Football/Soccer/An Expats Story From the Hooligan Years…Part 2

This is part 2 to the soccer story I wrote earlier this week. 

Last week we were in Manchester, England collecting my friend Nigel from the hospital.  Five days later, we are at home for a London derby…Chelsea versus West Ham…a West End club versus an East End club.  Nigel has these huge bandages wrapped around his head and finger.

 Home games, especially games that drew a lot of home and away supporters were incredible to witness.  With all the singing, the atmosphere inside of the stadium was electric.  Matches with two London clubs like Chelsea/West Ham were always standing room only.  Both clubs had hooligan problems.  You just knew there would be some sort of trouble.  Plans by opposing supporters were drawn up weeks in advance.  West Ham is coming to our turf.  We defend what is rightfully ours.  Enter at your own risk.  I witnessed that same mentality only 5 days earlier in Manchester.

 A typical Saturday home game started in this fashion.  The pubs opened at 11:30 am…be at the pub before noon.  There were five of us that were season ticket holders…all brokers from the floor of LIFFE.  In four years of going to matches with these gents, not one person was ever late getting to the pub.  Late was after 12 noon.  Football was a way of life…drinking was part of the experience.  I enjoyed pub food…Shepherds Pie and a pint of lager was the way I began my day.  Sometimes my mates would eat, most times they just drank.  A common phrase used in England…food just gets in the way.

 The matches began at 3 pm…the pubs closed at 3 pm…the government could not figure out why they had trouble at matches.  Big games like West Ham, Arsenal or Tottenham…all London Clubs drew big crowds.  Teams from the north like Liverpool and Manchester United always brought 5,000 supporters with them.  For someone from up north, they would make a weekend of it.  Some northerners were forced to make a weekend of it either in jail or in hospital.

 Big matches like this Saturday meant we had to get to the stadium early.  The pre-game atmosphere was part of the experience.  It was a mile walk from the pub…we would leave the pub about 2 pm.  Fortunately our tickets allowed us into the private club.  The beer flowed until 3 pm.  We would be in our seats beer in hand by 2:30 pm.  The stadium was abuzz.  Singing by home and away supporters was deafening.  I knew the songs…we all sang. 

 The stadiums in those days had standing areas only behind the goals.  The Chelsea end, known as “The Shed” could hold up to 10,000 fans.  The away supporters end held maybe 5,000.  Everyone was caged in.  After you are in the section, the only way out is by police escort.  One Saturday afternoon, Liverpool came down.  Liverpool is a port town from up north…a real working class town…very rough.  The Chelsea supporters would taunt them singing songs like…unemployed, unemployed, unemployed.  The northerners hated the southerners…the southerners hated the northerners.  No one liked the Germans or the French. 

 The minute the match started about 40-50 Chelsea supporters were singing songs.  These nuts were standing in the Liverpool end.  Now you must remember; Liverpool is a great football team.  I have been looking forward to this match all week.  The match has just started and 40-50 guys are fighting in a caged in section with 5,000 away supporters.  The real question…do you watch the match or the fighting?  The police go in…batons are swinging…those goofy helmets they wear are flying…eventually 40-50 Chelsea boys are escorted out of the Liverpool end.  The whole stadium gives them a standing ovation.  Now you know why the Germans lost two World Wars to the British.

 So on this Saturday afternoon in particular, we are in our seats early.  With his head wrapped in a bandage, Nigel looks like he has just escaped from some mental hospital.  Our seats are amongst all season ticket holders in the East Stand.  There was never any trouble in the East Stand.  The West Stand was a different story.  West Stand tickets were available for purchase before the season started.  Of course, the hardest of all the West Ham supporters, the ICF (Inter City Firm)…about 300 guys in total are seated in the West Stand.  The taunting starts before the match kicks off.  The Chelsea boys knew to stay away…these supporters are ICF.  These were some of the most notorious hooligans in the country.  I have included a link that is a very interesting read on soccer hooliganism in the 80’s.

 With Chelsea winning 3-0 and ten minutes before the end of the match, the 300 ICF get up out of their seats and exit the West Stand.  Five minutes later, the ICF have pried open these huge iron gates in “The Shed”.  You now have 300 guys pouring into a section with 10,000.  From where I was seated, it was like Moses parting the sea.  The walls opened…you could see the younger kids being passed down to the front.  It is going to kick off…I cannot believe what I am about to witness. 

 After all 300 ICF entered The Shed; the walls would close for like a minute and then open.  Both sides would regroup and then the walls would close again.  You must remember; while all hell is breaking loose in the stands, they are still playing soccer on the field.  After the walls opened and closed about five times, Nigel grabbed me, “We’re out of here” and we ran all the way back to his girlfriend’s apartment.  She lived about a ½-mile from the stadium.  We closed the curtains and had tea. 

 Sirens lasted for at least a couple of hours as the violence spread to the streets.  All this took place in the heart of London…2-3 miles away from Buckingham Palace.

 One of my British readers. A good friend called George, was with us that night in Manchester when Nigel got done.  He sent me this reply to my writing from a week ago.

 Indeed I do remember mate.  I also remember a “nutter” who was also waiting to be stitched up attacking Nigel while the Doc was trying to fix his eye.  The policeman had to cuff the thug to the gurney and the Doc assured him that anymore of that behavior and he would be left to bleed in the car park.

 Crazy times indeed.  Fortunately, things are a lot more civilized now and such behavior is more common in Europe (Italy/Turkey) than in England.

 I also sent your commentary to Bobby Penfold…….This was his reply.  Ted and I found Nigel wandering around the outside of the stadium.  We didn’t recognize him to begin with.  When we alerted a copper that our friend needed help, he told is to “f— off back to London.”  This alerted some local kids as to whom we were and they started attacking us.  Fortunately, an ambulance showed up and saved the day.  It all seems so long ago now!!

So there you have it.  They were interesting times.  I loved going to football matches.  I am very grateful that the friends I made took me under their wing and taught me about the game.  Unfortunately, the dark side of the game…hooliganism cost 39 lives in the Heysel Stadium tragedy in 1985.  I have included a link if you fancy an interesting read. 



 PS.  Traveling and living abroad was an incredible education.  I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity as a young man.  I am forever grateful for what our industry has given me.       

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