Football Hooligans


When 35 year-old Crystal Palace fan Paul Nixon was killed on his way to an FA Cup semi-final with Manchester United after a pitched battle involving coach-loads of opposing fans erupted outside a pub six miles from the ground, John Stalker, the former Deputy Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, speculated that the fight could have been pre-arranged.

Although it transpired that the fighting was probably the result of a spontaneous, drunken, flare-up over United’s wayward French forward Eric Cantona, the prospect that the confrontation had been organised in advance would have shocked those members of the public who thought ‘football hooliganism’ referred to groups of right-wing extremists and mindless young yobbos following England abroad. Organised domestic football violence, so prevalent in the ’70s and early ’80s, was meant to be a thing of the past.

Since the late 1980s and the advent of all-seater stadia, close-circuit surveillance cameras and improved crowd control by the clubs, violence between rival gangs inside football grounds has certainly become unusual. Every Saturday though, up and down the country, the two camps – the hooligans and the police – are busy planning in what has become a battle of wits, a game of cat-and-mouse.

A new British film about football hooliganism, ‘i-d’, is released on Friday. Echoing a number of investigations in the late ’80s, the film follows the fate of an undercover cop who infiltrates a ‘firm’ of hooligans and finds himself becoming caught up by the gang’s
camaraderie and the thrill of the fighting.

With the European Championships in England only one year away, the film serves a timely reminder that although the rules of engagement may have changed, the problem of domestic football violence has not gone away. In fact, whether the authorities will ever eliminate the problem entirely remains decidedly doubtful. First of all, they have to fully understand it.


GIVEN THAT the authorities continually warn the media against over-publicising the exploits of football hooligans, or adding to the notoriety of individual gangs,

It’s disconcerting to find the walls of the National Football Intelligence Unit covered with tabloid front-pages reporting outbreaks of violence in Rotterdam, Oslo and, most recently, Dublin. The effect is that of a blown-up version of a football hooligan’s scrapbook.
Amidst the knives, chains and bottles of mace on display in a weapons cabinet in the corner, a flick cosh and even a stun gun stand out like prized possessions. Pride of place though goes to a large collection of ‘calling cards’, a selection from many of the 93 clubs up and down the country.

These cards (printed up by firms of football hooligans allegedly to leave behind scattered over their victims or at the scene of their attacks) were first made famous in the ’70s by West Ham’s notorious Inter-City Firm (or ICF), whose cards would bear the legend: “Congratulations, you have just been humiliated by the West Ham ICF.” These days, many of the cards cut a more ridiculous impression, advertising the less intimidating might of gangs like the Watford Raiders and Hull City Silver Cod Squad.

Others from places like Wigan and Burnley (ludicrously) proclaim their opposition to the IRA and the Pope, whilst an alarming degree of prominence is given to Combat 18, the group recently branded by ‘World in Action’ as “a right-wing terror organisation forging links between fascism and football”, and in particular ‘the Chelsea Headhunters.”

The head of the Football Intelligence Unit, D.I.Peter Chapman, appeared on the show confirming the Ireland-England disturbances had been a consequence of “a hardcore of 50 or more who wanted to use the game to make a political point” but the rest of their evidence looked decidedly tenuous.
Set up after disturbances by England supporters at the European Championships in 1988, the Unit is the heart of an intelligence-gathering network of part-time and full time football intelligence officers appointed to England’s 93 clubs by their local forces.
On match-days, other local officers act as “spotters”, identifying trouble-makers before, during and after the game, and monitoring their activities, reporting back on who they associate with, where they drink and what they get up to.
After every game, the Unit receives a spotters’ report and a post-match summary from officers attached to both clubs.
The intelligence is then passed on to commanders in charge of forthcoming matches – “to help them evolve their strategy to counter criminality,” explains Chapman.
“Know your enemy” is one of the keys to planning any strategy, or playing any game, and at times men like Chapman, a shrewd, idealistic Yorkshireman, who lives and breathes football and football hooligans, talks the problems of his work with a passion you could almost mistake for enthusiasm.

