Tag Archives: Chelsea

London riots and football hooliganism

‘People were determined to smash and destroy. Windows were being smashed and the looters saw their chance. A road sign went straight through the middle of the window. Two people moved in with cardboard boxes and filled them with jumpers. These would be highly resaleable. [Others] were concentrating on the jewellers’ shops and a good few were looted. People who were probably  law-abiding citizens at any other time just went berserk. The faces of people as they went into a smashed shop and grabbed goods were amazing; all signs of reason had disappeared from their eyes. One guy came out of a shop with his eyes rolled up, his tongue hanging from an open mouth and breathing heavily. His trip into the shop had been a physical experience, and he was beginning to smile. He had dared and won. In a very short space of time, the streets had been transformed into a madhouse. Sirens blared out and police vans screeched around the streets.’

Was this Tottenham last Saturday? Brixton on Sunday? Battersea or Croydon on Monday? Manchester on Tuesday? Surely it must be from one of those occasions this week when England was forced to confront the reality of a ‘sub-educated, feral underclass’ in a post-Thatcher ‘something-for-nothing society’ (as Andrew Roberts so colourfully described it).

Well, actually no. This was way back in 1983, in tiny Luxembourg, where England fans went on a smashing and looting spree after failing to qualify for the European Championships. Football hooliganism was approaching its nadir after a 20 year spiral that had almost destroyed the national sport and left the authorities baffled at how to control it.

Mob looting by football supporters dates back to at least 1976, when Liverpool supporters descended in large groups to rob shops in St Etienne, where they were watching a European Cup tie. It soon became assimilated into the away trip –  usually while being escorted back to the station, away supporters would smash up city centres, fight the police and, if the opportunity arose, loot goods from shops: a jeweller here, a clothes shop there. Whatever could be easily lifted and carried back home.

In Colin Ward’s classic account of terrace culture ‘Steaming In’ (from which the above passage also came), he describes Chelsea fans after a game in Luton: ‘The trip back to the town station saw the mass destruction of the town centre. Shops were looted and a train was set on fire… It was said that one guy who didn’t like football but had a fetish about smashing shop windows went along to have a good night out. Nutters often tag along with football crowds just for the buzz.’

The past week’s violence certainly seemed unprecedented – and in some ways it was – but there are significant parallels with the way overwhelmingly young football fans routinely behaved in the 1970s and 1980s. There’s the casual disregard for other people’s property, the mania of the crowd, the opportunist thieving and violence, the loose organisation into gangs, the sheer thrill of anarchy, the speed of movement and the power of being able to catch the police wrong-footed.

The fear is that mass lootings will become a commonplace event, another part of our lives, as criminal gangs realise what they can get away with if there are enough of them around and as long as the law and lawmakers remain clueless at how to respond. It certainly took the authorities a long time to get a handle on how to police football, but the experience has now been completely transformed, partly because of tough sentences for hooligans, partly because of the disasters at Heysel and Hillsborough but also because the football establishment itself realised it had to change the way it regarded football supporters if the behaviour of fans was to improve.

When I watched a small group of 20 or 30 kids terrorise Hackney in broad daylight on Monday afternoon while the police stood and watched, my first instinct was that they would never have let a bunch of football supporters behave like that these days. There are always lessons to be learnt from the past, if you look in the right places.

‘Blue Is The Colour’: versions from around the world

I dimly recall watching an animated Czech film on Channel 4 many years ago, which featured a version of the Chelsea anthem Blue Is The Colour sung in Czech. (Huw Jones in the comments now reveals this to be ‘Virile Game’, by Czech genius Jan Svankmajer – it appears 1min 45secs into this clip.)

It seems I may not have imagined this. I’ve just found out that the song was indeed recorded by Czech singer Frantisek Ringo Cech as Zelená je tráva (‘Green Is The Grass’) in 1981.

Here are some Czech footballers – including the great Antonin Panenka – singing it in the 1970s.

