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:

The first print run was 4,000 but it went on to sell many multiples of that. I was then offered a similar book, Hoolifan,by Martin King and Martin Knight. I prevaricated over it, as I had other things I wanted to do at the time. The book was promptly bought and published by another company, and I realised that I had perhaps made a mistake in turning down what was, commercially, a successful title. So the next one we were offered, which was Blades Business Crew by Steve Cowens, we published. This also sold well and so we continued from there. A genre came into being.


Walsh has noted other factors about the popularity of this football hooligan ‘hit and tell’ genre:

It goes to show how new technology has made the publishing business more democratic. Many of those titles have been published by small companies or even individuals. Thirty years ago that wouldn’t have been possible; the costs of entry into publishing were too high. It has proven popular because hooliganism has been a major part of people’s lives over the past 30 to 40 years. Even football fans who aren’t hooligans know people who are, or have been caught up in, or witnessed, the violence. And there remains a fascination about what, for many people, is a closed and mysterious world. Almost all of the Milo books have been received well by different people. Guvnors was very popular and influential: Cass Pennant, for example, told me it was a major motivation for him to get his own memoirs into print. The author Dougie Brimson was very complimentary about City Psychos, Irvine Welsh loved Soul Crew (and optioned it for a film) while the novelist Kevin Sampson praised Naughty. I could go on but you get the picture: each one seems to have an appeal for different reasons. It is invidious for a publisher to choose a favourite. I do have a soft spot for Guvnors because it was the first. In terms of the writing and depth of insight, the two books by Mark Chester stand out. In terms of black humour and pull no punches honesty, Scally, by Andy Nicholls. In scope, the two encyclopedia-style books Hooligans and Hooligans 2 by Lowles and Nicholls are hard to beat and took a huge amount of work. But all of them seem to appeal to somebody.1


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.


Resources for a Post-Subcultural Criminology


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 lot has been said over the last few years about the decline of the football hooligan, and the police through the media every now and then release a statement to say that they are winning the battle in the fight against hooliganism. With more banning orders, more police and stewards and CCTV, they claim that the football hooligan will soon be eradicated. That may well be in the big, mega-bucks world of the Premiership, but down in the lower leagues, believe me, nothing’s changed. You look at the unfashionable, so-called smaller clubs like Shrewsbury, Hereford, Aldershot, Newport County, Hull, Luton and Wrexham, who can all, on their day, pull a mob that would put their Premiership cousins in the shade. They’re still doing it week in, week out, and it mostly goes unreported.’ (Shaw and King, 2005, p.130)


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).


Pulp Faction: Stories of Terrace Terrors


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:

In the mid-1990s, I worked as a reporter for the Manchester Evening News and was investigating the causes of a violent ‘war’ for control of door security on some of Manchester’s nightclubs and pubs. Among the people who I interviewed were Mickey Francis and his partner Steve Bryan, who owned a major door firm, Loc19 Security. At the same time I had started Milo books with a view to writing and publishing in my spare time. I knew Mickey had previously been jailed for leading a football hooligan gang, and so I asked him if he was interested in a book about his experiences, given that he had now served the time, was no longer an active hooligan and so would not be incriminating himself. He readily agreed and so we worked on the book over the next twelve months.5


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 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:

The longer I stay in publishing the more libertarian my views become on matters of censorship and taste. Who has the right to tell someone else what they can read? While I accept certain things should be subject to legal restriction for the wider benefit of society – incitement to racial hatred, for example – I think such laws should be kept to an absolute minimum. There are things we would not publish. We don’t publish books by murderers or serial killers. We don’t publish racist material. We don’t publish pornography. And I don’t like books that simply wallow in violence, by authors who come across, whether they are or not, as borderline psychopaths. I have turned down at least two hooligan books partly for that reason. So I do feel some responsibility, though these decisions are very subjective. I have no qualms about other publishers taking on such books – that is their choice in a free society.’8


British Football Hooligan Gangs From The 1960s to Today


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.

