Holywell St would like to welcome Phil Thornton who will contribute to the Blog from time-to-time. If he’s not hanging about Runcorn with Eddie from Morley (just outside ‘T’ Leeds) of course.
By Phil Thornton 23rd November 2018
1984 was it? Around that time. The time of the half n’ half bobble hat craze. Well, it was a craze in the north west of England at any rate. One half was YOUR club; Liverpool, Everton, Man United, Witton Albion, the other was either Celtic, Rangers or Arbroath.
Where did it all begin? Like many of the many vagaries of football ‘casual’ fashion, the roots of this particular phenomenon are lost in the black hole of tribal folklore. For some there was a religious or political affiliation to the sectarian politics of Glasgow’s two teams, for others it was just a loose identification for a Scottish team, although I don’t recall seeing any Hearts, Hibs, Aberdeen or Motherwell hats about.
In Liverpool, although its’ the English city closest to Glasgow in terms of Irish and non-Irish identity, the sectarian divide between Everton and Liverpool was never that marked. True, Everton were perceived as the ‘Catholic’ team and Liverpool the ’Protestant’ team but that never caused much a divide in their respective support bases. In Manchester, United were also perceived as a ‘Catholic’ team but again, their support drew on a much wider base than parochial north or south Manchester church affiliations.
During the early 80s, the issue of national identity was becoming an issue, thanks largely to the recent Falklands war whipping up a xenophobic hatred for ‘foreigners’ that manifested it’s ugliness on England trips to the continent. The ‘English Disease’ spread its cancerous doctrine all across Europe and beyond. At home, the IRA’s battle against British rule was fuelled by Bobby Sands and the other hunger strikers needless deaths.
This gave rise to the racist elements within some clubs, notably the London based ones to become even more hostile and Combat 18 (the one and eight being the initials in numerical order of Adolf Hitler) were active at places like Chelsea, where they made it their cause to attack ‘Troops Out’ demonstrations and such like. It was Chelsea fans that first made a tacit link to their fellow Loyalists at Glasgow Rangers and also to paramilitaries in Northern Ireland.
On the terraces, some fans chanted ‘Rangers!’ whilst others responded ‘Celtic!’ and some chanted both. Me being a left winger, I adopted the green not the red, white and blue and wore my half United half Celtic hat and Celtic pin badge despite having somewhat tenuous links to Auld Hibernia. My nan’s family were from Mayo but that was about as Irish as I could summon.
Despite being a soul boy, I also had a soft spot for The Pogues and went to see them perform at the Royal Court in Liverpool which is still one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to. It was perhaps the gig that was most like being in a football terrace during those heady days pre-Heysel and Hillsborough.
85 was the year that changed everything. Heysel, Bradford, Luton, Birmingham. Riots, fires, deaths, mayhem. Suddenly the atmosphere had changed from carefree yobbery to misery and attacks from the Tory government and their ever-reliable police enforcers. The miners , the crusties, the football fans, we were all enemies within to be crushed, literally. Hillsborough was the end product of decades of class hatred, of fans being treated like scum by the politicians, the FA, the police and of course the clubs themselves.
I remember going to Anfield with my mate after Heysel when Chelsea were playing, just for a laugh as we booth supported United. Walking through Stanley Park there were about ten or fifteen coaches down from Lanarkshire. The Chelsea/Rangers alliance had been cemented. Outside a scouser from our town, a well know member of the Liverpool firm was trying to get up a mob on the wasteground on Kemlyn Road. He didn’t have many takers.
Fast forward thirty years and a mate of mine has a company that trains stewards at places like Wembley, Chelsea and Rangers. He’s asked me to come up to Ibrox to help him out.I’ve never been inside before although we once got lost en route to Ben Nevis and had to ask for directions outside the old stadium. To be honest, I didn’t fancy the trip but it was a day out and he was paying my train fare.
As we travelled up, a scouser got talking to us who said he’d been following Rangers since the 70s and then as more got onboard at various stations, he went over to talk to his fellow Gers pals from across the north of England. They seemed an OK bunch, not the stereotypical Hun bigots. Inside Ibrox itself, I got talking to their head of security, a rather camp ex bizzie with ‘Lodge’ written all over him. Rangers were playing Ayr United; that was their ‘derby’ at the time and he was worried about Ayr’s casuals causing mither.
The pre match entertainment consisted of divs waving massive flags about and all in all, the game was about as exciting as watching a Cheshire Cup quarter final but with less atmosphere. Like many clubs , Rangers supporters were almost exclusively male, white, working class and good natured enough. The injection of alcohol and politics always adds fuel to any game and obviously the decline of Rangers as a top side has affected their status, if not their sense of wounded pride.
Celtic have had it too easy for too long. Maybe they need a kick up the arse. The gap between them and their arch rivals in down to 2 points. Maybe if they get an rich Arab torturer to plough blood money in instead of Fat Mike, they’ll copy City. Nightmare on Edmiston Drive!