There’s also a Danish version called Rød-hvide farver (Red and White Colours) recorded by Flemming Anthony in 1984.

And here’s a rather chirpy Finnish version, where it was recorded by Vexi Salmi and called Hoo Ji Koo, although it’s better known as Taas Kansa Täyttää. This is probably my favourite.

Here are The Proclaimers singing a pretty awful recent version, renamed ‘White Is The Colour’ for the Vancouver Whitecaps in Canada.

Also from Canada is this version, a hilarious tribute to American Football team Saskatchewan  Roughriders, in which they try to fit the entire name of the team into a rhyming scheme that was only designed for two syllables.

Away from professional recorded versions, the song has also been adapted by other football fans on the terraces. Here are fans of the Japanese club Montedio Yamagata singing it in English.

And Lazio sing a mightily impressive version of it in Italian. Only they could make such a sweet song sound intimidating. 

Finally, here’s the original being recorded by Ossie and the boys in 1972.

Stamford Bridge in 1979

For people like me, there are few things more emotive than an empty football ground, filmed in 1979 in flickery Super-8 and overlayed by a haunting soundtrack. It’s like Simon Inglis’s first volume of ‘Football Grounds Of Great Britain’ come to life.

Check out loads more here.

Inside London’s super-rich bubble

Peter Mandleson once famously said that ‘we are intensely relaxed about the filthy rich’, a sentence that has always made me intensely uncomfortable until very recently, when I spent some time exploring the various ways the filthy rich spend their filthy money. What really surprised me, though, isn’t what they spend, but the way they spend it. It isn’t greed so much as purchasing for sheer pleasure on a scale that most of us can barely imagine and that they themselves will hardly even notice.

It began at Christie’s auction house for a piece I wrote for the Independent on Sunday that went behind the scenes before this week’s big impressionist/modern evening sale. The collectors who will be bidding on paintings by Monet, Picasso and Degas are taken from the ranks of the world’s super rich, and will between them spend around £100m on new paintings for the walls of their second and third homes.

Then I went to see some of those second and third homes when I wrote a piece for Gulf Life magazine about London’s super-prime property market – that’s anything from £15 million up to about £150 million. I visited four apartments and houses in Knightsbridge, Bayswater and Regent’s Park – including the Candy Brothers extraordinary One Hyde Park development – that between them had a combined value around £121 million and contained more marble and flat-screen TVs then is good for anybody.

Finally, last week the owner of my favourite football club – who many believed to be losing interest in the sport – dropped in to spend a trifling £70m in one day on two players, just like that.

Now, while it is undeniable that the outlay of such vast sums of money on luxuries is morally indefensible and all the rest, it’s also increasingly apparent that as there is absolutely nothing you can do about it, there’s no point in being anything other than intensely relaxed about it. The alternative would drive you mad.

These people are worth billions, and for them £150m is an irrelevance. To understand exactly why, try this thought experiment, taken from John Lanchester’s outstanding ‘Whoops!’, about the global financial crisis, which shows in a fairly clear way the vast difference between millions of pounds and billions.  

Lanchester writes, ‘Without doing the calculation, guess how long a millions seconds is. Now try the same for a billion seconds. Ready? A million seconds is less than 12 days; a billion seconds is almost 32 years.’

Or as one estate agent told me, ‘When they spend £30 million on a property, it’s not a financial decision, it’s a personal one.’

Fulham – European champions: how the London football map might have looked

The current hoo-hah over the legacy of the Olympic Stadium and the squabbling between West Ham and Spurs offers an interesting reminder of how different the map of London football could have been.

In 1904, when the new owners of the vast Stamford Bridge athletics stadium in Walham Green decided they wanted to find a football club to play there, the first thing they did was ask Fulham.

Fulham were London’s first professional club and one with some potential, but surely not as long as they stayed in their tiny Craven Cottage stadium, cramped between residential streets and the River Thames. Stamford Bridge, a huge and modern ground, should have been a far more attractive proposition, but the Fulham chairman, Henry Norris, said no.

