You should be reading this after watching the short video of the clash between Chelsea (the Headhunters) and Cardiff (the Soul Crew) hooligans on the Kings Road, London in 2010. This article seeks to identify what actually happens when two football mobs actually meet. However, this is not an academic paper, it is a recollection based analysis from someone who did this shit, me.
Loved it, lived for it and got as high as a kite from getting stuck into the fighting. Saturday afternoon and the occasional Tuesday night were the highlights of my week during the football season. The three types of participants I identify from the video are useful, in my opinion as a model, nothing more, they allow us to break down the mob into workable types. These are the shitters, nearly men and inwegos (as in we go).
This was the career path I followed. I remember as a boy my grandad took me to watch Sheffield Wednesday every so often ( now known as child abuse), we sat in the South Stand near to the Spion Kop, and Kop as we called it, named after the tragic defence of said hilltop by the British Army in the Boer War. Needless to say this was home turf, to be defended, with no segregation gangs from opposing clubs would get onto the Kop and claim it, if the away fans got control it was called taking it, it was purely tribal behaviours, invading the others territory coming and letting everyone know, this is the group monkey dance par excellence involving hundreds and often thousands of participants on each side. It can be achieved by a walk on that is uncontested, infiltration and attacking from within or just full frontal attack, do not underestimate the ferocity sometimes involved in this kind of action. As a boy I saw the crowd surges and the fists and boots fly and was hypnotised.
It was scary, bodies flew everywhere, people got crushed against barriers, chasms opened up between fighting groups and closed again as more fists flew, it was more exciting than the football for sure, especially to an impressionable nine year old. Therein lies the hook that drew many a boy towards the action.
So fast forward a three years and I began going to watch Sheffield United with my friends, just a group of 12 year old unsupervised boys, what could go wrong, kids off to the football on their own, it took a lot of persuasion to get me there but on that first visit, with a 35,000+ attendance, United secured promotion, cue pitch invasions, celebrations and I became a Blade.
So the next season wearing our scarves it was every home match playing all the big teams in English Football and the big teams brought big mobs sometimes 10,000 plus and there were big clashes in and around the ground especially on the Kop as visiting fans tried to take it, from the opposite end of the ground, yes we had had to cut a deal with our parents and curiously they deemed us being on the visitors and safer, we watched the fighting from the far end of the pitch.
Well before this becomes a biography let me tell you a year or so in and we started to go on the Kop,we were drawn there but near the front, not the back where the hard stuff happened and the big boys and men rolled in from the pub to compete for the sacred territory. But, we gradually found reasons to get nearer, we learned all the songs and chants designed to intimidate/emasculate the enemy complete with all the exciting swear words, (my first arrest of many to come was at 15 years old for threatening behaviour, I received a Police Caution), we learned to let the monkey loose, we hated them, they hated us, this was fucking war. The fact that they were exactly the same as us but from 20 or whatever miles up the road was lost on us, we had our colours, they had theirs, we had territory to hold they wanted to take, pride was at stake, honour even.
So we eventually began to tag along with the main Kop crowd as it left the ground at the end and participated in the clashes with opposing mob. Running them, them running us, avoiding the police, throwing the odd missile from the back, we were too small and scared to be in the action but we were watching, learning, feeling what it was like, what it would be like. Of course we would be the first to run if the other mob broke through our front, that is why I now name this group the shitters. They want to wear the clothes, talk the talk, walk the walk, damage property, swell the ranks but they are low level participants of little use when the fighting started. In fact they often get in the way.
You may think I am othering the shitters but I am not, they all have their roles to play when big groups clash but they are of no use to a small determined firm. They are like the peasants bulking up the Anglo Saxon Fyrd defending their Shire, bulking up the mob is nothing new. We can use the three types to describe a career path in football hooliganism, most start as shitters, I did, of course they do not see themselves as shitters but as aspiring hooligans.
Shitting it is a phrase we used of those afraid to do something, especially fighting. It is a derogatory term but shitters had their uses. This was what I call the great wave phase of English football hooliganism, The big mob ruled, this was not about tight, well organised firms of committed individuals, but hordes. The bigger the visiting horde that descended the more likely the trouble. All the psychological and sociological analysis I have read largely missed the mark, this was young men let loose on a Saturday, uniting in numbers and as such gaining the power to do what they liked and if what they wanted to do was to rampage down the high street of another town chanting and fighting any opposition they would do it, we did it, I did it, it was incredibly exhilarating especially when we add in alcohol. Raw power in the hands of those who do not know how to handle it.
