Save police time - beat yourself up
You hear a lot of stories about the dreaded English Football Hooligan. How they fought pitched battles in the streets, rioted in soccer grounds and disgraced the “good” name of Britain on foreign shores. I was there. Sort of. Heading in the opposite direction.
I came late to football. I was born within a stone’s throw of the tip that is Chelsea football ground in London, and my father tried his best to make me go and see the Blues in action. It was awful. Awful ground, awful team, awful supporters, awful match. It was nearly ten years before I went to another football match. That was after my boss heard I was a “lapsed” fan and took me along to the tip that was Reading instead.
I stuck with it for a couple of years. It was quiet, inoffensive fun, and ideal if you wanted to be alone on Saturday afternoons. It was then that my brother saved me from a lifetime of footballing mediocrity and introduced me to the Arsenal. It was a baptism of fire. My first ever Arsenal match was away to West Ham, a bunch of cocky Eastenders whose fans believed they were as hard as nails, but in reality all looked like the Hofmeister bear. There was history too. Recent matches between Arsenal and West Ham had resulted in two deaths. I was shitting meself.
Let’s just add in another couple of factors - this was Arsenal’s first match since winning their first trophy in eight years, and West Ham had just brought back former Arsenal legend Liam Brady back from Italy, and he’d vowed to put one over his old club. Arsenal lost 3-1. Someone had fired a flare into the West Ham fans inside the ground, and after the match there was a pitched battle up and down the Barking Road. It was ace.
Nigel had introduced me to his friends. Mark was a college mate, who hung round with Ginger James, Ritchie and Paul. The latter two were bonafide members of the Arsenal hooligan firm - The Gooners, and while they were having the time of their lives charging up and down the streets of East London, the rest of us hid in a kebab shop. It was the start of something beautiful.
As a matter of fact, if I tell anybody that I once ran with the famous Arsenal Gooners, I do tend not to tell them that any actual running was usually in the direction of “away”. I was running marathons at the time, so I could get a fair old distance between myself and any trouble if needs be. You were perfectly safe in the crowd, singing songs and generally insulting the opposition, but once it “went off”, you were well advised to slink away and leave the actual fighting to your more excitable friends. And they did such a good job of it, too.
Places I have hidden during infamous football riots:
As I became a regular at Arsenal matches home and away, my cowardice in the face of enemy action increased. You could swagger along, full of bravado, but as soon as the shit hit the fan, it was time to make yourself scarce. I became an expert, and could run away from anything at the drop of a hat. Enemies, friends, old grannies, family picnics, Princess Diana, and on one occasion, the massed pipes and drums of the Scots Guards. They just looked like trouble. Bagpipes are evil.
- Everton: the back bar in the Stanley Arms. hic!
- West Ham: Medina kebab shop
- Tottenham: in a hall full of bouncing Jews on the infamous Broadwater Farm estate
- Chelsea: The pic’n’mix counter in a Waitrose supermarket
- Millwall - at home, under my bed
In the meantime, Ritchie had already attracted the attention of the police. He was the bozo who had fired the flare at West Ham, and already had a conviction drunk and disorderly conduct at a Liverpool match. When the police carried out those infamous early morning raids on suspected football hoolies, Ritchie was one of those who received a knock on the door at 6am, and it was his genuine collection of antique medieval weapons which was paraded before the world’s press as an example of how low we were prepared to stoop. They cost him a small fortune, and despite the mass acquittal of all suspects over scandalous police fabrication of evidence, he never saw them again.
It was the away trips which were most fun. Home games were a routine of pub, meet mates, drink, go to game, go home. Away was a completely different ball game. A trip into enemy territory, as it were. We’d meet at Mark’s place in Kingston and drive up in convoy, scarves flapping out of the rear windows. We’d often meet fellow football fans in those islands of wanton hooliganism - the motorway service station.
How the police never cottoned on to the fact that even football fans had to take a piss at some stage is beyond me. Saturdays at Watford Gap services were hell on Earth. If two London clubs were playing “Oop North”, trouble was virtually guaranteed, and the twee, overpriced coffee shop would become a battleground. I should know, I was hiding in Burger King.
Sometimes there were fights, most of the time there wasn’t. The football, it had to be said, was rather good too as the Arsenal were putting together quite a tidy team under George Graham. Trips to Norwich, Nottingham, Aston Villa were memorable for the football rather than the aggro. Then there was Portsmouth.
It was New Year’s Day. It was cold, it was wet, and some evil bugger had given us an away game. We met up in Kingy and headed off down the M3. Ritchie and Paul hadn’t actually slept and were still drunk from the night before. And I had them in my car. Ritch decided to wind back the sunroof in the pouring rain, and stand up while we were going along at 70 mph so he could “wave at people like the Pope”. Then he fell unconscious.
We soon found a pub in Pompey that was willing to take further away fans, and we spent the afternoon before the match getting even more bladdered. The match itself is indelibly stamped on my mind. It was truly the worst spectacle I had ever seen. We’d hammered Pompey 6-0 back in August, but this was a dull, hungover 1-1 draw lacking in any commitment whatsoever. It pelted down with rain, and we were forced to stand on an open terrace, soaked to the skin.
At 5pm, it was cold, wet and dark as we squelched out of the ground back towards the cars. A cry went up: “GOOOONERS!”, with the traditional reply “Come and get it you London Cockney wankers!”. It had gone off. And we were right in the middle as the two opposing armies bore down on each other. The Arsenal guys looked tough. But Pompey looked tougher still. Portsmouth is a naval city, and these guys were built like ships. I’m sure they would have carried us off and buggered us to death at their leisure given half the chance. There was no escaping. To use the correct technical term, we were heading for a right kicking.
With both mobs only yards away, the cowardice gene took over. I legged it sideways just at the rumble started in a frenzy of boots and fists and jumped over a garden wall. There, cowering in fear, in the very place I had chosen to do exactly the same thing, were four teenage Pompey fans. Who was more scared? I was outnumbered and fully expecting free dentistry work courtesy of Dr Marten’s. I froze.
The Pompey boys reacted first. “Fucking hell! They’ve found us!” one screamed in wild-eyed panic, backing away in fright. They were bigger chickens than I was. I could be onto a winner here. They jumped up and back over the wall, and in an ill-conceived fit of bravado I was after them.
“COME ON THEN YOU SLAAAAGS!” I shouted after them in my best fake Cockney accent as set off in hot pursuit. This had an unexpected effect. The rest of the big, tough Pompey army of Matelots, hardcases and nutters, seeing some of their number legging it up the road in abject terror thought their number was up too. They legged it.
I continued running for fifty yards watching some thirty hoolies scattering before me, before turning to encourage the rest of my Gooner mates to follow. That’s when I realized I was alone. I had “run” the entire Pompey firm with nothing but a blood-curdling scream to my name, completely by accident. Sheepishly, I jogged back to where the rest of the guys were waiting me with the Gooner crew.
They were clapping. Clapping me, the world’s greatest coward, for my act of wanton stupidity, which could well have left me a red smear across a Portsmouth back street. Ritchie introduced me to the top guys as his mate, and I became The Nutter Who Ran The Pompey whenever I entered an Arsenal pub, and it was the key to free drinks for several years after.
In future, I made it my business to run even faster, harder and further away whenever trouble reared its ugly head. That was one kicking too far.
While this story is based on actual events in the life of Scaryduck, certain identities and venues may have been changed to protect the innocent.