Memories Of The Leeds Casual Scene

Much is made of the violence but for many who were part of the casual culture in Leeds in the 70s and 80s it was about the clobber, the camaraderie and thrill of the chase.
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Much is made of the violence but for many who were part of the casual culture in Leeds in the 70s and 80s it was about the clobber, the camaraderie and thrill of the chase.

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‘’See the young man itching to burn

Waiting for his own star turn

Needing danger

A war will do

If he can’t   let it out

He will pick on you

Poor old Johnny Yen

Set himself on fire  again”

(James: Johnny Yen)

And we did; we sought out wars, we picked on people, and  the quick feed that performing  a certain star turn gave you was kinky sex to the head. And throughout all of this there was plenty of fire, lots of setting ourselves ablaze. Again and again.

Late 70s and it was 50p into the boy’s pen. And then the wait until the steward wasn’t watching and we would jump over to the Kop and scuttle up to a stanchion at the back where the older ones  were singing loudly  that there was ‘only one Yorkshire Ripper’ ,  and some fella in a sheepskin would nick  your scarf.  It didn’t take long before you realised that  the Kop wasn’t where it was at.

From now on the boy’s pen knew where they wanted to be and would wait in there hundreds  under the stands and charge the stewards recruited from the doss houses of Holbeck ( a fat old drunk with a beard sticks out in the memory).  Through to the Lowfields we made our way to  the end pen closest to the away fans. And loads of 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16 sixteen year olds would chant ironically to those stuck in the corner ‘You’re hard’. The sheepskins in the Kop were more blunt; ‘You’re going to get your fucking head kicked in’.

My dad started letting me go the football by myself when I was ten. Seems mad now but  at the time there were loads of us. You didn’t need a credit card, pre-planning, and a whack of money in those days.  Three years in and I was caught up into the love of Leeds right up to my neck, a thirteen year old clumsy lover I wanted to do everything right but wasn’t sure where to stick it.

And for all their hardness,  and lets have it right ‘hardness’ was the stock in trade for a football fan at that time, those older ones who sang

Bramley* Boys we are here

Shag your women

Drink your beer

(*insert Sheffield/Hunslet/Garforth/Harehills/Seacroft/Armley, ets as you wish – if you really want to conjure up a bad memory place kippax as a prefix)

All huffed up and puffed up and proud of their farts and beer breath, crushing each other on the Kop and thinking it was funny, wrapped around their scarves and flags and LUFC wristbands, gloves and even more ridiculously those silly pom pom hats these ‘Christmas trees’ stuck out for what they were – sad.

79/80 Liverpool and Everton and also a few Man U brought no scarves to Elland Road, they came with silly hair cuts, tight jeans/cords, white trainers, and a cool as fuck attitude. For the Liverpool game the Kop sang ‘Liverpool, Liverpool, show us your scarves’, the scousers laughed and waved back. In the Lowfields we weren’t exactly sure what was going on but we instinctively knew that the joke was on us.  The fact that these ‘puffs’ were game as you like outside the ground further confirmed for us that being a Leeds fan should not be  the sole preserve of whoppers in sta-press trousers, three star jumpers, and clunky hard ended boots

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And after that things started to happen quite quickly.  ‘Casuals’  was  a term that came later, for the Leeds lot at the time we were the ‘dressers’, scousers were ‘scallies’, and the mancs were ‘perry boys’. London was way behind the scene, for the first few years they were still wearing flying jackets and doc martens. Trainers, jeans, kagouls, hair-cuts – to have the right one at the right time was all.  This has all been said in other places but I’m not sure if anyone has ever really captured how frantic the whole thing was. You could be ‘in’ one week wearing one label and the next week the same label would see you crucified. A point lost on all of those who have been wearing the same three-star Stone Island cardigans for the last 15 years.