To be fair we could be talking Anglo Saxon clashes with the Vikings here the analogy is so clear and whilst victory at the shieldwall needed vicious brave warriors, often pissed out of their heads, to wield the axes and swords at the front, they also needed the weight of as many others at their backs to stop the shieldwall collapsing and to push back the enemy shieldwall.
I am not romanticising football thuggery, only drawing a parallel that our so called modern brains function to long ago programmed behavioural patterns, much of what we know of conflict communications is played out before our eyes in the Chelsea Cardiff clip. It is better to be a shitter in the mob than to not be in the mob, by becoming a shitter you may one day become an inwego, after you learn the trade. So we began our climb to becoming nearly men, we got closer and closer to the action, we learned to monkey dance better and better, for us it was about putting on the big display, becoming the big I am and as you get closer and closer the more you learned. The socialisation of us as football hooligans progressed and we were more than willing participants.
We learned the monkey dance and that was our role, to make the group monkey dance as big as possible, the shitters participation rarely extends beyond threat display unless their mob massively outnumbers the opposition. Looking hard, big and making lots of noise, gesturing to the enemy and throwing things is their main preoccupation.
From there the next step is when they start to actually start to move towards the action instead of shitting it at the back. Getting nearer the action is riskier, they are getting closer to getting involved in the actual contact, that is why I call these people the nearly men. It is like a moth fluttering around a flame, drawn towards the danger but just managing to keep out of it. By now you may want to go watch the video again as you will see what I mean. Picking out the shitters and the nearly men is not hard.
I have no ratios but we can picture it as a pyramid with a few hundred shitters, a few dozen nearly men and a small hardcore inwegos. As I said this is a model, it does not intend to deal with specifics or scale, I am trying to paint a picture for you, from there we can look at different aspects of hooligan behaviour later.
Now for the nearly men, for the inwegos to have around them what look like inwegoss helps them intimidate those they are facing up to, dopplegangers have there uses. These are not the peasants in their sackcloth holding a scythe, but something resembling an armoured fighter, possibly holding a blunt sword but hard to tell until engaged in the fight. These guys will be wearing the right clothes, they have the monkey dance off to a tee and look the real deal, they nearly are. The nearly men will fight if pushed, usually if they get caught but it will be fighting on the retreat, to create an escape when the lizard brain takes over, but they may equally run, the pace of their transition from shitter to inwego and the situation will combine to trigger whatever response.
I remember one occasion when we overran the police protecting several hundred away fans and they backed rapidly into a garage forecourt with no exits, as the roar went up from us they simply huddled in a mass and tried to cover up, no fighters, all front, shitters and nearly men, we simply steamed in and battered them until the police regrouped and forced us off using horses, dogs and truncheons. Happy days!
The nearly men are/were mostly late teen early adults but this is a broad generalisation, I was drifting in and out of the actual fighting from age 15 (remember I also got my first police caution at this age too and it made me a celebrity at school), a nearly man or nearly boy even. There is no fixed age but there is a right of passage as you move from each stage, some get here and never move on so the nearly man can be a lifelong thing. In the clip we can see middle aged nearly men, possibly ex inwegos who have come back from retirement for the big occasion doing their duty to club and firm, dancing in and around the action. The thing is for me and my friends it was a stepping stone to becoming inwegos.
In the Chelsea Cardiff encounter you see a lot of people getting very close to those exchanging punches without actually getting contact themselves, this involves a lot of situational awareness in a chaotic situation, the nearly men fill the gap between the shitters and the inwegos. Allowing the shitters to stay close enough to be a threat but still with enough space to run if the opposition breaks through. Shitters are in full on monkey brain, if the situation goes against those in front then their lizard brain will kick in and they will run, they will, shit it, shed their tail and run like hell until a safe distance then turn around and monkey dance again to prevent them being humiliated.
So we turn to the inwegos, there is plenty of monkey behaviour there too, remember the learned/innate behaviour practised for years before. In my first draft I called them fighters but felt uneasy with that term right from the start, this is not fighting as I understand it, not full on toe to toe stuff anyway, what we see in the video are swift attacks, often from out of view, from behind and the side, taking advantage of the chaos, taking advantage of being able to hit and move to avoid being hit themselves. These guys see an opportunity and ‘in we go’, but just as quickly it’s ‘out we come’.
