InterCity Days

Remember the 1970s and 1980s, when hooligans stalked every football match and West Ham's InterCity Firm were worst of all? A new book recalls the era. But Brian Viner, who was there, wonders what's to celebrate
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The Independent Online

In 1978, when I was a chubby 16-year-old with a wispy blond moustache that could not be seen from more than 10 feet away, a middle-aged man from Birmingham, who was wearing a quilted anorak and looked vaguely like my uncle, spat at me and called me "scum".

In 1978, when I was a chubby 16-year-old with a wispy blond moustache that could not be seen from more than 10 feet away, a middle-aged man from Birmingham, who was wearing a quilted anorak and looked vaguely like my uncle, spat at me and called me "scum".

I felt like crying. Because I was not scum. I was a respectable grammar school boy who, give or take a tricky gerund, could translate from the Latin Ovid's Pyramus and Thisbe. I had been brought up to offer my seat on a crowded bus to my elders. I was not scum. The man in the quilted anorak was dead wrong about that. I told him to eff off.

A little later that day, I stood in the away supporters' section of St Andrew's, Birmingham City's football ground, and with a couple of thousand others, to the tune made famous by sweet, long-haired Mary Hopkin, bounced up and down singing: "Those were the days my friend/ We took the Stretford End/ We took the Shed/ the North Bank, Highbury/ We took the Geordies too/ We fight for Everton/ We are the Street, of Everton FC/ La, la, la, la, lala, la la la, la, lala..."

I had, of course, never taken Manchester United's Stretford End; in fact I had never even been to Old Trafford. I had been to Highbury, but I took my cousin, not the North Bank. Nor had I ever fought for Everton. On the contrary, at the first sign of a scuffle, I used to walk rapidly in the opposite direction.

On leaving away grounds we were often herded down narrow terraced streets by policemen on horseback, on which occasions it was customary to call, in self-mocking fashion, "baa" or "moo". Actually, I greatly appreciated the mounted escort, although my friends, Rafe, Mugsy and Bean, respectable grammar schoolboys also, sometimes referred to the police, albeit quietly, as "pigs". I could never do that. The word simply wouldn't form. I had always been nervously respectful of authority, at least since my friend Heppy and I had tried to nick a Mars bar and a Twix from Boots in Chapel Street, Southport, and got caught by the female store detective.

That had been my only assault on civilised values, which is not to say that I did not look capable of assault. To Everton matches, home and away, I wore a denim jacket lavishly decorated with badges – including one that said "Koppites are gobshites!" – and scarves knotted around both wrists, one a blue-and-white Everton scarf, the other in the colours of Borussia Mönchengladbach, who had played Liverpool in the 1977 European Cup Final.

Oddly enough, by then, real football hooligans looked much more respectable than I did.

In his new book Congratulations, You've Just Met the ICF, Cass Pennant writes of those years, when the police were stepping up their campaign against hooliganism: "We had to change from a mindless yob army to a thinking thug army... where was the fun in just looking hard? We smartened ourselves up and started wearing casual fashions. The Farah strides, Pringles or Gabiccis we wore on a Friday night we now sported to matches on the Saturday. Anything to get as far away as possible from the authorities' stereotyped image of what they thought they had to look out for...

"It was funny the way the beer monsters in their claret-and-blue hooped rugby shirts with donkey jackets regarded the new casual look as something tarty. But they gave respect when they saw how quickly the casual in the Lacoste would pull out a blade and squirt."

The title of Pennant's book refers to the message printed on the grotesque calling cards deposited with victims by members of West Ham's so-called InterCity Firm, of which Pennant was a leading "general". Although Pennant claims to have had second thoughts about the hooligan culture in the wake of the 1986 Heysel disaster, and the ICF is long since disbanded, the book represents a shameless glorification of that culture, full of self-aggrandising references to war and the movies. Vietnam, Custer's Last Stand, and the films Gladiator and Zulu are all evoked in the descriptions by him and other ICF members of fights with opposing supporters.

