Subcultures have been a British staple since the 50s, encompassing style, attitude, politics, and music. Usually created by the younger generations who want to indulge in something new and different from normal society.
Football is very much part of this, being a working-class sport it follows working-class trends and has seen its fair share of subcultures pass through the terraces. The teds in the 50s, mods and rockers in the 60s, whilst the 70s saw the punks and the skinheads. Almost overnight, the skinheads were replaced by a new and more unusual subculture; the 80s casuals.
The casuals were a different breed. Subcultures in Britain usually grew out of London and spanned a range of backgrounds and interests. However, the only thing it had in common with previous subcultures, was that it remained a product of the working class.
Instead of political and musical interests shaping this culture, it was born out of a love for football and sportswear along with designer labels and Italian fashions. Essentially it was created by the fans, for the fans.
Although tarred with hooliganism, the casuals were much more than that. Hooliganism in one form or another has existed as long as football has been around. Whilst it peaked in the 70s and 80s, the media were responsible for sensationalising it to make it sound worse than it was.
Fighting had been commonplace in previous subcultures. The mods and rockers had some well-documented fights and the skinheads were known for rioting and unfavourable behaviour too. Whilst hooliganism was a part of the casual culture it was equally about the fashions and creating an identity for themselves. Until this point, football fans were usually identified by club colours, in the form of scarfs and shirts, but the casuals sought a different way to make themselves known.
The culture emerged in Liverpool and the first set of causals was seen in August 77. A group of Liverpool fans were spotted wearing tracksuits and trainers with no club colours in-sight. This new style is thought to have been inspired by their recent trip abroad, with Liverpool having tasted European Cup glory only a few months previously.
The casual look, in a nutshell, consisted of, sportswear, Italian designer brands, tracksuits, jumpers, straight leg jeans and trainers. Inspiration was also found in other sports; the Grand Prix, Golf, Skiing, and Tennis were watched closely, with a variety of looks and brands associated with these sports being worn on the terraces. Previously unheard of brands such as Tacchini, Fila, Ellesse, Diadora, and Kappa to name a few, became well-known staples as a result.
By the early 80s, the causals had spread far and wide, every team up and down the country had a set. In Liverpool, tracksuits and sportswear brands especially Adidas were popular. They favoured a hair cut known as the ‘wedgie’, an asymmetric style which was slightly longer on one side.
As the culture spread, regional differences became known. The south, especially London clubs were known for their love of designer brands such as Aquascutum, Burberry and Armani and a more cropped style of hair cut. The Midlands tended to take the best of both, mixing between sports brands and designer brands. Jeans paired with trainers were seen practically everywhere. This was another look introduced by the casuals, previously trainers were only worn to workout and exercise in.
Pringle jumpers were another popular item of clothing amongst Casuals. The diamond pattern, in particular, is said to have been favoured more by Portsmouth fans. Bright colours were a staple for most casuals but it was also common to see pinks, lilacs, and yellows all being thrown into the mix too.
Swapping, selling and trading with each other, as well as relieving rival casuals of desirable and rare items, was commonplace. Some causals were so on top of the fashions they would only wear a look once.
The terraces became somewhat of a catwalk. At its height styles changed weekly, and eagle-eyed casuals looking for the latest clothes and footwear styles would also be checking out what rival causals were wearing. Not only were they looking for inspiration they were also comparing themselves to each other to see who had the best styles.
The desire was not only to out-do other sets of casuals but also each other. This creates the one-upmanship effect, which is essentially what football is all about. Everybody likes to think they have the best team, fans, players etc, and this was also at the core of the causals, each set thinking themselves better than the others.
The culture acted as a style guide, which came at a time when there was a lack of men’s fashion magazines, instead, they wore what they deemed the latest trends and inspiring the next ones and what was cool one week wasn’t the next.
The love for European brands became easy to obtain. Overseas travel had become more affordable and the allure of travelling to far-flung places, to not only support their team but pair it with shopping trips, proved the perfect opportunity to pick up the latest styles and unusual brands. Mainland Europe often stocked different designs to the UK market and competition to wear something that wasn’t available in this country was strong.