One of their biggest problems is that it is no longer possible to stereotype an ‘average’ football hooligan. The list of jobs held by offenders on the Unit’s National database ranges from unemployed labourers to solicitors and stockbrokers.
“They are dedicated to the same objectives but nowadays they work in much smaller, more tightly-knit groups,” Chapman explains with an element of respect for his opponents.

“The real hardcore get their kicks by organising the confrontations and watching them take place. That is their adrenalin buzz. They won’t take part, or very, very rarely.”

The modern-day hooligan, he says, will use the anonymity of travelling in a large group of supporters “an ideal vehicle to commit a wide spectrum of crime” – such as burglary and armed robbery. The ring-leaders will use a “close network of contacts” for criminal activity such as the distribution of drugs, stolen credit cards and counterfeit currency.

The name of the game though for most hooligans is fighting – organised battles between gangs, who can be “fanatically partisan”, where the rules of engagement are mutually understood and observed.
“They have no interest in you or I,” Chapman declares bluntly.

All-seater stadia and close-circuit cameras have driven the violence out of the grounds and into the train stations, motorway service stations, pubs and city centres.
“If it does go off in a ground,” explains PC Derek Lister, a football intelligence officer at the Met, “it’s probably normal supporters in a spontaneous flare-up. The hardcore have to organise something special cos they’ll know we’re watching them.”

“If they’re playing a team like, say, Coventry,” explains Inspector Barry Norman who is in charge of the force’s Public Order Intelligence Unit, “they won’t expect anything to happen.”

“But they’ll still go,” emphasises one of the spotters, “because although everyone says they’re not supporters, most of them go to every game.”

If the name of the game for football hooligans is to organise violence, for the police and the Football Intelligence Unit, the objective of the game is simple: to prevent them.
Each match represents another challenge to foil and frustrate the hooligans’ plans. Arresting, prosecuting and convicting the perpetrators is not a priority. In fact, last season (93/94), out of 4200 arrests, almost one third were for drink-related offences. Only 299 were for affray, assault or violent disorder.
More serious charges, such as conspiracy or intent, are now prohibitively difficult to prove unless offenders are identified by independent witnesses or clearly caught on video.
This has been the case since the collapse in 1988 of three cases based on the evidence of undercover officers who had infiltrated firms at Chelsea, Millwall, and most famously, the West Ham ICF, after the officers’ evidence was found to have been fabricated.
Intelligence from covert operations is now more likely to be used to frustrate offenders rather than remove them, although at the start of last season, officers at the Met secured the conviction of seven Spurs fans after a fight at ‘The Three Kings’ between Chelsea and Spurs.

Most of the incidents are prevented.
“But if an incident doesn’t happen – because we turn up in advance,” Peter Chapman wonders philosophically, “does that mean the information was good ?” – which is the football equivalent of “if a tree falls in the woods and there’s no-one there, does it makes a noise.”

Intelligence these days is gathered through spotters whose preparations for a potentially troublesome away game will include quizzing local coach companies, watching the ticket queues to see who’s buying tickets in bulk, and gleaning gossip from “decent football supporters, pub landlords and stewards who might have heard a whisper.”
Inspector Norman admits that if the good guys know who the spotters are though, so too do the bad guys. But their policy these days, in contrast to the undercover investigations of the 80s, is “to be very up-front about things. You go up to them, and let them know you’re there.”

This, he explains, with almost avuncular geniality, is the way the game is played.
“The way the spotters earn the respect of these hooligans is by being fair with them. They’ll say: ‘I know who you are, and if you perform today, we’re gonna nick you. If you don’t misbehave, then we won’t give you any grief’. In fact, if we turn up somewhere, for alot of them that’s a result because alot of them don’t really want to get involved in a punch-up anyway.”