He would never again demonstrate such caution or traditionalist principles.

The stadium owners, the Mears family, eventually – after some prompting from Frederick Parker’s dog –  decided to form their own club. Chelsea appeared in 1905, and thanks to expansive investment, almost immediately became the biggest club in London, drawing huge crowds that totally overshadowed poor Fulham and the rest of London football.

Norris took stock of this and decided the best thing to do was get the hell out of West London. He hopped over to Arsenal, then a struggling club with small crowds in Woolwich, took one look at the unpromising area and after briefly attempting to merge Arsenal and Fulham agitated instead for a move to North London, much to the fury of the existing and suddenly squeezed Tottenham Hotspur, who began to draw more of their support from East London, where West Ham resided. Tottenham’s overlap between East and North London is what makes the Olympic Stadium semi-logical but also vaguely heretical.

Over in South London, the absence of Arsenal allowed Charlton to step into their shoes, turning  professional at almost the same time as Arsenal crossed the river.  (Hat-tip Darryl, in the comments)

Suddenly, the map of London football had completely changed. Chelsea were the undisputed giants in the west, while Spurs and Arsenal shared domination of the north, with everybody else filling in the blanks. 

Here’s a picture of Norris. Doesn’t he look like a nutter?

But has one man had a greater impact on London football?

Without his intervention, Chelsea wouldn’t exist, Arsenal would still be in Plumstead and Charlton would still be amateurs. Spurs and Fulham would almost certainly be the twin giants of London football. Indeed, Fulham, playing at Stamford Bridge and managed by Herbert Chapman (who Norris was later to recruit at Arsenal) could easily have become one of the biggest clubs in Europe. Fulham, champions of Europe – it could have happened.

Why I love Pat Nevin

I remember when I fell in love with Pat Nevin. It was in the playground and somebody was passing round a 1985 Panini sticker album. I turned straight to the Chelsea page to see my heroes.

There was Kerry Dixon, bluffly handsome with golden hair, azure eyes and self-confident grin. There was Colin Pates, a brick-wall centre-back with disco dancer hair. There was Doug Rougvie with a nose that looked like it had lost an argument with a spade.

And there was Pat Nevin. Pasty-faced, greasy-haired, nervous, thin and sullen. He looked like a smackhead. Who wouldn’t fall in love?

I only saw Nevin play once for Chelsea, a 3-0 victory at Watford in 1988 about which I remember little, but his legend loomed large over the following years. By the time I started watching Chelsea regularly the next season, the club were in the Second Division and Nevin was at Everton, but my bible, the Chelsea Independent fanzine, spoke of little else.

They drooled over Nevin’s dribble against Newcastle, when he beat eight players in a slalom run that took him from one end of the pitch to the other. They marvelled at his free kick against Sheffield Wednesday, when he chipped the ball over the defensive wall, ran round the other side and lofted a perfect cross on to David Speedie’s goalscoring noggin. They giggled at his famous penalty miss against Manchester City.

The love seemed mutual. When Nevin was injured playing for Tranmere, he attended a Chelsea-Everton game at Goodison Park and paid to go in the Chelsea end. This was important. Chelsea fans, then as now, were despised, but if somebody like Nevin loved us, maybe there was hope, maybe there was redemption,

And Nevin was the sort of player that fans love – an exciting, creative, unpredictable dribbler, but there was more to it than this. Nevin was smart. Nevin was cool. Nevin was different.

He angrily attacked his own supporters for their racist, violent and anti-semitic predilections – to the delight of the left-wing students at the Chelsea Independent. He read French and Russian literature. His favourite bands were Joy Division, Jesus And Mary Chain and the Cocteau Twins. He once insisted on being substituted at half-time in a friendly so he could attend a gig. He brought Brechtian principles to the club programme when he interviewed himself – yes, himself – for a player profile. He was friends with John Peel. For the teenager who read Camus and listened to Sonic Youth it was a no-brainer: if you could be a footballer, you’d be Pat Nevin.

