I Was A Leeds Casual

To mark the 'Wish You Were Here' exhibition this weekend we caught up with a few that grew up in the scene.
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To mark the 'Wish You Were Here' exhibition this weekend we caught up with a few that grew up in the scene.

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The 1982/83 football season – I was still at school and a stranger to a razor but allowed to go to Leeds matches for the first time on my own. I was a skinny young nowt and standing on the kop I was dwarfed by big bastards in NCB jackets, pipe smoking pensioners with their John Charles stories and blokes who talked of Don Revie’s Super Leeds as if it were a distant memory rather than the few years in reality.

Bremner, Giles and Charlton had long gone. The older heads of Frank Worthington, Trevor Cherry and Brian Flynn were complemented by youngsters such as Aiden Butterworth and John Donnelly. It was the start of eight long long seasons in the doldrums of the old Second Division playing teams from places you’d normally only visit on day trips; Oxford, Shrewsbury, Cambridge, Brighton etc.

The walk to my favoured kop turnstile took me past the old Lowfields Road stand (and indeed the National Front magazine sellers) where some of the lads/dressers/casuals went. They dressed differently to me. As an out of towner I looked on my contemporaries with mix of jealousy and wonderment. True, there was still a healthy compliment of scruffs and oiks but the kids with the labels stood out. They had wedge haircuts or flicks and Ronnie Corbett jumpers, pastel shirts under crew neck sweaters. Back home we weren’t months behind in the fashion stakes, not even seasons, but years. Pringle to us meant the England medium pacer and wasn’t Sergio Tacchini the bloke who did the spaghetti westerns?

Clothes were essential. I used to beg, borrow or steal.

This weekend sees a photo exhibition that captures that 80’s period of growing up in Leeds. The images aren’t from professional photographers but snaps captured by Kodak Instamatics pulled from the pocket of a pair of faded jeans (cut at the hem) when an opportunity arose. Pubs, clubs, football, boys, girls, holidays and away days are logged for posterity from a time when schoolmates – think Mill Hill Amusements rather than Grange Hill Comprehensive – became drinking mates and beyond. It  documents their lives and loves against the backdrop of a city of fading Victorian buildings with the Yorkshire Ripper and Chapeltown riots still fresh in the memory.

Sabotage Times caught up with a couple from the casual culture club.

ST: How would you describe Leeds as a city in the early 80’s? What sort of a place was it to grow up?

Rich:I grew up in Roundhay which is a nice affluent safe area. So I was pretty lucky. But for me I remember it being a pretty aggressive violent city. Especially in town. Living just up the road from Harehills and Chapeltown we were right next door to the riots in the 80’s. A lot of the older black lads came to school with ghetto blasters liberated in the riot (so they claimed).

Karl: Ghost Town by The Specials sums Leeds up in the 80's, but it was exciting growing up in Leeds, you met so many people. I wouldn't say it was rough though not like your local areas.

ST: How old were you when you started going to Leeds games on your own?

Rich:My first game was 82-83 season. First year in the 2nd division, 11 or 12 years old. I went with my brothers and some other lads from our area. I was probably 13 when I went on my own and started getting into the clothes. My brothers and the lads they went with didn’t have a clue.

ST: Any memories of away days? Best/worst/scariest etc

Rich: The away day I enjoyed the most was York vs Arsenal in the FA Cup. Simply because I got to follow some of the older lads round and came face to face with real life London dressers. Have to say the images of them still sticks in my head, Leather jackets, baggy jeans (Pepe or Hardcore), polo shirts and Nike Running shoes like Air. I was well impressed. That day I had Farah trousers, a Marks and Spencer crew neck jumper in like a brown and green pattern and some Adidas Tucson topped off with an England cagoule (terrible jacket that, bit of a faux pas). After seeing the London lads I had to re-think my wardrobe. Prompted me to go and get another paper round as well as the one I already had.

Went up to the ground with the Leeds mob and just remember thousands of Arsenal charging round the corner. I shit it and ran like fuck (not on my own though). I remember hearing people shouting ‘Stand, stand, Leeds’ and a few punches were thrown. It was this that gave me the big adrenalin rush even though I didn’t really do anything.

Birmingham away was my last game I went to before I sort of drifted out of it all. That day was mental. I was suspended from school for something daft the term leading up to the last game of the season so my Dad said I couldn’t go. I finished my paper round in the morning and instead of going home I went down to the train station with my mate Rob Turner. There were hundreds of lads all milling around to get on the train to Manchester Victoria. Got to Manchester then we walked across town to Piccadilly to get a connecting train to Birmingham.