Table 1


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:

One of my hardest decisions was over a section in Scally about a gang called the County Road Cutters who specialised in knife attacks. This story was told to the author, Andy Nicholls, by the leader of the CRC and it is horrible really. But to leave it out would have been to give a false account of what was happening around Everton FC at that time’. 9


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:

Teenage louts, some as young as 13 and fuelled by cocaine and other drugs, are using mobile phonest o organise through group texts. Punch-ups between rival fans are also arranged via Facebook and You Tube. Cops have been forced to raid burger bars to break up gangs because the teenage tearaways are too young to be served in pubs. Millwall’s young thugs call themselves the WACKY YOUTH, Liverpool’s teens louts are called the URCHINS and Barnsley’s are known as 50 UP. Arsenal’s young hooligans used to be the TOOTY FRUITIES, slang for cocaine, but dropped it after getting stick from rival louts who branded the tag effeminate. A police source said, ‘these youngsters have been brought up to take on the mantle from their fathers and are groomed to have the same hatred for their team’s rivals.’ Banning orders have helped slash levels of football violence from its peak 20 years ago. The police source said, ‘these kids don’t respect officers. Most older generation supporters call it a day when the cops arrive but the young ones will stand and argue.’ Police are convinced cocaine is behind the new soccer violence. The source said, ‘the worrying thing is coke makes people unpredictable and more prone to violence.’


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:

To someone who is not part of that world it is hard to understand, but it matters to the participants. For example, I know that one of Mark Chester’s motivations for writing Naughty was that he was unhappy about the account of a Manchester City versus Stoke City clash in Guvnors. Some of the fights they have been involved in, and the friendships they have forged around football, have been among the most important events in their lives, so naturally they evoke strong emotions. I wouldn’t overplay it though. I’m not aware that it has ever led to anything worse than a few people feeling cheesed off.10


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.

Table 2


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.

Table 3


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.

Table 4


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.


Don’t Try This At Home, Kids: Tales of Glamorous 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:

Aston Villa FC is one of the biggest and best-supported football clubs in Britain…The story of their terrace army, however, has never been told – until now. Like all major clubs, Villa have had their hooligans and hardmen, who have been involved in some of the fiercest battles of the past four decades. Villains traces their gangs from the 1960s up to the present day. Through first-person testimony, it reveals for the first time the antics of the Steamers who, led by a band of colourful and fearless characters, put Villa on the hooligan map. Eventually they were superceded by the C Crew, a multi-racial gang who came together during Birmingham’s Two-Tone period and the parallel casual era. (Brown and Brittle, 2006, p.10)


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 initial outrage…turned to a full outcry of anger and disbelief when the authorities discovered my intended launch venue and so a media campaign against the book gained momentum. Despite once being a fiercely private person, I had spilt my guts on to the keyboard of a laptop over the previous 12 months and I now found myself toe to toe with the media, the police and Stoke City Council…The fact that I was one of those ‘mindless thugs’ who could actually hold an intellectual conversation, instead of frothing out abuse and foul-mouthed obscenities, meant the council raised no objection…The event was something a bit special even by our standards. The Kings Hall in its heyday was a concert venue, and that’s exactly what we had, a rowdy concert. In excess of 1,300 people crammed into the venue from two in the afternoon until mid-night…Between bands, DJs kept the mood moving with guest appearances from the author of Casuals, Phil Thornton, and Farm front man Peter Hooton. The whole place was enveloped in testosterone as 90 per cent of the congregation was male and most full-on football hooligans of all ages and experience. (Chester, 2005, p.1-3)


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

It was hard for me to watch how I fucked my life up and hurt those around me – Denny, my partner, a really lovely lady, never did me any harm, good mum, good housewife and I put her through all that shit when I went on the doors. I saw that in the film and felt quite ashamed of myself. Back then I was frightening… I want kids to realise you have to fucking look before you get into things, really go into what it’s all about, the real world, how deep, dark and nasty it is. They’re not all good people you’re going to meet. You can’t walk into a world of selling drugs and hurting people and expect it to be glamorous. (Leach, 2008, p.302)


