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First Offence - 100% Pure Wool

 

by Phil Thornton

 

It was the spring of 82 and our estate had witnessed the worst six months of violence the town had ever known. The local papers were comparing Runcorn to Belfast which ofcourse was preposterous because no-one was getting shot or killed and martial law was never a realistic option to contain the Woolies v Scousers Wars. Having said that, our estate, The Grange was the faultline between the Old Town 'wooly' end of town and the scouse 'New Town'. To this day some of the original inhabitants of the town refuse call their end the 'Old' Town because they refuse to accept that the 'New ' town is even a part of the town in the first place.

 

Such attitudes were entrenched when Runcorn was designated as an overspill town for the slum clearance programme of the 60s when vast swathes of inner city Liverpool, Manchester and London were leveled and the inhabitants farmed out to places like Wythenshawe, Kirkby, Harlow, Thetford, Skelmersdale and Runcorn. However unlike most of these places Runcorn already had a sizeable community before the bulldozers moved in.

 

Although it was presented to desperate scousewives as a rural idyll in which to bring up their offspring, the town was infact a polluted little shithole entirely dependent on the massive ICI complexes of Rocksavage and Castner Kelner. The New Town not only brought in new industries such as Guinness, Bass and Schreiber to the area (courtesy of massive rent, rates and employment subsidies) but also brought an entirely new workforce. Put simply scousers were not like their forelock tugging wool counterparts who were content to vote Tory (Runcorn had a Tory MP, the patrician fuckwit, Mark Carlisle until the late 70s) and keep their noses clean til they picked up their juicy ICI shares and pensions.  Scousers brought with them social and economic militancy and the aboriginals didn't like it.

 

To say there was a sense of culture-shock when the scousers began arriving in their thousands was an understatement. Unlike the loveable, wise-cracking rogue of popular mythology, these lads were no Beatles or Pacemakers but fast-talking, quick-acting street savvy hustlers, who seemed to live life at five times the pace as the average wool.  It was almost as if Runcorn had been colonized by an alien life-form, so different were scousers to us.   

 

I grew up with tales of my older cousins having gang fights with scousers in the suedehead late 60s and although the new town was still being constructed when I was a nipper, it didn't take long before I was getting involved in local skirmishes myself. Our road was the last before the new town estates started and was separated from them by a large field where I received more good hidings than Osama Bin Laden.

 

The 70s Bootboy era saw an invisible but very real partition of the town into scouse and wool, confused further by football loyalties, as many 'wools' were themselves either Liverpool or Everton fans. Our estate had its own internecine gangs ' Larch Road, Sycamore, Willow, Laburnham, and we were constantly being legged or legging some other little crew. But with the scousers it was different. Rumour had it that a local black scouse family tortured you if they caught you and the brothers of this family were feared more than any other scousers. One day when I was about 8 or 9 we were calling out the usual racist insults when one of the older brothers appeared from under the subway and chased us. I hid in a ditch on the field but was caught by him and even though his mates demanded that I should be thrashed within an inch of my life, he asked me how old I was and when I told him, he just said that I was a bit old to shouting things like that and let me go. I still feel ashamed of myself now. Other times I wasn't quite as fortunate.       

 

By the time I was 15 things had deteriorated to such a degree that factional gang fights had become a nightly occurrence, especially on our estate. It wasn't that there was much, if any hand-to-hand combat going on but there was plenty of running around either chasing mobs or getting chased by mobs that were sometimes a few hundred strong. The police were under pressure to crack down, especially after petrol bombs and Molotov cocktails were being used. Our estate became a war-zone with Black Marias permanently stationed opposite the youth club on the shop carpark ' right next to the massive 'Anti-Police' graffiti we'd painted on the wall. We also painted 'Who Killed Liddle Towers' Police' after the Angelic Upstarts record  on the back of the youthy in letters five feet high using paint that I'd robbed from our shed.

 

The only thing was the lad who did the deed was an illiterate straight out of borstal and we had to spell it out for him.  We watched the next day as the local bizzies surveyed our handiwork with a mixture of fear and pride. Everyone knew it was us who'd done it and the next week it even appeared on the front page of the local rag with a special report on how gangs were plaguing the town.

 

It was not too long after the Toxteth riots and there was a genuine fear amongst the establishment and the authorities that the rule of law was breaking down and mob power was being asserted. Ofcourse our petty tribal disputes had nothing to compare with the institutionalized brutality of inner city ghettoes such as Toxteth, Moss Side, Handsworrth or Brixton yet we were still angry. Anger and youth turned in on itself exploding in a year long orgy of bricks and baseball bats. 