Not, of course, that "supporters" is quite the word. Pennant's is not a football book. Although football expressions are used, such as when one of the ICF's founders, Andy Swallow, laments that "Stoke seems to be a bit of an unlucky ground for me", the reference is invariably to violence. "I've been going there since '73," Swallow elaborates. And West Ham very disappointingly always seem to lose the match? Erm, no. "And I always end up... getting hit on the head with a brick and such like."

There is, in fact, scarcely any mention in the book of West Ham the team, although there is a revealing account of an exchange between Swallow and the West Ham player Frank Lampard, during a pitch invasion at Birmingham City, after the Hammers had lost an FA Cup tie.

Lampard: "Andy, why don't you do everyone a favour and get off the pitch?"

Swallow: "Bollocks. I'm doing a better job than you. You lost your battle, we're going to win ours."

The heyday of the ICF coincided with the height of my passion for Everton. I attended virtually every match, home and away, in the 1978-79 season; the year that the punk band Cockney Rejects – managed by Garry Bushell, later the television critic of The Sun – effectively became the ICF's cheerleaders. Their songs included "Are You Ready to Ruck?" and "Running Down The Back Streets". They played on Top of the Pops in West Ham's colours of claret and blue.

In the Gwladys Street End at Goodison Park, meanwhile, I joined in the language of violence almost as wholeheartedly as I avoided the reality of it. I always stood in the same place, a few yards from a frizzy-haired character known as Fozzie Bear, who used to hang from a stanchion with one arm and make provocative gesticulations with the other. Fozzie usually led the Street End's chants and Rafe, Mugsy, Bean and I always followed, except for the Saturday afternoon when Rafe tried to initiate one himself, which petered out rather pitifully. Most disloyally, not even Mugsy, Bean and I joined in.

Anyway, thanks to a dog-eared Rothmans Football Yearbook, I know that on 24 February 1979, while Cass Pennant and his ICF thugs were working out a strategy to beat up as many fans of Oldham Athletic as possible, I was at Goodison in my denim jacket to see Everton vs Ipswich Town.

Fozzie initiated a hugely witty chant that day, intended to mock the relatively rural setting of Ipswich. "You're going home," we sang, right arms raised in tribal unity, "in a combine harvester!" But by the final whistle, by which time Ipswich had had the temerity to win 1-0, the words had changed to the standard: "You're going home in a fucking ambulance!" As far as I know, none of them did. And we went home, as usual, on the number 17 bus.

Despite my mother's anxiety, even in those grim days when every Saturday afternoon saw outbreaks of crowd trouble in English football, violence could always be avoided. Equally, violence could always be found, which Pennant and the ICF made it their business to do.

Rather surprisingly, given that football hooliganism was, and still is, associated with right-wing racists, Pennant is black. He recalls Newcastle United fans chanting "Chicken George" at him on one memorable occasion, shortly before a petrol bomb was thrown, but adds: "The support behind me that day from the West Ham ICF lads never wavered." How sweet.

He also refers to a former black skinhead called Animal, "now known as Olajide Ikoli". Whether he was always Olajide Ikoli, then known as Animal, is a possibility Pennant does not explore. Whatever, Ikoli admits there was a real buzz knowing you were being accepted by another culture and that this culture hated you: "Everything at West Ham in those days was pure racism, but they accepted you and stuck by you, even when the skinheads were singing 'Ain't no black in the Union Jack'."

Before I wrote this article, it was suggested to me that I might like to meet Cass Pennant. I declined, on the basis that I didn't much want to shake his hand. But we have been, at least once, in the same stadium at the same time. In 1980, Everton played West Ham in an FA Cup semi-final replay at Elland Road, Leeds.

Pennant writes about that night in his book. "The mobs were even-numbered, but the Everton lads, who had our respect, never tried hard enough to breach the police cordons to get something going with us. We never even saw them. They just went their own way."

It was the one time when our different philosophies as football supporters clashed. And mine, I'm pleased to say, came out firmly on top.

