Within weeks of moving to London, I was travelling up an escalator at a tube station and saw a Millwall sticker on a poster, plastered across the face of a West End actor. It had the club badge on one side and the lovely slogan ‘Gonna get ya c*nts’ on the other.
Far from being intimidated by Millwall’s threat, all I could think was ‘aww bless em, they made stickers.’
Football Fight Club, shown on BBC 3, is an inside look at young hooligan firms across the country. The programme highlights that football hooliganism is still alive and well in this country and again on the rise.
It follows the exploits of Manchester City’s Blazing Squad, Bury’s Interchange Riot Squad and Tottenham Hotspur’s Yid Army. I’ve always found the naming of these hardcore firms ridiculous. It’s like they’re inviting people to mock them. Bury’s firm for instance is named after the local bus station. My own club Sheffield Wednesday have the Owls Crime Squad, a cringeworthy name for a group that can cause so much harm.
The naming of the firms isn’t the only naive aspect of ‘football lads’. Sitting on a swing Aaron, 17, looks every inch the child. He’s is talking to the interviewer after his first away day with a football firm. He says, ‘It’s like going to a theme park but it’s free’. Another lad admitted that he was too young to know why certain clubs were rivals but they would fight anyway.
I couldn’t help but think about our fans chanting ‘Scab’ at Nottingham Forest fans without the slightest clue what it relates to.
The biggest shock for me in the programme was the civility in which arrangements for scraps were made. Carl, head of the Blazing Squad meets Kirk, head of Bolton Wanderers Cuckoo Boys, in a pub. They’re ‘mates’ and chat over a pint to discuss past fights. They talk about fights like they’re matches. The Cuckoo Boys are 3-1 up apparently with an agreed draw. This network of friends, who choose to beat the living shit out of each other, keep in touch on the phone and befriend each other on Facebook.
I was waiting for a member of the Blazing Squad to start arranging a scuffle by tweeting ‘Meet me at the crossroads.’
The crux of the ‘football lad’ argument is that they only fight each other and don’t attack fans that aren’t involved in a firm. They see this as ‘doing no harm’.
With £25million spent to police games last season, the cost to the NHS for A&E visits and the insurance premiums paid out to people’s smashed up businesses, it causes significant harm to the people not involved in the firm.
The focus of this programme is around the top boys. These firms recruit promising fighters in a way that reminds me of radicalisation. There’s little difference between the indicators of offering a sense of belonging to disenfranchised youths, showing them a group that shares their ideals and gives them a sense of power when life feels hopeless. Is there much difference in how ISIS recruits young men to how the Blade Business Crew do? The difference is, it isn’t about religion or the colour of your skin but the colour of your football shirt.
With his daughter’s name tattooed across his neck, Carl the head of the Blazing Squad, admits the firm is more important than her. I hope she forgives him for that when he’s playing with more stickers than her.
You can catch up with Football Fight Club on BBC iPlayer for the next 7 days.