NME described Nevin as the first post-punk footballer, although it may have been more accurate to say he was the first art school footballer. He was also the last. 

When at Everton, Nevin gave a lengthy to the Chelsea Independent, and talked at length about football, music and literature, and what it was like drinking in Soho with George Melly. I’d never heard of Melly, but here I was, learning about jazz and the counterculture from a footballer, in a fanzine. Would that happen now? 

When I interviewed Colin Pates – who is not a stupid man, by any means -he still seemed bemused by the fact Nevin would read books on the way to away games rather than play cards. Nevin, though, never seemed to get bullied about his interests. He was clever, but he was also proudly working-class and therefore more acceptable to other footballers and more capable of sticking up for himself than the middle-class Guardian-reading Graeme Le Saux who followed him as Chelsea’s token intellectual.

In the early 1990s, I finally got to see Nevin play at Stamford Bridge. He was wearing an Everton kit, but when he scored the Shed gave him a standing ovation – the only time I have ever seen Chelsea fans applaud an opposition goal. Pat Nevin was a very intelligent footballer and when he was around, fans seemed to use their brains a little bit more as well.

A punch up the bracket: BS Johnson and Anthony Aloysious St John Hancock

In a comment on my previous post about BS Johnson,  BB writes: ‘To issue a threat ending in “up the bracket” is so much of its time it made me laugh out loud. I had a couple of jobs that involved working with men in their late 50s and early 60s, real Londoners,  and they had a particular argot and mode of expression, which was always making me laugh. Enquiring as to whether you wanted a punch up the bracket was a regular occurrence.’

I also love this phrase, and associate it with another of my heroes, Anthony Aloysious St John Hancock, the greatest British comedian of all time. (There’s a great piece about Hancock here, noting the similarities between Hancock and Seinfeld as well as Hancock’s use of ‘punch up the bracket’.)

Hancock and BS Johnson have much in common. Both were aspirational working-class/lower middle-class men defined by the 1950s who spoke in the language of outer-urban post-war London. Both were men of keen wit and sharp intellect who enjoyed – or couldn’t help – skewering their own occasional lapse into pomposity. Both were depressives with a gift for pointed, painful comedy. Both killed themselves. They even looked similar: thick, heavyset men with wounded eyes. And, most importantly, both referenced Chelsea in key texts (Hancock in ‘The Football Pools’ and Johnson in ‘Albert Angelo’).


I once interviewed Tim Lott – or was it Toby Litt? – who suggested that Hancock was London’s answer to the Angry Young Men of 1950s northern working-class fiction, and there’s something this, though I’m not sure Sillitoe or Wain ever came up with anything as dark as Galton and Simpson’s ‘The Poison Pen Letters’, in which Hancock is so consumed by self-loathing he starts sending himself hate mail in his sleep.

But this is something you can imagine BS Johnson writing, another angry, sad, brilliant man who went raging into the tragedy of premature death.

My London Library: No 4 – Street Children

  • Title Street Children by BS Johnson (text) and Julia Trevelyan Oman (photographs) (Hodder & Stoughton, 1964)
  • Cost £120 (yes, £120!)
  • Bought from Maggs Books, Berkeley Square
  • Genre Photographs

I became fascinated by BS Johnson after seeing the under-rated film adaptation of Christy Malry’s Own Double-Entry and then reading Jonathan Coe’s splendid biography, Like A Fiery Elephant.

Johnson was a London novelist and suicidal Chelsea fan who believed all fiction was lies and killed himself in 1973 after producing a number of extraordinary books, such as The Unfortunates (adapted for radio this week), in which all the chapters were individually bound so they could be read in any order, or Albert Angelo, a semi-autobiographical, superbly located, London-set novel in which the narrator declares mid-sentence towards the end ‘OH FUCK ALL THIS LYING’ before launching into an extraordinary stream of consciousness about all the pent-up shit that was swirling around Johson’s head as he was writing it. 

It sounds heavy, but it isn’t. Johnson is funny and smart and his books are short and punchy. Read them all.

