Prisons, Punks and Thieving: An Interview With A Man Utd Terrace Legend

Seasoned grafter Colin Blaney talks prison, the media, and his new book The Undesirables.
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Seasoned grafter Colin Blaney talks prison, the media, and his new book The Undesirables.
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Coming together at the dawn of the 80s, Man UTDs travelling hooligan faction 'The Inter City Jibbers' (jib is Manc for blag) partied and pillaged their way around Europe and beyond. It was the era in which jibber Colin Blaney made himself a Stretford End legend for his skills at emptying foreign designer clothes shops, hotel safes and general blagging. It was those very adventures that went into his seminal 2004 football hooligan book Grafters, which he has just followed up with a new publication 'The Undesirables'.

The book details four attempted jailbreaks, deals with the author's marriage inside a German jail to a former staff member, describes members of the ICJ's experiences in various jails - including the gang rape of one WAF member in a Pakistani prison - from a hellish Washington, D.C. county lockup to a Yakuza-filled Japanese prison, as well as running with gun-wielding foreign thugs. Above all, the book is an account of twenty-five years of life as an undesirable, stealing anything that wasn't nailed down. I spoke to Colin Blaney on his new book, football today, terrace anthems and Grafters going to film.

Your new book, The Undesirables, details your time spent in prison hell-holes around the world following Man Utd. Would you say it covers the darker times as a jibber?

Yeah, some of it’s well darker. Actually, l wanted to put them pages into Grafters, but as you’ll discover reading the new book, I got married to a German girl who was actually one of the prison officers from the same prison I was locked up in. I thought “Fuck me, I can’t put this and that in” because I was married to her, plus I loved her to death so I couldn't really put certain things into Grafters ten years ago. But now we’re divorced and in fact she’s given me permission to put them in, because were still good friends.

For “The Undesirables’ I've now written about it all. Like my best mate being gang raped in a Pakistan prison, it was actually the bent-arse screws who stuck it up him, that’s always going to be a dark story, if you know what I mean. But then these new pages could well read as a heavy warning to those who might be thinking “I’ll nip to Goa in sunny India, enjoy the raves on the beaches and bring a few top quality kilos of that hasheesh back to the UK and that’ll be more than enough to cover the trip of a lifetime.

Was this a time when the Jibbers got a bit more serious about crime and making money rather than it all being about having a day out at the football and making a few quid?

Yeah, things got more serious in the late 80s when the Inter-City Jibbers ventured into new places over in Asia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan and Korea - countries where you’d get your hands cut off for thieving. but where the pickings were even easier.

We didn't even realise back then about the real dangers that await lads like us. For example, Taiwan - I didn't even know it belonged to communist China! Imagine if we’d got caught robbing the tom shop in the airport of all their best goodies, that would of got us 25-30 years real hard labour, we’d of all really struggled to survive that kind of sentence, I’m certain of that.

So is 'The Undesirables' actually your last years as a Jibber, just before you decided to start writing your story?

It was ’97, when I’d done my last jail sentence, I’d then met the lady who worked there and got married to her just a few months after coming out, so I bought a Merc van and started working driving night shifts all over the north of Germany for Netto, Lidl and Aldi, that’s when I decided to start writing about myself and the lads' crazy times whenever I had spare time.

Great news, your first book Grafters is going to be made into a film. You've been working on this for some time haven’t you. But did you ever feel at times it was never going to happen?

Without a doubt, it’s been 10 long years waiting, but now it’s worked out for the best. In fact, I've just got back from Llandudno where I went to meet up with my old mucker Bruce Jones (formerly Coronation actor Les Battersby) and his producer. She took me up to this huge mansion hotel in the valleys where they’d just finished shooting a film they were putting together, and we sat down and talked about making Grafters the film.

At the moment were looking at two options. If there’s sufficient funds they’ll go right the way through the book with a feature length film or they’ll split it in two where the first part will be the early section of the story, ending were we get off the ferry in 1977 to jib the Rattlers from the coast, through northern France to Saint Etienne, to see Man United play in the old UEFA cup. Then a year later hopefully, if we have success, they’ll go and do part two of the story in richer detail.

Have you your own ideas on how you'd like to see Grafters produced?

Yes, I've got a few ideas how I’d like to see it come together. Maybe something similar to Away Days. I like the fashion in the scousers film because it was actually quite cheap. Not that colourful, but still classy around that same period as in Grafters 77-79, it was just before the explosion of the casual era. If you notice they all have cheap but slick looking Green Parkas and Green windbreaker sailing jackets on, and funnily enough we wore similar type jackets, but went for black and navy blue. We got ours from the cheap Army and Navy shop Millets, also simple Fruit of the Loom T-Shirts and Adidas kagool tops which you could fold up and stick in your back pocket.

And they were about as good as it got until the 80s when the Hugo Boss, Armani and all the other labels started to come our way via countless amounts of five finger discounts.

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You actually struggled as a kid reading and writing didn't you? it must be quite empowering to then go on to publish several books and become an author as well working in TV.

Where I come from here in Collyhurst the only lad I knew who actually passed the 11+ was Bruce Jones (Less Battersby). I suppose it’s fair to describe us all back then as losers, you know what I mean? Even the teachers had us down as thick as fuck, just factory fodder. You had 5 / 6000 kids in this one area alone, the only option for us was the depressing Mills or wood yards etc, and that was it, unless you knew the right heads who you paid a few quid as I did to put a word in with the gaffers for you to graft on the Smithfield Market. See, as kids we all knew the score as the older generation would let us know, all the way through our youth days “The best way in life is simple kid, become a footballer, a boxer or a thief”.