With Chapman and his colleagues regarding the legislation at their command as “probably sufficient”, the police have reached a kind of stalemate in their attempt to combat their opponents.
Just as, for most foreign police forces, the priority is simply to get visiting English football hooligans back to England (without charge), local forces in England will not devote valuable resources to arresting or convicting offenders who do not come from their patch and will not be in circulation again, thus leaving the field of play open.
The courts can grant an exclusion order against anyone convicted of offences covered by the Public Order or Football Offences Acts and many officers regard this as victory enough.
“If chummy has an exclusion order against him at home games,” one of the Met’s Inspectors told me, “he’ll then go to the away games, hoping to get in there instead – only to be foiled by the spotters.”
But exclusion orders do not prevent fans from travelling to a game, only from seeing it, leaving offenders free to drift round the city centre with more time to drink and prepare for trouble.
The authorities under-estimate their opponents at their peril. Within days of an inspector at the Met telling me: “it’s very difficult to cause trouble if you’re sitting down at a football match”, fans at both the Ireland-England and Zaragoza-Chelsea games were using the seats they had been sitting on as ammunition to throw at rival fans and the police.

The National Football Intelligence Unit regarded the Chelsea-Millwall FA Cup clash as merely presenting “a problem in planning and reducing the opportunities for disorder” but only a line of police horses prevented the match ending in a full-scale pitch invasion despite the all-seater stadium and surveillance cameras.

Three hours after the game, on neutral territory (Whitechapel High Street in Mile End) as many as 300-400 fans engaged in a pitched battle, running through the traffic, bottles and bricks flying.
“They out-maneouvered us”, an officer in attendance admitted. “We weren’t geared up quickly enough.”
Despite incidents like this, D.I. Chapman and his colleagues remain positive and keen to stress the success of new initiatives like the Football Hooligan Hotline for “decent supporters” to leave information. Next year’s European Championship, they say, presents no problem – as long as the information and intelligence are good.
“Five years ago the idea of us hosting a major international tournament would have been unthinkable,” Chapman smiles confidently. “Nowadays countries like Germany, Holland and Italy are all looking to us for advice.”

Sometimes, he says, he sits and home watching Channel 4’s coverage of Italian football, and sees the barricades and the fences, the riot police and the tear gas, and thinks, “we have nothing like the problems they have.”

Mind you, he can understand the need for it, probably better than anyone.
“Passions run high in this game. As a Sheffield Wednesday supporter, if we’d had an armed police service, I would have happily shot Ian Wright at Wembley when he kept scoring against us in the two cup finals. But you’ve got to remember, it’s only a game isn’t it ?”

AFTER TWO-AND-A-HALF YEARS as an undercover cop living and breathing the life of a football hooligan, Mick (not his real name) was “as close as you can get” to the top targets in an investigation similar to those conducted into the Chelsea Headhunters and West Ham ICF.
Although Mick concedes that the standard of football intelligence in this country is improving, he is not exactly enamoured by the theories and strategies some of his superiors have formulated.

His respect for the Nat. Football Intelligence Unit fell so low, he says, he would often send them back dud information (“the biggest load of old bollocks”, as he puts it) simply to see if they’d fall for it – “which of course,” he smiles, “they always did.”

Having long regarded investigations “into two-bit firms like the Grimsby Cod Squad” a “total joke”, the final straw was a tip-off about a Combat 18-style unit which came from Special Branch after a group of Brighton fans had been heard chanting “Seig-heil !” An 8 months’ investigation concluded they had actually been chanting ‘Sea-gulls’” (Brighton FC’s nickname).

Whilst the other three officers working undercover were straight-laced, family types, Mick, a streetwise, local detective constable, was 21. He ended up living a full-time false identity for two a half years in an operation that was originally intended to be 3 or 4 months.

“It wrecks what personal life you have,” he says. “You don’t see any of your friends. You can’t slip once. Even on holiday, there’ll be someone there wearing an ‘England On Tour’ t-shirt.”

