BY PAT ROWHAN
So the plastic chair throwing brigade has been at it again. The French authorities red alert on hiding garden furniture from England fans had obviously been in vain. We know that it’s a minority and it hasn’t been exclusively an English problem either with French, Russians, Poles and the Northern Irish all being involved too. Besides from the footage of the fighting I noticed one stand out correlation between the hooligans – they were mostly men in their forties, and this reminded me of an old hooligan I had the pleasure of meeting once.
Hooliganism isn’t a problem endemic with football, it’s just a platform for it. If our most popular sport was tiddlywinks we’d still have groups of young men meeting outside venues to kick the shit out of each other in the name of tiddlywink team loyalty.
In my case that platform was the FA Cup semi-final at Old Trafford in 2003. My team Arsenal had just beaten Sheffield United in a tight fought and boring one-nil.
The ruck had started as we left the ground; we were stuck in traffic and a couple of young Blades fans around a similar age to ourselves (late teens/early twenties) were goading us as we crawled along. They were drunk and bitter and would’ve walked on by eventually if we’d have ignored them but this was just the kind of excuse my sociopathic pal was waiting for and in an instant we were outside the car in the middle of the road ‘avin a raah’. Embracing the magic of the cup we fought on the tarmac, looking like those cartoon fights where it’s just a ball of limbs and dust; you could’ve just made out our brash Hackett logos.
It was by no means a pugilistic spectacle. Certainly no Pacquiao vs. Marquez. We danced around each other a lot and had both thrown a punch. His brushed over the top of my head as I ducked and mine caught him slightly on the ear as he weaved (that’ll teach him).
At this point I felt a foot in my lower back, the sharp pain receded due to my adrenalin but as I turned to face this new threat that adrenalin was quickly replaced by shock and then fear.
What’s this old geezer doing I thought, he‘s old enough to be my Dad and my Dad was at home passively sat in his armchair with his feet up watching a western.
It was the look in my new foe’s eyes that worried me the most, that glazed-over-kind-of-crazy only a wild animal should be capable of. But this animal was a forty-something Sheffield United fan standing in front of me, mirroring my body language arms raised and fists clenched ready to fight. He was seething, shaking with anger with his teeth on show like a badly trained Staffy hanging off the swings in the park.
As I faced this old bloke his glare became fixed in my memory, it had a profound effect on me that day, it made me realise how ridiculous the situation was. When you strip back the booze, anger and bravado from fighting at the football, what you are left with is simply you punching another man in the face (or ear) because they follow a different team, who play in a different kit and come from a different place and this obviously has nothing to do with football.
So as this old hooligan approached me preparing for attack, I thought it was a good time to disperse. I felt that his slavering demeanour could signal trouble if he got the better of me so my flight response kicked in and I ran back to the car.
And that’s the thing, even though the younger hooligans had called us flash Cockney cunts and we called them pikey Northern cunts, the truth was we probably weren’t that dissimilar. We were all poor, probably all grew up in crowded homes in shithole areas and all worshipped our local football teams. And those similarities are probably a big part of why we fought, young working class men with seemingly little opportunities frustrated and angry fighting for something we believed in. Even if that something was eleven millionaires in shorts and t-shirts running around a field.
But why was a man in his forties acting like a fucking kid I thought, surely he should know better at his age.
Well the old hooligan’s eyes gave away a deeper truth that day, the truth that he had nothing in his brain, I think scientists refer to it as ‘Thickshit-it is’. The condition is definitely contagious and can lead to the sufferer ending up middle aged, running behind a teenager and big leg dropping them in the back, like a demented, overweight, pasty Hulk Hogan.
Now, I’m not excusing my behaviour that day, I was a young chav fighting at the football living the cliché, but luckily I had enough mental capacity to reflect. I regret punching a Sheffield United fan in the ear and insulting people I didn’t even know. If I ever see anyone fighting at the football in the future I just hope they’re young enough with just enough intelligence to reflect and grow the fuck up.
I learnt that day that I won’t be fighting another man over football ever again let alone in my forties because well, it’s just fucking stupid.
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