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:

Caroline[Gall] knew some of the lads socially. Some of them decided they wanted to collaborate on a book, but wanted a third party writer to put it together for them. They trusted Caroline and so she was asked to help. It came down to that: a matter of trust. The Leeds book followed on directly from that. Some of the Leeds crew are friendly with some of the Birmingham crew. They too were looking for someone to write their book, and so Caroline was put in touch with them. Again, they quickly found her very trustworthy and easy to deal with so accepted her.13


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:

With Zulus, coming from Birmingham I knew some of the lads. I was only on the periphery. I got in touch with the ‘main man’. With Service Crew the Leeds guy got in touch with me. I was aware there weren’t any women involved in the books. Some of the lads found it easier to be interviewed by a woman. I’m pretty easy going. I was never trying to reason, justify, explain – it was just this started in the 1970s and it pretty much finished a few years ago. It’s had its day, absolutely, completely. A whole movement just swept the country. A lot of people just want to document what happened, the good, the bad and the ugly. They must have hoped I would do a decent job. Capturing that era, it’s really hard to do. With Service Crew they all read it before it went out. They said, ‘well done, you’ve really got it right.’ There are so many of these books now. Loads and loads and loads. I was getting the tail end of the market. With the West Bromwich Albion book the publisher said, ‘I think I am done.’ The market has reached saturation point.14


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:

It’s important to understand that our books aren’t hooligan memoirs. As I’ve said on more than one occasion, if I’ d wanted to write about my activities I’d have written a single pamphlet! However, that aside, we got involved because we wanted to read a book which explained what the Saturday scene was like for those people like us who were peripheral figures rather than main faces – after all, that was the majority! – and which explained the motivations in plain and simple terms. But up to then no one had written one so we did. Simple as that really. I think it became popular because it was new, voyeuristic and nostalgic. Sadly, largely due to the fact that so many publishers jumped on the bandwagon and rushed out piss poor books, it’s all but dead now. However, as a genre it’s important to acknowledge that it did amazing things over a very short space of time. There are a lot of first time authors who made it into print purely because of hoolie-lit which in itself is a major achievement and it sold shed loads of books. Yet as a genre it’s never received any kind of recognition. Other than criticism of course.16


Dougie Brimson says he is happy that people are still talking about his work at all:

I know it sounds conceited but I think my books stand up there because they are more than simple ‘we went there, did that and came home’ books and they are decent reads. The fact that they are all still in print does kind of back that up really. Aside from that I love Bovver because it covers more than the hooligan scene and City Psychos because it was just a good, honest read. Cass and Guvnors are decent books because they are about real people but the rest range from dull to boring through to simple plain bullshit) .17


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:

Who wants to read about days in Grimsby, Stockport, etc? They spent so long in the lower leagues and they only took a few hundred fans most weeks. They took a few to Cardiff and other places, but they never mustered the numbers like Chelsea or others. Millwall had a famous day out at Everton when they took the Everton end (1970) and ran the place ragged (a Millwall fan lost his life that day) but you could never find anybody who could talk eloquently about it. I remember them coming into The Finsbury Park Tavern before an FA Cup tie and absolutely beating everybody to a pulp. They were hurting people because it was their fun. Who wants to read about that? I was in The Shed that day when Millwall came in and after doing well initially they took a bit of a spank as they didn’t have the numbers. I was also outside The Shed one cold evening after an FA Cup replay when 200 Millwall waited for a bust up and got caned outside The Gunter Arms. A strange bunch, but they didn’t have the numbers to really make it work regularly. They had some memorable pitched battles with Chelsea and West Ham over the years and they used to hang out waiting for known faces late on a Saturday night at Charing Cross station, but they were far too tribal and always wanted to get back to the Old Kent Road as quick as possible. Luton was their favourite day out as they loved to ambush Luton around the subway tunnels, but their violence was always about violence not the laugh element. The ICF were funny because they were so arrogant, but they were a tight knit group who gained notoriety which is why Cass has done so well. ‘No One Likes Us, We Don’t Care’ Millwall sung and the fact is that I doubt many of them have learned to write.19