The collapse of the ICF trials, he says, had long-reaching consequences. Whilst he “went in blind and learnt on the job”, nowadays there are courses, training programmes, and lectures from the Football Intelligence. A film like ‘i-d’, he jokes, will probably become a police training video.

Having studied the targets’ case histories (they will invariably have a record of juvenile crime, criminal damage, and fighting), the key to infiltrating any gang of hooligans, he says is: “hanging around in the same pubs, buying alot of drinks and being the centre of attention.” The hooligans’ sense of camaraderie is one of the keys to playing the game.

Mick’s cover-story was that he was on the dole (the cash only made him look as if he was probably into something dodgy) and had previously supported another team, but had fallen out with the boys who followed them.
The cost of what they do, he says, means most of the firms are working.
“Some are villains, some running their own business… ordinary people really.”

Gangs in tight-knit communities supporting the smaller clubs in the lower divisions might be based on local pride and partisan loyalty, but what most hardcore fans have in common, Mick explains, is: “they are people who like violence and making trouble. They’ve been doing it since they were kids and can’t see why it should be any different.”

Reputation is all in football hooliganism. Smaller clubs will turn out more for the teams with bad reputations – “so that they can say ‘we ran Millwall !'” Others will only come out for the big grudge games.

“You ask alot of these hooligans why they support such-and-such a team and they’ll say ‘cos they’re hard’. You just think, ‘oh right. You don’t actually like football, do you ?’”

According to Mick, in a case like the Ireland-England game, “often when they see an opportunity to create havoc they will take it. Sometimes even if your own team was playing at home, if something like West Ham-Chelsea was on, you’d go over to the East End anyway and create merry hell,” he laughs.

Back in 1985, when an FA Cup game between Luton and Millwall ended with some of the worst scenes ever seen on television, Millwall predictably got the blame.
“And, yes,” Mick agrees, “3000 of them were Millwall. But the other 5000 there were Chelsea, Tottenham, West Ham, Arsenal… Everyone knew it was going down cos all week Luton had been telling everyone they were going to take Millwall, and saying anyone who came down was gonna get a battering. So everyone went, “oh yeah ?!”

The name of the game is territory, defending your own or taking the enemy’s. Combatants are divided into those who run and those who don’t.

“The biggest fights I’ve seen were between blokes from the same firm fighting about who’s run. That’s how you win respect from them. There’s 35 of you and it’ll be “STAND !” There’s 500 people running at you, and they will stand. It’s horrible ! You try to get to the back,” he explains, “but in the end, you’ve got to get to the front cos you’ve got to see who’s there !”

There were even times, he concedes, when the gang he had infiltrated would travel up North, watch a game of football, and come home. But not often. Someone would usually arrange something.
“Word will get round. We will be at Blackfriars at 3 and anyone who’s anyone will know about it. Covent Garden on a Saturday night was always a good bet.”

Carefully-staged and shrewdly organised, he says they mobilise forces using mobile phones, pagers, even look-out scouts (who, in a nifty piece of irony, they’ve started calling “spotters”) to plan dummy-runs and ambushes.

At a big club, inside an inner circle of 30-40, there will be two or three “top dogs.”
“And what they say goes. The top two people I was after were 28 and 32 years old. Very hard people. Very well off financially. Always had £ 300 in their pocket every time I met them. Into everything you could mention: drugs, armed robbery, running burglary rings, fraud, extortion. Quite alot,” he grins. “Nicknames like ‘The General’,” though, “are, total tosh.”

And when the trouble goes off, they will be there.
“Oh yes. But they’ll know when to leave.”

It’s hard to see how the authorities can ever get the evidence necessary when even officers like Mick says he won’t wear a wire – “in case they get you to strip. “The police equipment’s bound to be crap anyway,” he laughs.

Ask him about the hairiest moments undercover, and he’ll say “the whole thing really.”
His biggest problem was other policemen – saying ‘hello’ to him when he went to the ground !