Going back – what were big sounds on The Stretford End with the Utd fans, the music scenes which really made an impact on the terraces?

It’s got to be when I came out of Borstal, the punk scene was just sort of brewing up, but then you get into 77 and The Ramones and The Stranglers burst onto the scene. Where I lived in Collyhurst we had the iconic venue on our doorstep, The Electric Circus, where every punk, new wave group and even the mod bands like The Jam would play live every other night. It’s like everything with spunk went punk and for the best part of three years I was lucky to get involved with the whole scene. So I’d say from September ’76 all the way through to 1980, that was the most exciting period for me in every way.

Man United did have a little crew of punks, it’s in Grafters. We had punk attitudes but we didn’t dress punk, we went to all the punk venues, but then at the end of the night we’d be fighting with the punks at the bus station, which was a bit out of order really, but that’s the way it went. But then some of those punks were good lads and pretty hardcore, so they’d start to get into our crew and come to the big away games with us. It’s like when you’ve had a good away day steaming there mobs end, you’re all wired up having a few drinks on the football special coming back to Manchester. We’d get off at Piccadilly then head for the town centre. Walking down that ramp that goes out of Piccadilly station we’d be all po-going, punks and perry-boys together, then it was on to the punk venues. Like Foo Foo La Mar’s club The Ranch which, like a few other sweaty back st clubs, were very near Piccadilly station. It was a really exciting time. I suppose we didn’t fully realise it at the time but we knew we were on to something new.

What were your favourite tunes at the match?

Police and Thieves, that was a massive tune for us. You know at the very beginning to Police and Thieves, the DJs we knew slowed down the guitar intro and repeated it over for a good minute building to the main beat and the first line where Joe Strummer gives it “Police and Thieves in the street…”, we’d all give it OH YEAH!! Then … “Fighting the nation with your guns and ammunition”! Fucking awesome I’m telling ya! We used to sort of sing that part on the terraces then start po-going and bouncing when the song kicked in as we sang it, even after fighting the away mobs. It was a real big tune with the United fans, when The Clash first came out we loved their attitude and the White Riot tour in ’77 was the best live act we’d seen from all the bands.

Writing seems to have had a real positive effect on your life, but was the drinking a problem which you had to battle first?

Fucking hell, it nearly destroyed me. When I split up with my wife in Germany and moved back to Rhyl / North Wales, things started to go a bit pear-shaped. I had 4-5 years of it and ended up on the cider in the end. Plus there was a load of drama to go with it. I got attacked whilst on the shite drink with a samurai sword which is all in The Undesirables. When the fella attacked me I went and fell through my front door, and he chopped away at the door trying to get at me. Helicopters and loads of police turned up, it was crazy, but I actually ended up getting the guy off who did it.

But it was then that I decided I had to leave Rhyl, plus it had run its course. But it wasn't just Rhyl I decided to leave behind, but the drinking too, I had to get a grip of it. And with the greatest of intentions it still took me another 3-4 years and a couple of detoxes to get there.

As well as writing though there’s your TV work too, appearing on Channel 4 and 5 for programmes and documentaries on pick-pockets, street crime and football, how do you find the TV world and that whole industry?

I've actually just done another one today for Channel 4, with Ben Earl, a really talented magician, he’s like the new Dynamo. On the programme we were showing him how to pick pockets and he was showing us his magic, it was good fun. That was the last bit of filming I did which was a couple of weeks ago for channel 4 again. Altogether I’ve done quite a bit for them; Secrets Of The Pickpockets, More Secrets Of The Pickpockets, Pickpockets In Europe, Pickpockets And Proud. That’s four programmes for Channel 4 and one for Channel 5 in the last 18 months, whatever they've got in mind for a show they get back in touch.

Like there’s other idea’s like Shoplifters and Proud but I said ‘”No. I don’t fancy that” and there was another about house burglars, but I don’t take them all. It’s great though, if I’m off to London and they offer me a nice hotel, bring my mates and that, I think why not, plus it’s put my name up as an author, it doesn't do me any harm.

You also work as a volunteer as a community reporter in Salford, what got you into this?

Again this is all in Undesirable’s, for me it was a way of keeping active, off the booze, so I did a 6 month course at Salford Uni on how to interview. The techniques, sound, how to film, all the basic things. At the end of it I became a community reporter in Salford which was great, proper. People in Salford are a lot like Collyhurst, but once I left Salford and went back to Manchester I didn't have the postcode I needed to work there anymore, so now I do it off my own back all over North Manchester.

How about Football as a whole and the game today, you've been going to the match for the last 40 yrs so what are the biggest changes to the game, for you?

In my day, nearly every team had brilliant tacklers like Billy Bremner, Chopper Harris and Nobby Stiles, and they’d have you off your seat. When the game got exciting and the tackles went in it was something else, I don’t mean dirty play or anything but its not in the modern game anymore. We used to actually enjoy watching the defenders getting stuck in, but these days we can’t, maybe because most are big soft pussy cats aren’t they, they seem like they can’t tackle to save their lives.

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