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:

Generally, it is the best days of their life. A lot of it is not the fighting. It is the friendships, getting dressed up, youth culture and growing up.Loads of people together, the camaraderie. As for racism, there were a lot of brutal things said and done. I really genuinely believe in the multi-racial side of things. These lads came together and pushed the National Front thing out completely and really changed things since the 1970s. They were a massive influence on stopping racism at football (bananas, racist chants). Black/white/Asian got together, stuck together.20


Perries, Scallies and Chaps


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:

The casual movement has been underestimated in British style culture, starting as it did outside the gaze of the fashion media, who did not pick up on it for several years – I think the New Musical Express may have been the first mainstream publication to allude to it in a story about the Liverpool fanzine The End. Chronicling this movement is extremely difficult because there is little material of record; it is all personal reminiscence, which is notoriously unreliable. Even decent early photographs are hard to come by. Phil Thornton did a very good job of pulling different strands together and of charting the progress and changes the fashions underwent.22


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:

The Perry Boys are one of the great untold stories of modern youth culture. They emerged in the pivotal year of 1979 in inner-city Manchester and Salford, a mysterious tribe of football hooligans and trendsetters united by a new fashion. Their only counterparts at the time were the Scallies of Liverpool, who became their biggest rivals both on and off the terraces. As a young follower of Manchester United, Ian Hough witnessed first-hand how the bootboys of the infamous Red Army were slowly usurped by a small but fast-growing group of unlikely-looking pretenders. They sported Fred Perry polo shirts (hence the name), Lee cords, adidas Stan Smith trainers and wedge haircuts. With their eclectic soundtrack and appetite for amphetamine-fuelled excess, they would transform their city into the clubbing and style capital of the country. (back cover blurb, Hough, 2007)


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:

When I first bought a computer and discovered the internet, I would surf for all kinds of stuffI didn’t think I’d find. I was always amazed when I found info on obscure bands or bizarre scientific sub-sects, etc. One thing I really struggled to find any decent info on was that specific time period between 1978 and 1982 when football hooligans in the North West adopted the soul boy look. Being caught up in the middle of it, I felt there was definitely a story to tell. As time went by I’d read stuff like John King’s The Football Factory and Buford’s Among The Thugs. When Milo started knocking out the newer stuff I read Scally by Andy Nicholls and Tony O’Neill’s books, and even they hadn’t gone into extensive detail on the subject.Nicholls seemed bored by it and O’Neill was in prison during that time. I really had no idea that it was taking on such momentum in the UK, as I live in the States. I discovered Dave Hewitson’s The Liverpool Boys Are In Town and finally I’d found someone who knew the history and cared enough to write a book about it. It was Dave that put me onto the 1980s casuals web forum. The very first time I went on the forum, I just sat and tapped out a mad load of pyschobabble about scaly, knobbly, leather, suede and lambswool creatures with multi-coloured trainers and razor sharp claws that attacked each other outside train stations and football grounds. Much of those first few posts on 1980s casuals were pasted verbatim into Perry Boys. I was doing a toxicology degree at the time, and I would use a computer lab at university to log and bang out these epic tales of bacteria and slime and how this gleaming new look has suddenly hatched from the sediment at the bottom of the Irwell and the Mersey. The lads on the forum lapped it up and Dave encouraged me to keep going. Milo were interested from quite an early stage and I just kept extending it and sending Pete Walsh updates. Finally on my birthday, in October 2006, I was now onto a Masters in immunology, and my wife phoned me at the lab. She read out an e-mail from Pete saying they’d decided to go with it. I hit the ceiling and spent the next two months on a biochemical high. I also dropped out of college to become a writer, for better or worse. Gave up a potential career as a drug analyst to be a hooligan authority, but I prefer to think of myself as a social historian. I wanted to tell Manchester’s story as opposed to the well-known Merseyside version. Ultimately I felt a responsibility to tell the tale of how, incrementally, a nightclub oriented trend trickled onto the football terraces and changed hooliganism forever. I’ll always be grateful that my involvement in football hooliganism and Manchester’s dark side enabled me to become a published writer. I have always been a writer, but I never dreamed it would happen because of something like this. I’ve always considered the Perries as something important, and it need detailing. I unravel it a lot more in the sequel, Perry Boys Abroad, and there is still so much more to tell.23