“You have to be the most convincing actor there’s ever been cos if you fuck up, you’re in the shit. It doesn’t matter how good you are or what your cover story is – you can’t say ‘I’ve been coming here for years’ when you haven’t ! They find out you’re a jeckyl, they’ll disfigure you, maybe break your legs.”

After the ICF trial had collapsed, some of the officers involved in the case are said to have been dismissed from the force after a misguided attempt to try and smooth things over with their targets resulted in a fight. Officers at a special screening for ‘i-d’ remembered an undercover cop from Fulham CID who had gone undercover with Chelsea and never come back: the combination of the camaraderie, the violence and the fun being too good to resist.
“Your personality changes completely,” Mick admits. “You become much more aggressive. I was too much into the operation to worry about it. But with hindsight, it is frightening. I was only 21 years old.”

Domestic football hooliganism, he agrees, will never go away – although fights like those at the Whitechapel Road might not be so widely reported as those involving the England team.

Teams like Millwall, West Ham and Chelsea “have done all they can possibly do. There’s not much they can do about it – they’ve got the reputation.”

When he thinks about next year’s European Championship, he shudders.
“Why the hell they are having it here, I do not know. It will be massively contained in the grounds but on days when the football isn’t on ? I dread to think what’s going to go on… it’s frightening.”

But it is no longer his problem. After two and a half years, one Friday morning he was told the operation had been cancelled. He was never to go near the ground or the pubs he had been frequenting ever again. From Monday, he was to be put back on the beat – in the same area where he’d been working undercover. No prosecutions, nothing. The legacy of the ICF mis-trial and the fear of bad publicity had taken its toll.

“How long did it take for me to recover ?” he asks himself “I don’t know if you ever do recover really. I don’t miss it. I miss the other four officers. They were my best friends for those years. We were each other’s best friends. They’ll know more about me than anyone else ever will.”

You would think the combination of the organisation and analysis of the Football Intelligence Units, together with the courage and nous of officers like Mick, would be enough to counter-act almost anyone.

Joe, though, is the sort of person who gives the football authorities nightmares. Many’s the time, he’s gone to England away game and sent postcards to the Football Association detailing what he’s got up to.

6ft 4”, with cropped blond hair, tattoos, a wife and kids, Joe (not his real name) is in his thirties and works in a steady, fairly well-paid, job at one of the London airports. He has been running with Chelsea, home and away, since he was 13 or 14. He remembers every game, every journey, every pub and every fight with amazingly vivid detail and yes, there have been alot of them.

You could meet up with him in any pub round West London (the Chelsea hardcore don’t really have one regular base), have a drink with him, and come away thinking what a genial, good-humoured bloke he was. In fact, the only thing that really gets him worked up is the way the media have portrayed people like him “as if we’re all unemployed drug-dealers who earn all their money from crime. Or teenagers running riot, smashing up cars all over the place, beating up anyone in sight.” That, and Newcastle United fans. “They’re fanatical !” he complains.

“If you wanna take a load of drugs up North,” he points out, “it’s easier to drive them up in the middle of the day than use football as your cover.”

The reason why people like Joe play the game better than the authorities is because it’s THEIR game. No matter what they do or what tactics they deploy, the police just don’t have the same aptitude for it. Football hooliganism is what people like Joe do.

How, for example, are the Football Intelligence Unit supposed to counter-act someone who complains about the number of times he’s been rounded up in some godforsaken Northern town where Chelsea have been playing, escorted to the stadium in time for kick-off and ended up “stuck in the ground for the whole game” when he hadn’t even bought a ticket ?!
These are the days, he says, when an exclusion order would come in HANDY.

Most of the modern-day measures police use to combat the problem are invariably the result of the police applying their own minds to the problem.

