Cass Pennant On England's North / South Divide

From the music to the clothes, England has always been a nation divided, and nowhere was that more apparent than on an awayday.
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From the music to the clothes, England has always been a nation divided, and nowhere was that more apparent than on an awayday.

5-Real-Guvnors

I think most of us as teenagers living in 70’s London discovered the North from a football special train. Before that, I had no idea what northern people and their towns were like and Coronation Street painted a grimy image – though I thought Ray Langton was a bit of a lad. As for its history, well, the orders went out from London and the armies marched north, didn’t they?

Travelling north for support of yer football club was not only an adventure in the 70’s, it was bordering on the suicidal. All this serious loathing for the South just went with the buzz though, and you quickly fell into the mindset – the North really hated cockneys, excelled at brick-throwing and had this great community spirit that consisted of ‘our kid’, ‘our Brian’ and all that.

The north v south divide did actually unite even those northern clubs with a fierce rivalry, until City got into a spat with United as to who was ‘proper Manchester’.

This little war also included Midlands clubs, as anything past junction One on the M1 was classed as ‘northern’. Geography wasn’t our strong point, but the same applied to northerners who classed teams such as Brighton, Watford and Luton as ‘cockneys’.

Northern away days to the likes of Carlisle, Burnley and Stoke were adventures, It was the sight of the smog that hit your eyes as you looked out from the train windows – this is what London must have looked like once, and it explained to me why northerners referred to it as ‘going down Smoke’, even though we’d never seen London smog since the 50’s, but with all your mills and factories, you still had towns smothered in smog up north.

I consulted on the Danny Dyer presented TV series Real Football Factories in 2006; it featured today’s Burnley Suicide Squad. It also showed Burnley today, with the same dust-covered, rundown, shoebox terraced housing on slopping, hilly streets, with corner pubs and flat-capped regulars. Back in the 70’s, so many asked the question on the trip home: “Do people really live in those streets?” They were taking the piss then, but in 2006 it’s just shocking.

If Burnley was somewhere that time forgot, then Anfield was scary in those pre-ICF days.

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The way scousers carry themselves, they have a strong pride in the way they are and their accent is very distinct – like a cockney accent, everybody recognises it instantly. They have got an attitude that says, “The world stops at Liverpool, we should be the capital city because we gave the world the Beatles, blah blah.” The city oozes independence and people seem full of confidence in much the same way as Londoner’s.’ Yet the hatred of all scousers from London clubs in the 70’s was on a par with the Liverpool-Manchester rivalry thing of today. The clashes mellowed somewhat in the 80’s, when casual cockneys and scousers found a lot in common with each other whenever they met on designer store shopping trips right the way across Europe. The north was getting dressed and going casual, well the scouse and the mancs claim so but I can remember Leeds lot looking tidy.

The stand-alone memories for me of the 70’s period are of how a pal that took a kicking said, “I wasn’t running from no northerner wearing a star jumper!”

Yes, it was crazy days on the terraces with the skinhead-meets-Bay City Roller-style dress sense with lads in white bib and braces, bowler hats, sprayed silver DMs, the full Clockwork Orange attire. Then there were the donkey jackets that the away fans wore when they showed at Upton Park; everyone of age had a donkey jacket in the 70’s, and the Geordies wore them well into the 80’s I guess it was all part of their ‘we’re working class and we’re men’ attitude.

In a world before the package holidays of the 80’s and cheap student rail tickets took us on a European tour, Going ‘up north’ travel for us meant Lacey’s coaches, a Ford transit or a football special train.

The north-south divide was just as evident on the club and music scene, which for me at that time meant soul and funk so I would check out the northern soul scene. If it was something we were missing out on down south, then we would be going back to let everyone know. We messed up with Wigan Casino, as it was shut or it was the wrong day. It meant driving on to Manchester and we ended up in a couple of clubs, watching people doing spins and flips; then the music would change and you had these electro sounds that just didn’t sound anything like soul to me. The bouncers were putting us on edge too, and people were too fucking strange to talk to us. I guess we’d come from a totally different club scene, nothing like the one we were encountering in Manchester.

Next day, drove to Blackpool to check out the Mecca. There we found a real northern soul set-up; the dance floor was like going into a kung fu school, with loads of spins and backflips, the floor was full of lads wearing bowling shirts, whizzing; it was all about their moves; some were tricky, but lacking the rhythm that the guys who could dance down south would show yer. We’d clocked that the birds remained around the edge of the dance floor and near the bars. It was our football awayday experiences that had taught us how northern birds would come up and start showing interest from the moment they heard the London accent, while the local geezers wanted to smash yer. It was what they appeared to care about above everything.

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It was obviously a pretty serious music scene, but we just couldn’t get our heads around it. They were all getting off on old Tamla Motown B-sides they thought were great, because some DJ said it was rare and they paid big for it. (‘You dozy northern monkeys! It’s rare for a reason, and the reason is that it’s shit, spelt shit not ‘shite’).

I don’t think anything will ever come close to the north v south divide of the 70’s and all of its basic differences. It was all so simple to define: you northerners preferred the traditional pint jug of ale, we took to lager taken in a smooth half-glass; you worked the pits, we were on the building sites; you had the factories, we the offices; off the pitch, your crews were ‘armies’ while ours were ‘firms’; on the pitch you had the League titles, the FA Cups and the League Cup – but for all of that we won the World Cup, the one that really matters. So we understand why you hate the cockneys, la-la, la-la, la-la . . .

Ironic writing all this now after returning from a northern soul scene Soulshakers weekender in Barcelona that followed the Friday at A Street Style Exhibition in Shoreditch where I was bantering with the Madchester Donnelly brothers, Anthony and Chris discussing how every pub meal in London serves up mushy peas like it a southern delicacy.

Cass is co-producer of The Guvnors. DVD & Blu Ray out 24th December