GBH: Great Britain’s Hooligans
Words by Barney Harsent
The ugly face of the beautiful game, football-related violence during the 1980s and 1990s was, if the tabloids are to be believed, the single biggest threat to civilised British society.
When you consider this was at a time when civil liberties were being eroded and the social housing programme across the UK was being demolished brick-by-brick, it’s quite a claim.
In fact, it had been going on for much longer than that. As far back as the late 19th Century, there were reports of ‘roughs’ who attacked opposing fans, referees and even players (a wrong that, 100 or so years later, Eric Cantona attempted single-handedly to right). Following a post-war period of relative calm, the peace and love of the Sixties didn’t manage to make it quite as far as the terraces and instead saw a significant upturn in incidents with police routinely dispatched to games across the country. This puts to rest the idea that there was ever some Pathé-newsreel idyll that featured a cloth-capped terrace gamely cheering on the opposition and hoping that fair play and the spirit of the game won out.
As the violence increased, so those involved in it became organised. Groups made territorial claims in and around football grounds, and a gang mentality arose. In cities where the proximity of clubs gave rise to local rivalries, derby matches provided particular flash points.
This was also, of course, nothing new – there has long been a gang culture prevalent in Britain. Criminal cabals of young men have been a fact of life in cities since the 19th Century and violent clashes between teen tribes were making headlines well before the 1964 battles between mods and rockers as they went toe-to-toe in Brighton, Margate, Bournmouth and Clacton, causing national uproar and keeping glaziers in work for weeks.
‘There’d always been gangs at Millwall,’ remembers Ginger Bob, who was a key figure in the team’s myriad f