Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Disturbing Fans No. 3: The Rabid Lincoln Skinhead

In early 1980s England, skinheads often meant bad news. Not that I want to generalize, but if you bumped into (or even looked at) a shaven-headed Herbert wearing combat gear and Dr. Martens boots half way up his shins, there was a good chance you’d either be on the end of a violent attack, or some unsophisticated views about racial integration in Thatcher’s Britain. And then a violent attack. 

So, lads, what did you make of the first half?
While a number of skinheads were left-leaning followers of the punk and Ska-revival scenes, there was also a significant sub-culture of violent neo-fascists. There were one or two opposition cells like Red Action who actively took the fight back out to the Nazi-loving skins. Good for them, but I have to confess I wasn't part of that. Any group accepting me as a member would have been called something like Pale Tortoise, and we'd have quaked under a solid, hard shell until all the action - red or otherwise - had moved on.

One evening at Sincil Bank in 1982, though, I did get to observe the Rabid Lincoln Skinhead. City were playing Sheffield United, whose huge travelling support had taken up the entire side terrace, meaning that the home fans were squeezed in at the Railway End behind the goal. I was on my own, standing beside two blokes who were suddenly approached by ‘Danny’, a skinhead of their acquaintance.
Maybe someone they’d once known at school.

Danny was so worked up I thought he was going to shoot up in the air like a rocket and out into the night sky, his pointy shaven head penetrating space until he landed on the Planet of the Twats. No such luck. Danny was excited because he had just seen someone among the away fans who wasn't white. In fact it seemed to be the most exciting thing he'd ever seen in his life.

No, please don't.
Ethnic minorities were uncommon in Lincoln in the 1980s, but not so in Sheffield. For Danny, seeing a single black man among several thousand Sheffield United fans was perhaps confirmation of all the propagandist fears that the local chapter of his nutjob far-right party had been feeding him. White Britain’s being overrun by outsiders who externally look a bit different. They’re even in our football stadiums, supporting their team. Bloody hell, next thing we know they'll be fully integrated members of society and the England team too.

There was a delight to his gibbering too. As though he’d been looking for months, maybe years, for confirmation of a perceived threat, but had as yet been unable to find a single shred of evidence. A cheap psychologist could have speculated that, among all the profane epitaphs Danny was using to describe the notable visitor, there was at least the hint of a homoerotic frisson.

You also wondered if Danny had not noticed that a prolific black striker, Tony Cunningham, had been playing for Lincoln over the past three years and had just been sold to Barnsley. Maybe he'd been too busy gawping for signs of non-whiteness among the opposition fans instead of paying attention to what was actually happening on the pitch. A sort of primitive predecessor of the corporate fan.

Danny danced away again because he wanted to go back and have another look at his new found human object of curiosity. Plus, you could tell he was a bit miffed that his two old mates were not in the least bit excited at his stunning anthropological discovery. “See ya!” he chirped without a backward glance. “Yeah, see ya, Danny,” muttered one of the men with a grim chuckle, adding unnecessarily, “But not if we see you first.”

While I'm as prone to nostalgia as the next fan, there's one thing about English football grounds in the 1980s I don't miss at all - psychotic, Nazi bastards with absolutely no interest in the game.

The Quiet Fan was published by Unbound in autumn 2018 and is available here.

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