In 1964, Johnson was asked to write the captions for a book of photographs of kids at play in the streets of South London. He did so in a typically original way that utterly perplexed the publishers.

Johnson places himself inside the heads of the children and then imagines what they might be thinking, using typographical tricks to get the point across. It’s an extraordinary conceit and one that is typical of Johnson.

  • Best bit It’s all good. The photos of kids playing on carless streets are lovely, and the bizarre captions from Johnson must have given the publisher kittens when he first handed them over. Johnson is an exquisite and brutally honest writer, and the text is strange but very funny.
  • Verdict This was bought for me as a leaving present from Time Out. It is the most expensive book I own, and for both these reasons I treasure it. I also like the fact I found this small card inside that had once been used as a bookmark.

Born is the king of Stamford Bridge…

The story goes like this. In 1955, Chelsea were chasing an unexpected league title when they lost a crucial home game, 6-5 to Manchester United. Manager Ted Drake, devastated at a result that could have cost Chelsea their first trophy never mind championship, took a phone call later that evening from the club’s chief scout. He expected the scout to be equally disappointed about the result, but instead the man on the other end of the phone was elated.

The reason?

That afternoon he had discovered Chelsea’s future, the best player the club would ever produce: Jimmy Greaves.

There was a similar feeling at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday evening, where Chelsea fans emerged from the ground in extraordinarily good spirits despite witnessing a 4-3 defeat to Newcastle United.

The reason?

A 17-year-old called Josh McEachran, who came on when Chelsea were 3-1 down with 30 minutes remaining and went to give a display of such confidence and string-pulling panache that some older fans were saying it was the best debut from a youth player since Osgood’s, while others were comparing him with Cruyff and Xavi.

Well, perhaps. It’s important not to get too carried away. Recent Twitter antihero Leon Knight was described as the ‘new Zola’ in the 1990s and he’s now agitating for a move to Rushden & Diamonds. But when you see a performance of this maturity from a 17-year-old making his home debut for a team that is 3-1 down and playing with ten men, well, you are entitled to dream, aren’t you?

Feel my pain: how football made me a masochist

Since reading this post by Rob Smyth in the Guardian, I’ve been thinking about some really depressing Chelsea matches I’ve witnessed. Because, why not? So here they are wrist-slashing reverse order.

6 First Divison play-off, 1988: Chelsea 1 Middlesbrough 0

The only Chelsea game that has made me cry. We were playing Second Division Middlesbrough for the right to play First Division football in 1988-89 (despite having been second in October) and were 2-0 down from the first leg. Gordon Durie gave us an early lead, but we lost on aggregate and the crowd rioted, as was the fashion at the time. The play-off system was changed shortly afterwards and Chelsea therefore became the only team to ever get relegated from the top flight through the play-offs, an honour we can place alongside being the first team to refuse to play in the European Cup and the first team to be created purely as a commercial means to fill an empty ground. It’s all history, you know.

5 Premier League, 1996: Coventry 1 Chelsea 0

A meaningless game, but typical pre-(and post-) Mourinho Chelsea. The week before we had tortured Middlesbrough 5-0 with a staggering performance of perpetual motion and effortless beauty, inspired by the man-god Ruud Gullit. Thousands of Chelsea fans made the trip to Cov for what we imagined would be a repeat performance from a vibrant, thrilling, all-conquering Chelsea. We flopped. Gullit made one sublime pass to Paul Furlong, who fell over. Same old Chelsea.

4 Champions League semi-final, 2009: Chelsea 1 Barcelona 1

Because it stank but also because we outplayed the best team in Europe with a performance that for many reasons will never be fully appreciated for its brilliance and intelligence. Only placed this low to reflect the contempt with which one should regard the rich man’s roulette that is the vile, venal, corrupt and corrupting Champions League.