Look at the way, for instance, they have adapted a policy of keeping visiting fans in the ground after the match. After a half-time cup of tea and a few minutes watching the game, the police start blocking the exits with 10 or 15 minutes to go, expecting people like Joe not to have started leaving because they are actually watching the game. Er…. no.

As for the rest of the measures, they just work round them.
Exclusion orders do not worry them.
“I know plenty of people who’ve got exclusion orders against them who go to Chelsea regularly, actually in front of the police who know they’re excluded. They know inside the ground is the safest place to put them.”

Neither does making games all-ticket, and admitting the club’s Official Supporters coach parties only. He recalls one FA Cup game, away to Wigan, when he and 3 of his mates parked in the players’ car park (“in a Mark 3 Cortina”), having told everyone he was Chelsea winger, Peter Rhodes-Brown.
“We were run all over town that night by the Wigan boys,” he remembers with a smile.

Chelsea’s game in Bruges was another example.
“The Official Supporters Club package was £ 200 !!! Leave by coach in the morning, ferry over there, coach straight to the ground and back that night. That’s ridiculous. I didn’t spend that in 3 days and we stayed in a 4-star hotel.”
In fact, most of the Chelsea firm got there by ferry for a pound and paid £ 10 for a ticket outside the ground although Joe himself actually flew over (“on dodgy air-miles”).

In the end, the police can never hope to go to the lengths that people like Joe go to.
At most games, police will (logically enough) meet fans at the station in order to deliver fans straight to the ground by bus. But as Joe explains with brilliant logic, “obviously, we don’t go to where the match is. If we’re playing Birmingham, we’ll go to Wolverhampton. And then work our way in. 9 times out of 10, they don’t expect you to get off the train 30 miles away.”

If a game is being played near somewhere nice (like Blackpool) or somewhere tasty (like Portsmouth), they’ll go up the day before and “have it on the Friday night – make a weekend of it.”

Anything to make it more FUN.

Most of the police that know them, especially the ones that travel with them, are usually OK, he says. During one ruck (between West Ham and Chelsea – planned the week before in the pubs when they were all away at an England game) on Parsons Green, most of the Fulham police were working at a Presidential visit by George Bush.

“Just as the West Ham spotters was about to move in on everyone, one of the Fulham police came running over and said, ‘you’d better fuck off before you get nicked’. That was his exact words. They don’t like other forces nicking people on their patch… It’s at times like that,” he says, pensively, “that the police come in handy.”

The main aim in the game is shaking off the spotters. When Joe and a few mates went down to Margate one summer (nothing to do with football), the spotters were there waiting when they got there.

It’s because of the spotters and undercover boys, he says, that 9 times out of 10, a big game like Chelsea-Leeds passes off without incident. So if Leeds are playing someone else, like Palace, they’ll try and hit them on their way back to Euston.

After a big game at Millwall or West Ham, if the spotters are following them, they’ll go all the way home, good as gold – let the spotters think they’ve been delivered safely, and then do the whole trip again.

The violence will be pre-arranged but not necessarily well-organised. The fight at the Three Kings, he remembers, went off at 11 in the morning, three miles from the ground. Joe and the others – “a good mob of us, about 150” – had met up as early as 10am but the pub where they were meeting wouldn’t open. Then someone remembered that Tottenham had drunk in the Three Kings before.

“Some of our spotters went down there and got rumbled immediately,” he chuckles. “Got bombarded with ashtrays. When they chased them out, we were waiting for them.”

The second part of the action was organised after the game when Joe joined in a mob of Spurs fans actually being escorted by the police. Under the eyes of the Fulham police, he set up a confrontation for later that night under the Charing Cross Arches.
“They were fuming. But they couldn’t do anything cos I wasn’t doing anything wrong.”

He dismisses police talk of decoy attacks and ambushes – “I’ve known it to happen a few times but never on purpose!”
Sometimes, he admits, they will get someone to pass something on to the spotters or even give the Hooligan Hotline a ring with some false info.