The casual name itself raises controversy, in the north this culture was known by its regional names and depending on where you came from it could range from scallies, trendies and dressers, to ‘The boys’ or ‘The firm’. In Manchester perries or perry boys was a popular name due to their love of the Fred Perry brand, whilst some places didn’t even have a name for it at all.
The only stake London can claim is in naming rights. Writer Kev Sampson pitched an article to ‘The Face’ a London based music, fashion and culture magazine. The article was initially declined, on the bases that nothing was known about the casuals.
A year later in 83’ the article was published, name dropping popular brands and referencing the subculture as the ‘The casuals’. The publishing of this article meant It had gone mainstream, but the name doesn’t always go down well. A culture that started in the north, yet got its name from the south, its rivalry at its finest.
In terms of hooliganism, the casuals had initially taken the police by surprise. They were still on the lookout for troublesome fans dressed in their skinhead clothing, not realising a new style of fashion was sweeping the terraces.
Fans wearing certain brands and dressing similar acted as a signal to each other that they were part of this new culture. In the early days the police were oblivious to it, chaos ensured, and hooliganism was rife. Although it didn’t take long to realise that fans dressing in this new style were now the ones to watch, especially as the skinheads were becoming less seen. It wasn’t so much the skinheads on the terraces were disappearing, but in order to stay relevant most had turned to causal culture.
Toward the end of the ’80s, several events led to a decline in football attendances. First, there was the Bradford stadium fire, and the same day saw a Leeds fan tragically killed when crowd trouble caused a wall to collapse on top of him at the Birmingham game. Shortly followed was the Heysel Stadium disaster which led to a 5-year banning order in European Cup competitions and a few years later there was the tragic Hillsborough disaster.
This all led to new health and safety procedures being introduced and eventually terraces were replaced with all-seater stadiums. Sophisticated technology such as CCTV and police vans mounted with cameras were also being used to combat hooliganism. These incidents and changes all left fans feeling deflated and the fun of the causals had started to subside.
The decline of the 80s casual coincides with the general rise and fall seen within all subcultures. Once it peaks and goes mainstream, the hunt is on for the next one. In this instance, it was rave culture, which first started around 85’ but gained traction towards the end of the decade. Fans fed up with the state of football and the policing of games were seeking a new excitement. Many casuals found that in the rave scene, and those former rivalries on the terraces now saw the same groups of people mixing and partying the weekend away.
The unusual thing about the Casual subculture is that it has never gone away completely. It did have a lull in the late 80s and early 90s but it is still prevalent today and sports brand and labels are as desirable as ever.
Since the 90s, Italian brands Stone Island along with C.P Company have become casual staples. Stone Island uses cutting edge fabric technology and is best identified by its compass logo. It also happens to be a diffusion line of the C.P Company brand which usually stands out by the goggles it incorporates into jacket hoods and beanie hats.
It appears much of the cutting edge fabric technology utilised by both brands, is largely forgotten about, due to the brands being seen more as status symbols. The idea being if you are wearing one of these labels you project a hooligan type image. The flip side is fans wanting to wear the Stone Island brand but not have the hooligan association can unbutton and remove the badge avoiding negative attention.
Adidas is a brand that is still as popular now as it was during the 80s. Today fans across all generations wear the brand and it is not limited to just the casuals. Fashionable trainer styles in the 80s such as the Gazelles, Sambas and Stan Smiths have been revived in recent years, and are still sought after. The pairing of jeans with trainers is ever-present too, what was once started on the terraces it is now seen everywhere from the football ground to the high street.
Although Casual culture is closely associated with hooliganism, it does stand as a British subculture in its own right. It is unique in that it is entirely a product of football fans, enabling fans to create a sole identity for themselves, but at the same time, it still follows traditional norms of other subcultures, which ensures its place in subculture history. Its legacy remains, not only it is still seen amongst football fans, but has had a lasting effect on general fashion trends too.