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:

Phil Thornton’s a great writer and Casuals covered certain aspects of a certain time. Featuring virtually every region in Britain through the 1980s obviously led to the book’s popularity, as everyone wanted to read their bit. I really enjoyed the first three chapters of Casuals, dealing with the 1977 to 1980s period. By 1983 I was into the scruff look – invented by some of the original Perries in Prestwich at least a year earlier, if not before that – and had gone off on a space trek under the influence of cannabis, acid and speed. We were listening to Paisley Underground music from the US like The Rain Parade, Plasticland and Dream Syndicate. I wasn’t much interested in reading about someone discovering the culture in 1984, or what they were wearing in 1986, etc. By 1986 I was banging about Israel and Egypt in a pair of shorts and sandals with the British urchins who’d flew off to the kibbutzim and ended up on construction in the cities. Getting dressed up for the football was a distant memory, obscured by wild drug trips. There was a psychedelic mountain range between the mid and early 1980s, and it had been fun and frightening to surmount. I can be a terrible snob about these things – because I am fascinated by beginning and becoming – and this thing began and became in my back yard.

Casuals mentions nightclubs where ‘posses’ engaged in dancing contests. I remember there were a good few lads into the casual scene, right into the late 1980s, and they frequented all the clubs, but I don’t remember any of them taking it that seriously. There were some claims made in Casuals that seemed like total nonsense though. Pete Hooton says he and his scouse mates met some Millwall fans in Newquay in 1977 and they were all wearing the same clothes – Lois jeans matched with adidas Stan Smith trainers. I mean, what are the chances of that? It would be like finding a kangaroo on one of Jupiter’s moons. Stan Smiths came in at the end of 1979 in both Manchester and Liverpool as testified by Robert Wade Smith who worked for adidas at the time and described how a ‘phenomenal 2,000 pairs’ of the white leather shoe were sold in the run-up to Christmas 1979. That said Hooton’s account of Hillsborough is very moving, especially how he describes it sinking in that all those people they’d seen ‘unconscious’ on advertising hoardings were actually dead. Phil Saxe was the best contributor to Casuals. He was at the head of several fashion waves and he even mentions the first time he ever saw mods in Manchester, in 1964. The mods he describes were wearing knitted long sleeved polo shirts, which were to prove the longest lived aspect of the whole thing. Several specific items of clothing united Liverpool and Manchester in a single distinctive fashion at the turn of the 1980s. Chief among them were the adidas cagoule and the Peter Werth long sleeved knitted polo (often in burgundy). Manchester’s Perries had been wearing Peter Werth with the thin hoops for years. It just seemed to complement the wedge hairstyle and the rest of the costume.24


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:

We never called it anything, and the only word we had for it was ‘boys’. It was the same in a few places, or else they called themselves ‘dressers’ or ‘trendies’. Quality clothing has always been the same; a template based on trial and error and what works and looks best. Working class people very often are left to work things out on their own, and that’s what we did. That nameless fashion was really just working class lads discovering this fact ‘en masse’. We learnt something that wealthier people already knew and we hammered it to death. You don’t forget something like that, whether you continue to wear the clothes or not. Not many writers have accurately depicted the emergence of the ‘nameless thing’. Some have exaggerated when it happened, but only with regard to football. Its true origins go way back to the 1950s and 1960s, to beatniks and mods, and on to soul boys, perries and finally the sportswear crowd that caught on across Britain. These scenes all had their pilot fish and core players, people who innovated and moved on once it became popular. It’s all the same thread, a torch passed from one generation to the next. Mod clothing, soul music, grafting, snide merchandising, brand marketing – all played their part in shaping it. I suspect it was more dependent on dictation from the fashion cognoscenti than people like to admit, but the Bowie-Perry-Designer overlap from 1979 into mid 1982 was the purest form, the pinnacle. All the conditions were ripe and we literally made it up as we went along, based on gut feeling. The deeper you dig, the more you find. It’s hard to know where to draw the line.