“The top boys, he says, rarely contact each other directly to organise things, but do get involved. Mostly, they will find out where the opponents are, occupy a pub nearby and give them a telephone – ring the pub where they are, and say ‘we’re Chelsea – if you want it, you know where we are’. That’s what happened with Millwall in the Cup this year.”

He has never asked anyone suspect for their i-d, although he knows “alot of the top boys are worried about getting their mobiles tapped”.
Personally, he doesn’t think it would be at all difficult for the police to infiltrate them. For a big game, far from being tightly-knit, “a good mob will be a case of I’ll bring my mate who’ll bring his mate who’ll bring his mate. Someone will usually vouch for ‘em – probably other undercover police,” he chuckles.

The ICF boys in1988 all knew there were police about and Joe know at least one person who “could well be from Interpol.”
As for Combat 18’s links with the “Chelsea Headhunters” , Joe contends he has never seen anything to do with Combat 18 anywhere near Chelsea.
“As for that bloke from the Football Intelligence Unit on ‘World In Action’… “WHAT intelligence ? That whole programme was rubbish ! ” he complains.
Joe’s viewpoint isn’t necessarily based on any moral objections to the issue, just logic: “World In Action’s alleged Combat 18 mastermind,” he objects, “is an ARSENAL fan (say no more) and half of Chelsea’s team (the good half) are BLACK. The other minor detail in the theory is that alot of the top boys behind organised football violence are BLACK, always have been.”
In the late 80s, even the ICF was run by Cass Pennant who was black.

Apart from anything else, merely the fact that Joe kept mistakenly calling them “Combat 19”, convinced me, Combat 18 haven’t exactly got a high profile round there.
“Look…” he says, getting visibly irked by the accusations. “Chelsea Headhunters doesn’t really even EXIST – it’s just a few kids who’ve printed up some cards on those machines that do business cards. You don’t wanna carry calling cards around with you ! Not with all the random searches they do. I’ve only ever seen them in newspapers to be honest.”

To most people, it seems fairly plain that football hooliganism is all about fighting, nothing to do with politics. It’s not even that much to do with football. He says a lot of the Chelsea hardcore won’t even bother going to alot of games and some of the QPR boys will often run with Chelsea – “for a decent game, sort of thing.”
“One of our boys is actually a Tottenham fan.” Joe laughs. “He’ll even fight with us against Tottenham and then stand with us supporting them in the game.”

This is even too much for Joe to come to grips with, let alone the Football Intelligence.
“When Chelsea score, we jump all over him. People think he’d get his head kicked in but he won’t. Mind you,” he says, thinking about it a bit more, “he is a big bloke. He’s 44, a man mountain actually. He’s been running round with that bloke Frankie Fraser.”
Joe can have a drink with anyone, if it’s not a match day or a fight day, no trouble. That’s what happens at England games when he says “telephone numbers are exchanged” – like people do when they go on holiday. These are their special occasions.
“We talk about it for weeks – ‘what are we going to do for Tottenham this year ?’” he explains, in the same way that most people talk about doing something special for Easter.
“I like Millwall and West Ham myself,” he says with the knowing enthusiasm of a connoisseur. “Cos you know ’em more than the Northern clubs.”

One thing that does concern him, he says, sounding like a nostalgic veteran, is “the young kids coming through carrying blades. They’re prepared to use them as well ! They’re not worried about who gets caught up in it neither, whereas I’ve always believed that we’ve never been causing anyone any harm, except the people who wanted it.”
Knives, you might think, are positively quaint compared to some of the weaponry he’s seen used. Whereas Chelsea like distress flares, Liverpool used to be famous for darts – “Tungsten as well, not cheap ones. That’s always amazed me.”
They would also snap the end off a toothbrush and use two modelling knives or Stanley knife blades taped together so closely that if they cut you, the wounds were too close to stitch individually and too far apart to do with one stitch, leaving a massive scar.

