youth culture which was already partly written at the time in the 1970s and 1980s. Although the ‘ truth’ of these hooligan memoirs has been often debated, writer and publisher Pete Walsh has argued that:
Hit and tell provides material for reflection and correction of previously mistaken assumptions. It adds to a rough popular memory around sport studies and subcultures and further identifies ‘crews’, ‘faces’ and ‘top boys’, however partially, so that sustained ethnographic, participant observation, work can be undertaken with ‘old boy’ hooligans in various contemporary firms. As Pete Walsh has said:
Lastly, it provides the possibility of repairing the gaps in contemporary knowledge of football hooligan subcultures within post-subcultural studies and cultural criminology to provide a post-subcultural socio-legal studies and criminology.
Thanks to Ben Horne and Simon Penny, graduate students in the Chelsea School at the University of Brighton in the UK, for their excellent research work on the football hooligan memoir project and to all the authors and publishers of football hooligan memoirs who gave their time freely to answer questions.
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1 Interview for the hooligan memoir project.
2 Terrace Terrorsis one of the myriad titles of books by the 1970s ‘pulp fiction’ author Richard Allen (real name James Moffat) who had considerable influence on the football and youth culture fiction of John King in the 1990s and 2000s (Redhead, 2000, 2007b, 2010). John King includes references to Moffat’s fictional characters in his own fiction (King, 2008). The Richard Allen books were distinctly pre-casual, concentrating on skinhead and post-skinhead styles. Suedehead (Allen, 1971) was the second in the series and inspired Morrissey (a staunch fan of the books) to name his first solo single after The Smiths’ break-up in 1987 ‘Suedehead’. Other titles in the Allen series include Skinhead, Boot Boy, Skinhead Escapes, Glam, and Punk Rock. The final book was called Mod Rule. The link between gay and skinhead subcultures is certainly worth reconsidering (Healy, 1996) in this context; for notions of masculinity in this ‘ cult fiction’ see Healy, 1996, p.87-101.
3 Berg, for instance, commissioned a new international book series called Subcultural Stylein 2006.
4 From correspondence for the hooligan memoir project
5 Interview for the hooligan memoir project.
6 Interview for the hooligan memoir project.
7 Interview for the hooligan memoir project.
8 Interview for the hooligan memoir project.
9 Interview for the hooligan memoir project.
10 Interview for the hooligan memoir project.
11 From correspondence for the hooligan memoir project.
12 Glamorous Hooligan was a Bradford dance culture duo in the 1990s comprising Enzo Annechinni and Dean Cavanagh (aka DJ Sal). Dean Cavanagh, who contributed ‘Mile High Meltdown’ to Sarah Champion’s anthology of ‘ fiction from the chemical generation’ (Champion, 1997), became the writing partner of Irvine Welsh (Redhead, 2000, 2008d) e.g Welsh and Cavanagh, 2007.
13 Interview for the hooligan memoir project.
14 Interview for the hooligan memoir project.
15 Interview for the hooligan memoir project.
16 Interview for the hooligan memoir project.
17 Interview for the hooligan memoir project.
18 A sequel, Green Street 2,was released in 2009.
19 Interview for the hooligan memoir project.
20 Interview for the hooligan memoir project.
21 One of the best account is in Kevin Sampson’s debut novel Awaydays (Sampson, 1998), based ‘fictionally’ around Tranmere Rovers football casuals in the late 1970s. A film version of Awaydays, directed by Pat Holden, complete with evocative post-punk soundtrack by Echo and the Bunnymen, Joy Division, Magazine, Ultravox and others, was released in 2009 and the book was republished with a new cover to coincide with the film’s release.
22 Interview for the hooligan memoir project.
23 Interview for the hooligan memoir project.
24 Interview for the hooligan memoir project.
25 Interview for the hooligan memoir project.
26 Interview for the hooligan memoir project.
27 From correspondence for the hooligan memoir project.
28 Interview for the hooligan memoir project.
29 In an interview for the hooligan memoir project Steve Cowens has recalled that 400 people turned up for the launch of his first book, ‘including some special guests like my friends Paul Heaton and Sean Bean’.
30 Interview for the hooligan memoir project.
31 Interview for the hooligan memoir project.
32 Interview for the hooligan memoir project.
33 Interview for the hooligan memoir project. One of Colin Ward’s co-authors (Ward and Hickmott, 2000) Steve ‘Hickey’ Hickmott owned a bar in Thailand for a while, then opened a fish and chip shop in the Philippines (called The Codfather!). Hickmott, a former hooligan with the Chelsea crew the Headhunters, was the real life model for John King’ s character Harris in his novel The Football Factory (King, 1996).
34 Interview for the hooligan memoir project.
35 Interview for the hooligan memoir project. Pete Walsh has also argued that ‘frankly the few academic books on football hooliganism have been disappointing’ but that ‘an exception was Gary Armstrong’s book about Sheffield United though it did occasionally get bogged down in sociological jargon’ (see Armstrong, 1998).