My point was that the North West was what it was really all about, not somewhere else. Everyone else copied the look and the concept, and as such were products of mimicry not innovation. That said, once people started on the case, they often arrived at the same conclusions and had the same tastes. It took a decade or more for the look to become something inside Manchester. From the northern soul boys (the original Perry boys) of 1970 to the Bowie crowd of the mid 1970s, they were a kind of rare mod who you were lucky to see once in a blue moon. The soul-mod look became the Bowie thing around 1975. Between 1975 and 1979 Mancunians were gradually acclimatised to this oddly normal looking form of hipster-hooligan. Side parted wedge hairstyles, baggy small collared shirts, pleated ‘peg’ like trousers or jeans that tapered toward the bottom and sensible shoes weren’t what the media was describing as a hooligan outfit, but we knew better. In the papers it was all Glam Rock flare boys in star jumpers. As the soul crowd matured and settled down, these ‘Bowie Perries’ became the elders. When brand marketing (Umbro replica football kits, adidas T shirts and sports bags, etc) became more popular than quality marketing (ie well known and respected mod gear) then younger kids around the scene wanted training shoes and tracksuits as much as small collar shirts and boat shoes. The domestic turn towards branding whetted the appetites of those who found Lacoste, Fila and top of the range adidas wear on the continent. It wasn’t simply scousers going to Europe and coming back with Forest Hills in 1066 or whenever they claim it was. It was a process that once set in motion was inevitable. Manchester had been at it for years before the sportswear thing hit.

I think Liverpool lacked our Perry pedigree, but they had a Punk-Bowie look all their own, which happened to include narrow trousers and wedge hairstyles.They went bananas when they discovered the high-end continental clobber and they invented the football casual as a result. Scousers exploded in a couple of years from almost nothing, but Manchester arrived via ten years of subtle mutations. The results were the same in both cases, and the Liverpool look provoked a reaction in the subconscious Manc mind. Those first years, from 1979 to 1982, were the height of it. It was a secret. Only we and the scousers knew anything about it. Most people will say Liverpudlians hit the terraces in proper numbers as a real hooligan movement before Manchester did, and that would be true. The media were hopelessly out of touch with it, and this created a cloaking effect around the North West. There were no nationwide chainstores or TV stars championing the look. It was a working class thing embedded in the football terraces. With all due respect, these lads had a great sense of style but were light years away from penetrating the middle class media fortresses that could have spread the word much earlier. It was all communicated via football matches and curious lads who went shopping in Manchester and Liverpool, eager to learn more about the movement. When you consider that a lot of these boys were behaving violently towards each other it’s a wonder anything was communicated at all. Most of the words between them probably amounted to abuse regarding fashion sense. That means something when you’re a teenager, so it caught people’s attention. Three years must be the time it takes for a finished product to make its way across the country using such primitive means of dissemination.25


They Think It’s All Over?


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:

Grafters by Colin Blaney, I loved Grafters, partly because Blaney was from north Manchester and I knew his world, but mainly because he summed up so many aspects of our thing beyond football. I’ve always thought that the casual look was symptomatic of bigger things than football, and Grafters went into all the slang words, the thieving lifestyles and fashions that changed from the 1970s into the 1980s. I grew up with lads like Blaney and they are wild boys, make no mistake. But their sense of cool was years ahead of its time, and some of the more recent stuff Colin has written is pure brilliance. He basked in the real underground scene in the neighbourhood, as we all did to some extent. The gangsters, the pubs, the accent and slang, and the fashions, all were crucial pieces in the north Manchester jigsaw. Grafters is like a high speed ride through it all.26


