Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Firms and heroes

You know when, as a 40 something, you’re getting old. When you look back fondly on days when you traveled the length and breadth of the country in all weathers to stand on windswept terraces, to munch on dry paper thin hamburgers and to drink panda pops. When you spent a 100 quid on a Sergio Tachini tracksuit only to find your mates nicked theirs off nearby clothes lines. To rush home to see Match of the Day in the hope of seeing your mug on the TV. It’s the sepia memories that make the 30’s seem so romantic for another generation.

One thing we lived with week by week was hooliganism. In the late 70’s literally hundreds of thugs would take great delight in attempting to take the home fan’s end and papers were full of the mayhem round the country on any given Saturday. It was such a frequent event I’ve forgotten more incidents than I now remember. I remember Nationwide reporting on Manchester United season in the old Second Division as Norwich, Orient, Cardiff et all were invaded by the fearsome Red Army. I remember feeling nervous approaching the North Bank when we played Spurs as they would often try to take the North Bank. Usually gathering on the north west corner and charging at about 5 to 3. I always wondered why the police took so long to cotton to this.

I recall seeing a documentary on Panorama, I never watched the news magazine normally so why that night, about Harry the Dog and Millwall. Another time I came back from an away game, Luton I think, in time to watch a documentary about the West Ham Inter City Firm. There was some kind of mystical awe about people involved in this stuff. My mate’s brother was a little runt but my opinion changed when I saw him at Aldershot giving it to some Northampton fans on the pitch. A mate who went with me to some Arsenal games had a brother respected at Portsmouth and I used to drink in the tales passed on to me. I got to be on nodding terms with some of Arsenal’s baddest and meanest which is not as daft as it sounds. Our away support dropped for a while and you soon recognized the faces at Leeds, Everton and Manchester United midweek. They also happened to be the keenest supporters in our darkest days.

20 years later and you might think some of these nutters would move on to bigger and better things. Think again. Have a wander round a bookstore in England and you find these guys have translated their deeds into words and the hooligan book has sparked a revival of the hooligan culture (which never really went away of course). Books have become movies and kids round the country have a new breed of hero to look up to. While the lads on the pitch have morphed into Hello lifestyles far removed from your average fan, lads on the terraces have become the new working class hero who young lads can identify with. With websites and book signings the one time terrace yobs are a lot more approachable than the modern player and the kids on the street have responded.

In a way it’s oh so English. We respect the real deal and are suspicious of anything that smacks of being fake or insincere or wealthy. Coronation Street is a tale about working class folk and has been the most popular programme on TV for decades alongside Eastenders, another soap based around homely working class folk. From Steptoe and Son to Only Fools and Horses to pictures by Hogarth to music by the Clash and Sex Pistols we in Britain celebrate ‘the street’. Despite the cult of celebrity being promoted by tabloids and other media we are suspicious of glamour. America has Paris Hilton, an heiress with apple pie looks and bathed in fake sincerity, we have Del Boy and his beat up Robin Reliant. As the Beckham’s and the Rooney’s of this world try to gate themselves off from the plebs, the likes of Cass Pennant and Jason Marriner embrace it and become the posters of a new generation.

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