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By Phil Thornton
Stoney sat opposite the professor in the cafe above the book shop, somewhere he didn’t feel too self-conscious, somewhere where the sight of a man with a five inch scar running down the right hand side of his face, from his temple to the corner of his mouth talking to a balding, bearded, unkempt man in his late 50s wouldn’t attract too much attention. He knew it’d be almost deserted in here, it always was. He wondered how they made enough money to survive to be honest, but he liked it here, this was part of his new life. The old Stoney would’ve despised this kind of place, despised the people who ate here, as well as those who worked behind the counter, selling veggie shit to hippy cunts. The Old Stoney would’ve told some university professor twat who wanted to interview him for some research project to fuck right off.
He gave an inward chuckle to himself when Professor Michael Johnstone came shuffling through the door, looking every bit the stereotypical academic whopper, although he had to admit that he too looked alarmingly like the archetypal football hooligan; shaved head, scar, designer casual clothing. Infact when he first started coming to The Nook café he was regarded with suspicion and sometimes outright hostility, so it worked both ways. Once he got talking to Louisa who ran the place and Ramon, her Chilean boyfriend, they put their mutual prejudices to one side and now he’d chat to them about their politics, their interests, their personal lives. He’d learned to open up a bit and not to treat everyone he met as a potential enemy.
Stoney knew he’d never bump into one of his old associates in a place like this; the greasy spoons and all day brekky joints in town perhaps or, now that most of em thought they were a bit sophisticated perhaps one of the newer coffee and muffin yards in the precinct or even the Mediterranean eateries in the so-called ‘cultural quarter’. But he felt safe enough here, not that he was worried what anyone else thought about him but he just couldn’t be arsed anymore. Couldn’t be arsed explaining himself, justifying himself.
‘Who was that nobhead you were talking to?’
‘What have you been telling people?’
You’d think they were some paramilitary guerrilla group they way they got paranoid about outsiders, and indeed that’s how they saw themselves, how Stoney used to see himself. They really did believe that they were some kind of cross between an army and a Masonic guild, and at one point Stoney had been Grand Pooba, infact it was thanks to Stoney that their activities, which boiled down to little more than the odd fight with mirror images of themselves from different cities, became inflated into some kind of noble crusade, given moral legitimacy and intellectual weight via his own pretentious leanings towards ancient military history. He had galvanised what was, when he took over, a rag tag collection of petty criminals, junkies and psychopaths into one of the most feared firms in the country. But he saw through all that now, saw it for what it was; just another futile form of self-defeat. He’d had plenty of time to evaluate his perverted code of honour inside. Five years infact. He’d wised up and began to apply himself to something a bit more positive and worthwhile. He knew it sounded like a cliché but he sincerely wanted to ‘give something back’ maaan!’ It was one of his workmates at the parole service where he was volunteering as a mentor who’d read something about some university fellar doing some research into football hooliganism and said it might do Stoney some good to talk to him.
He wasn’t interested at first, he’d always hated those cunts from Leicester University leeching off hooliganism to forge careers for themselves as ‘expert sociologists.’ What the fuck did they know about owt? He’d read all their books, they always got it wrong. He’d even thought of doing his own memoire but there were hundreds of them now and what did he have to offer? More of the same bullshit, the same braindead boasting dressed up as social history? Nah, fuck it, that was all in the past now and he needed to look to the future.
A few months later, he’d got a phone call. It was this professor Johnstone. His mate had passed on his phone number to the academic and he’d contacted him, asked to meet up and perhaps do a preliminary interview, nothing heavy, just an hour or so of his time. He was hesitant at first but the prof’s soft Scots accent and his undoubted interest seemed to be genuine enough. This, he assured Stoney, wouldn’t be just another hatchet job, another flimsy piece of middle-class voyeurism into the lives of the underclass or indeed a dry treatise on the male condition in a post-industrial society. He wanted depth and detail, he wanted the whole story, the big picture and it wasn’t for some tedious ten bob book but for his own research on various aspects of gang cultures.
Stoney stirred his cup of weak, milky tea. He’d already eaten the two perfectly poached eggs on toast waiting for the professor to arrive. He was late and appeared flustered upon entering the small, claustrophobic room, with its low ceiling and musty furniture. They’d exchanged a few pleasantries, got the small-talk out of the way and without much fanfare the professor switched on his fancy digital recording device. An open question to begin with ;
‘Describe the first time you witnessed crowd violence at a football match’ and he was away.
