Monday, March 09, 2009

Half a World Away

I've just skimmed through a memoir from a lad who used to fight at the football. This one was a friend of a friend, Bill Routledge, who follows Preston North End. There are loads of lads featured in the book who I used to knock about with in Lancaster, and a few I knew and kept a polite distance from.

The thing is, if you followed football as a teenager in the early 1980s you couldn't escape violence and hooliganism. I was kicked all over a road outside St James' Park Newcastle in 1981, aged 15, I was chased through Ipswich for my Fila top in 1984. I also liked wearing the trainers and sportswear associated with the look of the time (still do). However, my fortune, if you can call it that, was to follow Blackburn Rovers, a team with no reputation at all for football violence. For a brief period I used to lament that fact, as other teams fans would chase us back to Mill Hill station and there were never any "hard lads" of our own to give us safety in numbers. Other fans in Lancaster would laugh at our tiny band of Rovers fans, not just because we missed out on the play offs again, but because Bolton, PNE, City, or whoever had "done" Rovers fans, or simply walked around unopposed.

Beware of what you wish for, however. By the time I'd landed at Manchester University in 1985 and used to just pop up to the odd game, the tables had turned and there was a ready made posse of bullies causing mayhem. Instead of watching as hordes of other fans would threaten and kick me for supporting my team, fans of my team were intimidating the locals in Swindon, Ipswich, Nottingham and Stoke.

Anyway, some of these hooligan books make it all sound like a bit of a laugh, like it was a cartoon version of Robin Hood and his merry men running around with the sherriff's men in pursuit. In my experience it's always been about having the odds stacked in the favour of one side in order to gang up and batter the smaller number. Some of the things I saw were horrible acts of savage bullying.

To be fair, the author of this book makes that point and from everything I've heard about him, he seems like a good bloke these days. The end of the book, reflecting on his "addiction" and his passions, and his regrets, is the most revealing. We all make choices about what kind of life we can lead. I made mine and I dare say it hasn't been as exhilerating as William Routledge's.

1 comment:

Steve Downes said...

I was stabbed at Fulham in 1971. I'd gone to watch Preston win the old 3rd division championship. The Preston fans were celebrating on the pitch when I felt a bang in my side, which turned out to be a stab wound delivered by a Fulham skinhead.

In those days it was a stigma to tell your colleagues you were a football fan, they assumed you were a hooligan. How times change.

Steve Downes