Now THIS is what I call a scary duck. That's right up there with the Harry Potter vibrating broom. No wonder the kid's smiling. On with the show...
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.
Save police time: Beat yourself up
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:
* 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
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.
Clicky for part II of this epic tale of mirth and woe, featuring my moment of stupid, stupid glory.