 

I'd had a few minor scrapes with the law in my adolescence, shoplifting, petty thieving, the usual stuff, but this was getting serious. A few mates had started doing serious theft, mostly burglary and cars, some of em were fresh out of DC and fancied themselves as career crims, others just out of school and lumped onto YTS schemes took up chonging or chasing to wile away their empty days. 

 

I was at the local grammar school, one of only three kids from our school who had, in the arcane description of my aunties and uncles, 'won his scholarship.'  I was in my last year of school and expected to knuckle down and revise for my O Levels. The only thing was that the excitement of the gang fights had far too much pull and I was out every night loitering with my mates, spraying Scousers Out on garage walls, wearing Keynote casuals  and snide Kickers. One night we were stood outside the youthy, keeping watch for either scousers or the local vigilantes ' older married lads who'd had enough of all the aggro and were twatting people left, right and centre. A black maria pulled up and we cockily ignored it. The bizzies ordered us to disperse but three of us just walked around the corner and stood under the bus shelter next to the local pub. The bizzies wheeled around and jumped us, throwing us into the back of the van.

 

At this point they were only taking us home to inform our parents that we were to be kept under curfew. Illegal but thinking back on it, sensible. For some reason they decided to take my mates home first, even though they lived on the next estate whereas I lived just around the corner. As they got to Tommo's house, one of the bizzies grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and struggled with him as he got out, banging his head against the roof of the meat wagon. Tommo responded by smacking the cunt right on the beak. The rest of them then piled in and although we put up some token resistance, Tommo was clapped in irons and instead of taking us home, drove us straight to the local nick, where we were outrageously charged with a Breach of The Peace.

 

Our parents were rang, although as we didn't have a phone, the bizzies had to pay my mam and dad a personal visit and although I got twatted by my aul fellar after being caught shoplifting, this time he was strangely subdued and, when I told him what had happened, even took my side but also warned me to keep off the streets for the next few weeks. He'd actually been out to confront some bizzies a few months earlier who'd booked me for the temerity to wear a full-face Alpine ski mask is the middle of winter.  

 

Ofcourse a few days after being formally charged I was back out getting legged around town by gangs of irate scallys. I was too lazy and immature to worry about future careers and studying and all that middle class bullshit. I despised the grammar school, this pathetic breeding ground of mediocrity, this phoney pretend public school with its educational apartheid ethos, determined to make 'we lucky few' feel obliged to have been 'given a chance.'  Such bourgeois benevolence never sat easy with me. Fuck em, fighting scousers was far more fun!

 

One night after the usual brick throwing, infantry charges and panic filled retreats, the fighting was broken up by a huge convoy of police vehicles, the most we'd ever seen. We had been cornered at the end of one of our end's toughest streets, where local families were referred to as 'cavemen.' At the end of this street was their fenced off community centre and a huge adventure playground. One of the cavemen, a notorious criminal informed us that if we stayed within this compound the bizzies couldn't touch us. This lad had been in nick so many times we believed his understanding of the law as it pertained to trespass, so around 100 of us took refuge on the climbing frames and mocked the masses of bizzies who were angrily circling us like furious red Indians unable to break through the circle of wagons.

 

It was at this point that my mate, fearing for my future, told me how stupid I was risking a further arrest when I was already up in a few weeks and had the good fortune of having a decent education when all he had was a YTS scheme to look forward to in a few months time. At this I thought awhile and jumped the fence, escaping over the field.  

 

When our case was heard at the magistrates court, we pleaded guilty after taking advice from our solicitors. I thought this was an outrage as I'd not actually done anything apart from exercise my right as a young human being to stand around aimlessly in the expectation of throwing bricks at scousers and didn't see why I had to plead guilty to anything.  However, that sanctimonious, narrow minded breed of bigots known as the magistracy were then not over keen on taking anyone's version of events over that of a police officer, so we reluctantly pleaded guilty and were bound over for 2 years to the sum of 200 quid.             

 

The gang fights continued for a year or so but not with the same energy or regularity. Once lads started working with eachother on schemes or real jobs, or met eachother in DC or nick, and once they started mixing the secondary schools with kids from both the new and old towns, then things began to calm down. There's still plenty of mutual mistrust and resentment on both sides and there's still a split between both communities but nothing on the scale of the 70s and 80s.

 

I received more twattings at the hands of our scouse brethren, osme deserved, some not, over the next five or six years as we began pubbing and clubbing but now all my best mates are scousers and, even though I still enjoy winding them up, I think that they brought more to the town than most wools would like to admit. Decent coke for one'.only joking. I ended up on a YTS myself after leaving school at the earliest opportunity and 24 years later my daughter speaks with a strange mutant scouse/wool accent ' a scully perhaps ' and I still don't know if that's a good or a bad thing. Tribal belonging is a strange, irrational force within all of us and to be honest I'm proud to be 100% Pure Wool.  

 

 

 

 

 
   
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