Karl: Away matches were brilliant, just everything about them. London was usually the best. The worst was Plymouth on a Tuesday night away, set off from Leeds hitch-hiking about 8am, I think I got about ten lifts from Leeds to Plymouth, it was a nightmare, got into Plymouth for about 7.30, missed everyone going in, and me being me had no money, so I couldn't go in. I waited outside the away end until the final whistle then the police moved me on. I pleaded my case that I needed to see someone for a lift home, but no, move or be nicked, no mobiles then - fuck me how am I gonna get home? Me sister lives in London, 10.30 now. Got three lifts to London , got there for about 2a.m, night bus to Leytonstone, 3a.m now, got to me sisters and realised after 30mins knocking she wasn't in, ended up sleeping in Euston train station till about 5.30, then hitched back to Leeds.

Went up to the ground with the Leeds mob and just remember thousands of Arsenal charging round the corner. I shit it and ran like fuck (not on my own though). I remember hearing people shouting ‘Stand, stand, Leeds’ and a few punches were thrown. It was this that gave me the big adrenalin rush even though I didn’t really do anything.

ST: How important were clothes/fashion/haircuts?

Karl: Clothes were essential. I used to beg, borrow or steal. Used to go to Austin Reeds, Strand, Oliver, Ochi and Schofield's in Leeds, or an indoor market in Manchester to get Ellesse, Sergio Tacchini, Fila, and all flat trainers. In London you had Lilywhites, Harrods, Tommy Nutter, GA, Burberry and Aquascutum, Browns, camping and outdoor shops and hundreds more.

ST: What music were you into? Did you travel to gigs? Memorable gigs?

Karl: I was listening to New Order/Joy Division, The The, James, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Specials, Pink Floyd, Half Man Half Biscuit, The Cure, The Smiths, Happy Mondays, BAD and loads more.

Rich: The Smiths, Talking Heads, Joy Division - New Order, Bunnymen, China Crisis, OMD. No gigs though, too young. But there was an almighty Dodge City style brawl at a James gig at the Astoria. My brother was there. It's gone down in folklore.

ST: Holidays and weekends away – any that stand out?

Karl: I have fond memories of Blackpool, It was four days of utter chaos, you'd get probably 100 from Leeds on a bank holiday weekend - Washington and Shades night club were our favourite haunts. Sleeping in life boats on the sea front or 20 lads in one room in a B&B. There were fights day and nights, Friday and Saturday would be Mancs and Brummies, Sunday would be Blackpool and Monday Wigan. I think Wigan were our main rivals in the 80's.

ST: Where were the places you hung around? Pubs/clubs/arcades etc

Rich: Being too young to drink we hung round the top end of town in the Penny Arcade next to Smith and Nellies. Coming from North Leeds this was the closest point to where our buses came into the city. That and round the fountain, Lands Lane chatting up rich girls from Alwoodley and Shadwell.

Karl: Mill Hill amusements, Ronny's café, Spudulike, any all night cafes, bookies , Boar Lane, train station cafe,’hello my friends how are you’ kebab shop (that’s how the owner would greet us), Jacomellis, Yates ,Jubilee, Lichfields, Harlequins, Precinct, Scrumpys, Tiffanys, Smith and Nelson, Sunset and Vine, Old Steps, Len’s Bar, Parkers, Stallones etc.

ST: Who did you look up to – peers etc?

Rich: When I started going to games on my own home and away I was desperate to be in with all the Mill Hill lot but coming from North Leeds and being as soft as I was I didn’t have the nerve to talk to them. They were the cool hard kids and I was some soft get from Lidgett Lane with hand me down Pringles, pre faded jeans and snide Lacoste t-shirts bought on holiday from Salou. There was a lad on my street about 10 years older than me, he got me into the clobber and gave me a few items – Andy Brooke. He used to go shopping for trainers all over the place, Liverpool, Manchester, London etc.

Final word goes to Karl Skirrow who features in many of the photos and who sums up what the exhibition means to him;

Karl: Most of us still keep in touch, especially now with Facebook and mobiles. That’s really what the exhibition’s all about, people who can't be here. We’ve lost a lot of friends over the years and its mine and my mates’ tribute to them.

The exhibition takes place on Saturday February 19th at Temple Works in Holbeck, adjacent to the Commercial Inn, and is free to enter. The exhibition runs from 11am until 2pm and will be open again after Leeds United’s game against Norwich City at Elland Road.

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