3 Premier league, 1997: Chelsea 2 Arsenal 3

No, not the Kanu game. By then I was used to seeing Chelsea capsize against Arsenal, and in many ways it was an honour to witness such an extraordinary individual performance. Four times I’ve seen Chelsea take a 2-0 lead against Arsenal but not win the game; four times I’ve seen their full-backs belt last-minute howitzers past our hapless keepers. These memories of dominance and submission can never be erased. This game was a cracker and we looked like we were hanging on for a deserved point when Nigel Winterburn let rip in the 89th minute and scored the best goal of his life. It hurt. I mean, at least Kanu was a great player.

2 League Cup semi-final 2002: Spurs 5 Chelsea 1

It was once said that the only predictable thing about Chelsea was their unpredictability; later this was changed to the only predictable thing about Chelsea is that they will beat Spurs. Before this game, we hadn’t lost to Tottenham since 1990 when Lineker scored a last-minute winner at the Bridge. Since then we’d beaten them by every score from 6-1 to 1-0, and before this semi-final second leg were 2-1 up from the first leg. At White Hart Lane, we were smashed, humiliated, gutted, hung out to dry. The only redeeming features were that Spurs still managed to lose the final and later that season we went on to beat them 4-0, twice, in the same week that I, erm, got together with the delightful Ms GreatWen. Karma.

1 FA Cup quarter-final: Sunderland 2 Chelsea 1

This is the game that festers in the darkest place of my soul. It is the one moment when I considered renouncing my club and football in the conviction that I had been duped into backing a complete stinker, a club that would never come close to winning a trophy in my lifetime. This game is the reason that even now when I consider a potential cup draw, I always wish for the game that will hurt least to lose, rather than the one that will be most enjoyable to win. As a Chelsea fan, I live in constant fear because of games like this.

This was one of those seasons when all the good teams except a so-so Liverpool had been knocked out the cup. Chelsea were drawn against Second Division Sunderland and, stupidly, we felt we had a good chance of getting to the final, or at least the semis, for the first time since 1970.

In the first leg in London, we took the lead but tension mounted. At Chelsea in those days the crowd’s terror was so intense that they would actually turn off the scoreboard with ten minutes to go so nobody knew when the final whistle was coming. Imagine that!

On this occasion, it didn’t matter whether the scoreboard was on or off; everybody was terrified. Sunderland won a free kick, the Shed shat themselves, so did the players, the ball was knocked long, bounced around a bit and John Byrne scored. Replay.

But we could still do it. We went up to Sunderland and battered them, hit the bar, hit the post, their keeper stopped everything and they scored. Despair! Worse was to come. Dennis Wise equalised with five minutes to go. Hope! Then Sunderland won a last-minute corner in front of a delirious away end and a forgettable centre-back in red-and-white stripes hammered home an unstoppable header from about 300 yards out.

Watch this video and you can just hear in the background, somewhere in Sutton in fact, a small boy’s heart breaking in two.

That was it.  The best chance Chelsea had of reaching a semi in my lifetime, and they’d blown it. Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United fans won’t get it, but every other football fan in the country knows what I mean when I say that in this exact moment, I was convinced I would never see Chelsea win a sausage. Not een half a sausage. Not the discarded package that the sausages came in.

And the memory of this match has never left me. It made the demon-blitzing FA Cup win in 1997 so exhilarating, but it’s still there, trapped in my heart, my throat, my guts, waiting to get me every time I’m considering taking any kind of success for granted.

And I think it’s the reason why Chelsea will never be a big club, at least not as long as my generation, who witnessed this sort of hope-decimating match with mundane regularity, goes to games.

We know how easy it is to fail, what disappointment really tastes like, how fruitless hope is, and we are terrified that we are just a couple of poor signings away from a return to the days of  Andy Myers, Ian Porterfield and Gareth Hall. You can smell it in the crowd at the Bridge when Chelsea go 1-0 down against a crap team, or are leading 1-0 with minutes to go, or are taking part in a penalty shoot-out. Big clubs don’t have this fear, it’s not in their genes, but it’s very much a part of my Chelsea and I wouldn’t change it for the world.