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:

I think Tony O’Neill had come to know Steve Barnes following Steve’s retirement from Greater Manchester Police. Steve left the force after an operation to remove a brain tumour. Subsequently he was involved in a hospitality business with his father in law, the former Manchester United player Wilf McGuiness. It may well have been through this that he met Tony, who has a travel business around United matches, although obviously they would have recognised each other from Tony’s days as an active hooligan. When I started working on the second of Tony’s books, which I ghost-wrote, he suggested that Steve might be prepared to talk. We met in an Indian restaurant and Steve was very friendly and was happy to reminisce. He was not discussing anything of any current operational sensitivity because he had left the force in 2000, some years earlier, so he talked quite freely. One thing he remarked on was that after his operation, the first people to send him a get well card were the United hooligans. I think it still rankled with Steve that he had not received a similar card from any of his bosses or his colleagues in football intelligence. Without second guessing his motives, perhaps that was at least partly behind him agreeing to talk. From my point of view it was fascinating to hear about the same violent incidents told from two opposing viewpoints.28


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:

After hand writing (I was not computer wise at the time) the book, I then had to re-write the whole thing on a computer. I then sent it off to two publishers, one being Milo books who took the book on. The book took two years from start to being on the shelves and has since become one of, if not the, best selling hooligan books written. It’s not really a diary; the stories have just been written in an order of events. It was the publisher’s idea to have the words ‘a diarised account’ on the front. The memories were easy to revisit. I have a photographic memory in my past as a hooligan so that when I was writing the book I was having a chat with a lad called Mad Dog who was arrested against Cardiff in the early 1980s. I told him that he had leather gloves on and a Kappa cagoule. He was gob-smacked that I could even remember what he was wearing on that day. I decided to write the book after reading Gary Armstrong’s book which was aimed at academics rather than people who know the score. Gary’s work was very good. I was ‘Gordon’ in that book. I stuck my neck out for Gary because all the lads thought he was Old Bill when he was following us around. I knew 100% he wasn’t so I let him travel with me and argued with my fellow lads that he was with me and I trusted him. Academic work is not my cup of tea but I can understand why the work is of interest to some. Some (not all) academics think that just because they have studied football violence they automatically become experts. No two hooligans are the same and come from various backgrounds and lifestyles so to put them all in the same basket is stigmatising people. For instance, I have met lads who have a totally different view to me on what a hooligan should and should not do. I carry a code of conduct and I like to think I put across that not all football lads are brain dead.30


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:

Were just wording/spelling/missed text, etc that was inevitable in doing a book on your own for the first time. I had so much to write but there is only so much you can put in a book so BBC 2 is totally different in the fact that my life is exposed away from the scene and people will get a better idea of me as a person rather than a football lad. I’ve made BBC 2 more light-hearted, funny and got away from just telling stories of football battles.31


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:

I set out to write my memories of the 1970s – music, fashion and the behaviour that went with it.That’s what I was doing week in and week out – football hooliganism. First I got talking to Skinhead Times (ST) Publishing, George Marshall. George Marshall’s a bloke who’s not interested in making money. I offered it to him and he bit my hand off. But you never see their books in the shops. So I reconsidered. I sent off the complete manuscript to Random House, Milo books and Hodder Headline. They all said they’d do it, within a few weeks. I’ve learnt. They all say this. They might take months. Then it just never happens. Then a bloke I work with left a message on my answer machine. ‘There’s a publisher wants to publish your book’. That was John Blake. He was a music journalist back in the 1970s. He was interested in the music.32


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:

As for accuracy, it’s impossible to say, as I wasn’t there. But I do think all of my published authors have made efforts to put across reasonably balanced accounts. Out and out bragging doesn’t work well in these books; they get laughed at.34


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:

Academia is or should be concerned with rigorous analysis by the standards of that particular discipline. But you cannot exclude first person accounts from that. They might be self-serving or ‘narcissistic’ but they contain a wealth of vital material not available elsewhere.35


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).