“I’ve seen a few maces too,” he mentions.
You mean Mace, I say, thinking back to the weapons cabinet.
“No, maces,” he says cheerfully. “Medieval things. Like a ball and chain. Isn’t that a mace ?”

When I ask him if he’s ever been sprayed by mace, he starts laughing.
“I used to have some, but I had to get rid of it cos my daughter found it at home. She gassed the dog by mistake.”

ONE OF THE ironies about people like Joe – one that I couldn’t say whether the Football Intelligence Unit will appreciate or not – is the reason why they’ve not been going so much lately. This has less to do with the chance of getting injured than getting nicked. More than anything, he is probably most afraid of being fitted up the way the ICF were in the late 80’s (so maybe the case did act as a deterrent after all).

Although the authorities are aiming their resources at preventing disorder, he’s convinced himself that if anyone is convicted, they could find themselves at the end of a substantial sentence.
“You get arrested for fighting outside a pub and you can be fined £ 50. If it’s for fighting at football, then you never know. It’s the other stuff they’ll do you for that worries me.”

Not that it seems to worry him that much.
The “partisan loyalties” so highly esteemed by men at the Football Intelligence unit don’t seem much in evidence when his face lights up at the thought of Chelsea being relegated to Division One. Less surveillance, less segregation: “more of a laugh.”
“Teams like Portsmouth, Bolton, Bristol, have got a good hardcore cos they all know each other.”

Those of us with different priorities than Joe’s expect people like him to care about his team being penalised because of the trouble they commit. The plain truth is they don’t.
The Chelsea-Man United Cup Final (the ultimate fans’ day out) was, he recalls “pretty quiet” last year. This is not a good thing. They had tried to sort something out for the morning but no-one turned up. The same was true of Chelsea’s first run in European football for years. Even when Chelsea’s cup-run was going well, the prospect of a ban for crowd trouble was not hardly a disincentive..
“It’s never actually bothered me how Chelsea are doing,” he says, putting the phrase ‘blind loyalty’ in a new light.
He is, make no mistake about it, looking forward to the European Championships.
“It’s gonna go crazy. The European Championships ! In this country !! It’s ridiculous !!!” he complains, sounding like an irate tax-payer. “They can’t even stage an ordinary match. There’s no way they can contain it. No way whatsoever.”

His assessment of the occasion as “a once-in-a-lifetime thing” turns out to be more literal than an indication of his excitement.
“There won’t be another one after that. There will never be a World Cup in this country. Not after that.”

With Chelsea or England, any objections to their approach is dismissed with the irrefutable logic, “They probably wouldn’t qualify anyway.”

Even talking about the Euro ’96 tournament gets the blood going.
“We’re in our own country this time, the Dutch, the Germans and the Italians are going to want to come over here and show us who’s best,” he says, sounding not unlike a manager giving a team-talk. “We’ve got to defend our country. They want to reduce this county to rubble. They really do. They wanna smash it up. It’s an invasion.”

It might seem hard to believe sometimes, but football hooliganism is honour and reputation more than hatred. Though Joe himself has been bottled a couple of times, had a few cracked ribs and coinings, and one or two of his mates have been cut up fairly badly, they have always pulled through in the end. It is mostly, he states emphatically, hand to hand and that’s how it should be.

Once, in the old days, he says, after a bit of homework about the opponents’ team, in case the police checked you on the way in, a group of them would go in and stand right in the middle of the home end until the game started. Then they’d start singing for Chelsea.

“At Aston Villa,” he remembers with a gleam, “there were hundreds of them. Thousands. Against only 20 or 30 of us. But you stand and you’ll be amazed how many of them won’t do anything. Of course,” he admits, “we got kicked from the top of the Holte End to the bottom. So they could say they run us out, we could say we’d been in there. You can never be sure that someone’s not going to stick a blade in you, no. But it doesn’t happen very often.”

Why not ?
“Well,” he says, thinking about it for a moment. “That would take all the fun out of it, wouldnt it ?”