As the dresser scene developed  more and more spaces in and around Leeds came to be colonised. At Elland Road many moved from the Lowfields to the South Stand. In the same way that young hoolies dressed in expensive jumpers got many people scratching their heads, kids paying in to the expensive seats left many people mystified. Outside the ground before and after the game you could see the boys gathered on certain corners, outside certain shops, checking each others clobber, waiting for the away fans to appear. In town certain  pubs, clubs, amusement arcades, greasy spoons, record shops were blessed with our official seal of approval.      Some of these just for a short time but others remaining  regular venues for years: The Black Lion, The Prince of Wales, Jacomelli’s, Mill Hill amusements (can’t believe its closed down – it should be listed as a national treasure), Yates’s Wine Lodge (the proper one).

Violence? Well yes there was quite a bit. But then these were quite spectacularly violent times. From picket lines to the hearts of the inner cities the late 70s early 80s played out to a backdrop of bricks, bottles and truncheons. Football violence was nothing new but at same time the new kids on the block were quite keen on giving it a new twist, quite keen not to act like the dinosaur bullies in denim jackets and Deep Purple patches. New rules of engagement were drawn up. Violence was now only legitimate when it was carried out against someone dressed just like you, firm against firm – Christmas trees were strictly off limits. It seemed to make sense at the time. I would not attempt to glorify it but it would be silly to say it was not there. At the same time some people (especially those with helmets and wigs on their head) made and make fake far too much of it. Looking back there were lots of confrontations with lots of noise, lots of jumping up and down, lots of shouting, lots of running and shouts of, ‘stand, stand’ – lots of kids running around having the time of their lives. Everyone spent an awful lot more time talking about violence than doing it.

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Excitement and adventure was much more what it was all about, discovering new places, new clothes, new music – new ways of enjoying life and carving out an identity unique and not seen before. The casual subculture was different from all those that went before, it was not tied to a short-lived musical fad, it was a lifestyle that for many has lasted a life time. Getting on a train as a fourteen year old with your reduced Persil ticket fare setting off for London for the first time in your life, dressed up to the nines (or so you thought), with all your mates was a thrill. Emerging out of Upton Park station and someone shouting ‘anyone runs and they get battered back in Leeds’, and someone else offering,  ‘just remember they’re only human’, was scary. But not quite as scary as when the ICF moved in from three sides in their hundreds.  The traders on Green Street Market must have lost hundreds that day as Leeds replied to the barrage of bricks and bottles with potatoes, carrots, and onions –  thrills, fears and laughs, what more could you want. Oh, and camaraderie, let’s not forget that.

And as the scene got bigger and bigger the curious thing was that the vast majority of people just didn’t get it, couldn’t get there heads around it. The NME published a review of a 4-Skins concert at the Fan Club in Leeds played on the night before Leeds v West Ham, the journalist observed that the cockney skinheads in the audience were attacked by a contingent of Leeds New Romantics. New Romantics! You couldn’t make it up. Sociologists have written scores of books about rastas, skins, punks, Goths, bikers – but to this day none have been written about the casual scene. And the lads liked that, liked the fact that they knew and no-one else did. But as the scene got bigger more and more splits appeared, people got labelled as plastic, wannabies, teds, beauts, whoppers.  The End fanzine used to print an ‘ins and Outs’ list which divided the lads from the woollybacks, the Leeds dressers had their own informal but keenly observed version. There was plenty of camaraderie and plenty of in-fighting too.

The Leeds scene had football as its central point, but its participants were to be  found in many places other than football grounds.  Bank holidays meant crazy weekends in Blackpool and catching up with old friends from Wigan, I love that picture taken outside an amusement arcade with a big fight going on all around and the woman in the candy floss booth serving a young kid as if this was just another day on the front. Shoplifting and shopping expeditions, first of all to the Manchester Arndale but eventually the destinations becoming increasingly exotic – Paris, Rome, Cologne. Gigs; James concerts at the Astoria and behind the Merrion Centre (‘sit down next to me’), the Farm gig at the pub with no name, The Roundhay Park concerts.