Now it takes some pluck to go in and have a go, it’s as exciting as hell and it sure means that these guys milk the self esteem they create by moving to the front and engaging, by becoming an inwego you show that you are a risk taker prepared to trade blows for the group, the reputations won here are priceless to the participants and stay with you for years. I remember my dad telling me that a friend of his, his own age, having witnessed an evenly matched brawl between 40 or so Sheffield Wednesday fans and ourselves, that if my dad had seen me in action he would have been proud of me. This was despite me being a 34 year old college lecturer at the time, one of the old boys coming out of retirement to meet the old enemy.
The inwegos are out front, their monkey dance is subtly different to the nearly men, the latter need to be seen to look hard and up for it, the former are and try to mask this, an effective monkey dance will drive back an opponent, for the nearly man this is desirable for the inwego it is not, distance equals comfort for the nearly men but denies the opportunity to raid for the inwego.
Violence here is intimate, it is up close and guess what, the inwegos on the other side hit back too, going in has risks and rewards, if you fear humiliation you will not go in and the monkey fears this more than anything, that is the shitters for definite and the nearly men for sure, for the inwegos it is a gamble, a managed risk in an unpredictable environment. Status in these groups depends on performance in the clash, in the fight, I was a sucker for this, I craved status and I earned it, crashing in first. As my career developed I liked infiltrating their mob as it went away from the ground and attacking from within them, this caused untold mayhem as it was unexpected, one minute you are chanting their team’s name then the next you are punching anything that moves in a target rich environment, we had a whole box of tactics and trick but they are for another article. The thing to remember is that the inwegos have mastered the monkey dancing and the singing, the threatening and the gesturing, like any addict that is no longer enough, a harder drug is required.
That is being in the fight, we were a very tight group as we got older having shed all the extras we simply gathered the fighters, honed down the numbers and went straight to the business, but football violence changes and stays the same, it’s a conundrum that baffles the academics. For the inwego it is not just getting stuck in, although that is the best part, it is being seen to get stuck in, this is what grows a reputation and that needs to be created and recreated over time.
Some inwegos come and go, some are a flash in the pan, sometimes for big clashes like this one all the old boys come back for a pop, tribal loyalties are strong. In this group are a rarer breed the fighters, the ones who can suppress the monkey emotions and function in chaos, it could be that they function in that rare human lizard sphere Rory mentions in ConCom, I can only guess, I remember intense fights with good numbers of committed fighters on both sides in slow motion detail. Mostly I remember the latter days when the big clash was seen as a waste of time, we stripped down the numbers, ditched those who wanted to dance, this was by invite only, this was for those who wanted to fight. There was no time for display, that attracted the wrong kind of attention, police attention. This was hunting, seeking out the enemy and steaming in.
The thing is my past clouds my interpretation, I make no secret of that, and I said at the beginning this was not an academic paper but a recollection based analysis of one event. My past colours how I see this clash, I have been in many such as this, I thrived on being in there exchanging the punches and kicks, it is what I did for fun. But trying to see what is happening using the lizard, monkey, human brain model as a lens helps us to break down the ritualised behaviours nicely in my opinion. This whole scene of carnage to the comfortable middle class in England, who saw us as the devil’s instruments, or viewed with total miscomprehension from behind the picket fences of middle America, was well established around the world by the time of this clash.
The English disease has spread abroad and to other sports because people imitate, the contagion has spread. More than this it is because the behaviours we see in this clip are underpinned by the very evolution of the human brain, its architecture and the environments and socio-economic conditions it has evolved through. Violence is the oldest form of communication, the primal manifestations we see in the clash Between Chelsea and Cardiff allow us to play the anthropologist and to see the monkeys dance played out in all its glory by the group as a whole and by different subgroups within it.
One last thing. For now I have focused on the individual types in the whole as I see them, so go back and watch it again, see how clearly you can pick them out, share it with your peers, your students and also look for one more thing, the effectiveness of the group monkey dance, because none of these individuals is truly that in this encounter, they become a part of the whole, absorbed into the whole emotional monkey atmosphere because once the monkey appears he infects all those around until they are all infecting one another, then it’s time to do business and thresholds get crossed.
The vast majority of those in this example are amateurs, shitters, nearly men and inwegos. Next month I will introduce you to the businessmen, a different deal altogether.