‘I don’t know if it was the first time I’d witnessed it, the aggro, but it’s the one that sticks in my head. I was about 7 or 8, maybe younger, me dad was a Liverpool fan, big Liverpool fan, it was either Liverpool or United by us, one or the other, a few Everton, one of two City but not many. He’d take me to Anfield, I was only young, started going when I was five or six so this was 71, 72 around that time. The Kop in those days, this was when it was chocka, I mean really chocka, they’d score and you’d end up miles away from where you was stood or if you got in front of one of the stantions, you’d get crushed. There was all kinds of injuries, people getting passed over to the St John’s ambulance on the side of the pitch but even though I was only little, I never felt scared in there. Somehow I’d always find my way back to me dad, kids would get passed overhead, it was amazing really. So many people in such a small space but never any violence, people standing on eachother and pushing to get a decent speck, but apart from the odd little scuffle, nothing really kicked off and in those days there wasn’t really many away fans either.
We used to go all over the ground, the Kop, the Kemlyn Road, the Main Stand, even the Anny Road, infact the Anny Road became our usual speck, before the fences were put up, you’d try and get right by the wall, it was always full of mad old scouse women with loads of rosettes and scarves and stuff and you’d try and squeeze in and get on this low white wall, and sometimes the police would let you sit on it, depending on how many were there, but Anfield was always chocka then, this was when Liverpool were the best team in the country and the kop would sing ‘You’ll Never walk Alone’ and to a kid, seeing all that, all those scarves, from one end to the other, thousands of em, it was just breathtaking really. The Anny Road would sing it too and it’d be like a smaller version of the kop and even then I remember this animosity between the Kop and the Anny Road. They’d section off the corner of the Anny Road for away fans if any bothered to turn up and sometimes it’d kick off in there. I’d never really see it but you could hear it going off behind you and I suppose the harder lads would go in the Anny Road to get at the away lot, so it became this competitive thing between the Anny Road and the Kop, you’d get the Anny Road lot singing
‘Kopites are gobsites’
like they were being shithouses every time they’d break into ‘scouser aggro’ or something when it was kicking off. I remember watching it go off between Newcastle once, we must’ve been in the Kemlyn Road I think, and there was a gap of about ten foot either side with a few coppers in between and it was just mobs charging into eachother, proper fighting all the way through the game. It seemed to be accepted then. The coppers would fly in, lamp a few people, drag a few out but it was no big deal, I think the coppers enjoyed it as much as the hooligans. I think that’s why me dad started taking me in the Kemlyn Road, in the seats to get away from the aggro, because it was getting worse around that time, the early 70s. It wasn’t the same in the stands though, I preferred it in the Kop or the Anny Road, not that I was tough or owt, far from it, but it just more of an experience, more exciting.
It was in the Kemlyn Road that I got a laugh off fellars. Someone had hoofed the ball right over our heads and we were like half-way up and I shouted ‘the floodlights aren’t playing mate’ and that got a laugh, all the fellars round me were laughing and me dad was smiling and I think he liked that, having me there, wisecracking with these scousers. It was weird getting fellars laughing at you, made yer feel grown up I suppose, that was the closest really that I ever got to me dad and those games were special because you felt a part of something. Me dad’d finish work, come home, get changed and take me down the Oak, his local and have a few in there. He picked up his mate, can’t remember his name now, Colin I think. We had this Hillman car, it was fucking massive, and when he stopped for petrol, you’d get these football tokens, little like coins that you’d stick on a chart and Colin or whatever his name was would always buy me some, so I liked him. Sometimes it’d be just me and me dad, I remember Liverpool was like fucking New York or somewhere cos we were form this little town and to a kid Liverpool seemed huge, we’d drive up through Woolton, Allerton, up through Childwall, Old Swan, Tuebrook, I still remember all the little plaques with the names on, the little Liver Birds on em and then we’d park up in some massive car park and walk down the cobbled streets to Anfield.
All the houses in Anfield were all these bayfronted Victorian ones and the roads seemed to go on for ever, I always thought it must be like winning the pools to actually live in Anfield to be that close to the stadium. You’d get down to Breck Road, outside the Kop and we’d go the chippy and me dad’d get us some chips and a meat and potato pie and those were the nicest fucking chips I’ve ever tasted. Probably just bullshit nostalgia but they were fucking gorgeous. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier than then, stood outsaide Breck Road chippy, all the people, thousands of em, all queuing up to get in the kop, the police horses pushing everyone into the wall, the smell of horse shit and vinegar.