Taking the shed: A hooligan's account  

Extracted from 'Congratulations, You've Just Met the ICF', by Cass Pennant (published by John Blake Publishing on 4 April, £15.99)

Chelsea had a firm renowned throughout the country. A fighting army as big as Man U's, and a reputation to match. They played the numbers game, invading the opposition in hordes, always proud to wear the colours and confident their army was too big to have a go at. But when the real hard men got among the Stamford Bridge mob, they dismissed Chelsea as singers.

Singers was how I best remember them – vociferously goading you about how great they were. The way we saw it, they were only good at smashing everything up. Football Specials, Brighton seafront – you name it. We were pig-sick of the way they grabbed all the headlines... Chelsea were the kings of hype.

Pile out at Fulham Broadway, leaving the transport police behind. It's up to the Met now. Careful when choosing which ticket collectors to dodge. Old Bill nick one or two, clearing the way for the rest of us. Like sewer rats surfacing from underground, the sunlight hits you. You're out and on their manor, but there's a ring of Old Bill all around the entrance. They're there to break up the mob, to stop them spreading out. You make sure you've no colours on show as you pass quickly by the away supporters' entrance to Chelsea's North Stand...

We were a procession of Doc Martens. Everybody used to look lovingly down at their bovver boots, admiring the polish, discussing the pros and cons of steel toe-cappers. The nutters swore by them, but most lads didn't like the way they caused your boot to lose that classic look. As the train thundered nearer, you'd start pulling your laces tighter still. Everything had to feel right for when you stuck the boot in...

Now we're behind Chelsea lines. We've passed all the Chelsea pubs, giving them the once-over... Nobody in them except Chelsea fans who don't want to know. The older fans know that it rarely goes of in the street beforehand. Chelsea would be waiting in the Shed for us, or in the courtyard entrance to the Shed. If they're up for it, they'll want to see us off there...

They won't be disappointed. Never mind all that bollocks about "No one takes the Shed." West Ham didn't just take the Shed, we used it as our meeting place for years.

Jimmy Smith [an ex-member of the ICF] remembers taking the Shed in the 1977/8 Season: "It's pure classic: two firms, two reputations, one of which ends up in tatters: Everyone was congratulating themselves. With 400 or 500 West Ham all at the back of Chelsea's end, we couldn't help but give it large, singing, 'C'mon, get your end back.' The Chelsea supporters looked absolutely gutted that they couldn't get their end back.

"There was a black Chelsea fan who was hyperactive, running around like a headless chicken trying to have a pop at everyone. I nodded over to him, giving him a wink as if to say, 'Come here mate, we're with you, we're Chelsea.' His arms came up and he pulled himself into my part of the Shed. As he did so, I booted him right underneath the chin with my steel cappers. He went flying, bounced backwards, only to come back all hyper again – a real loon. I thought, this is brilliant, we'll stay in here, but the Old Bill had other ideas.

"We came out and all the Chelsea mob were waiting outside the pub opposite the North Stand entrance. But we just casually bowled out, no scarves, no noise, no nothing. We just tore into 'em and proceeded to kick 'em. They ran off in the direction of the North End Road. Our mob of about 300 to 400 just carried on walking past Fulham Broadway station, where queues of supporters were heading into the Underground.

"Half an hour to 45 minutes after the game, Chelsea's Babs showed – the one-armed, half-caste man with the big reputation. We didn't care about the rumour that the one arm had a meat hook attached. The road hushed. Both mobs shaped to go. We were all itching, scanning One-Arm Babs, thinking the first one in on him could be a new name to talk about when the time came to recite the story of the day.

"You've got to give One-Arm Babs his front, because he called it on: 'Where's Bill Gardner [the West Ham terrace legend]? I want Gardner!' He was seriously fronting us all, taking one step forward then eight backwards as Gardner came out of the crowd. The next thing – the Old Bill pushed them away.

"With Old Bill heavy on the scene we thinned out but still continued down the road. There was another stand off, but the Old Bill got in the middle and that was it. The end of a happy day for West Ham."