The professor smiled and caught Stoney’s.
‘What about the violence you witnessed? The Liverpool v Newcastle game?’ he politely asked.
‘Oh yeah sorry, fucking hell I got a bit….haven’t thought about it for years to be honest. No, this wasn’t the Newcastle game. I don’t know if it was before then or after, I’m sure it was before though. For some reason we were in the Main Stand which we never really went in, sometimes me dad’d put me in the boys pen at the bottom but I never liked it in there because it was full of these horrible hardfaced scouse kids, I preferred it with the fellars to be honest. I think it was the same day we met Shankly. I’ve never seen men behave like that before, grown men all acting like a bunch of kids. We were outside the Main Stand trying to get tickets off the touts and suddenly Bill Shankly just appeared right infront of us and it was like you’d seen fucking Jesus or something. I know people go on and on about how Shankly had this aura about him, how he was worshipped but it was true. All these people crowded round him and he just said something to me and me dad, a little joke, and it was like you’d been blessed, he’d actually spoken to you. Even me dad, I’d never seen him that excited before, never shut up about it for years. You see those photos of the fans kneeling down infront of him, praying to him and that was genuine. I don’t know what it was about him but he just had this way about him, it was, what’s the word?’
Stoney looked at the professor as if he’d automatically know the word he was searching for.
‘Messianic?’ the professor offered.
‘Yeah, messianic mate. Bang on! Shankly was the fuckin messiah as far as we were concerned.’
The professor finished his mug of tea and looked at the counter on his digital Dictaphone, then checked his watch. Stoney noticed these obvious signs of impatience but fuck it, he was in no hurry, it was no skin off his nose. He wasn’t even getting weighed in for it, he was doing this cunt a favour not the other way around.
‘Do you need to be somewhere?’ Stoney asked with a sternness of tone that indicated his displeasure.
The professor suddenly looked up and turned a page on his notebook, on which were scribbled various questions.
‘No no’ he mumbled apologetically, ‘take as long as you want. It’s all relevant.’
‘Do you want another brew mate?’ Stoney asked.
‘Er yeah sure, no milk for me thanks.’
Stoney caught Ramon’s eye at the counter.
‘Two more teas please Ramon, one with no milk lad’
Ramon nodded. There was still nobody else in yet but it was still too early for most of the lazy arse students who usually frequented the place.
‘You were telling me about the Chelsea game’ the professor said looking at his notes.
Stoney looked perplexed for a few seconds.
‘Oh yeah, that’s right, we were playing Chelsea, I remember it clearly because I’d never seen the Kop with an empty space before, the whole corner where the Kop meets the main stand had about twenty or thirty feet which was empty because there was these Chelsea lads below us in the Main Stand and they were launching these slings or something into the Kop. I remember all the fellars standing up, you’d get em all moaning ‘sling ‘em out’ all that, and that’s all I remember, something like slings or something like that, being thrown by these Chelsea lads at the Kop and this big open space opening up on the Kop and no-one had seen anything like that before, you could see the Liverpool fans in the middle of the Kop trying to get across to em, trying to make their way over to the corner to try and get at the Chelsea lot but not daring to go in that open patch.
It must’ve been near the end of the game because we always stayed to the final whistle but me dad decided to go a bit earlier and we were walking out into the corridor under the stand to get out and some of these Chelsea lads were stood in there and they were going ‘you’re not sending us out there’ to the bizzies, it was weird to hear Cockney accents, proper Cockney accents, that’s what struck me and their clothes, it was all long hair and denims, that typical bootboy look. I was only young, maybe seven, so it must’ve been 72, 73-ish and the bizzies and the stewards were trying to throw them out and me dad put his arm round me and got me through em. It was really dark, I remember that, it wasn’t winter, just dark under the stand in this narrow walkway and when we got out it was really bright and there must’ve been about a thousand or more scousers waiting for em, all baying for blood.
It was fucking terrifying but also exciting. You could tell these Cockneys were shitting themselves because it was only quite narrow between the Main Stand the houses behind, only a bit of a car park and the whole space was just chocka with scousers trying to get at these twenty or so Chelsea boys. That was the moment I just knew, I’d be a football hooligan one day. There’s just something about that image of coming out of this dark tunnel into the bright light and just seeing this fucking huge mob of lads trying to get at these poor fucking Cockneys. I mean fair play to em, Chelsea cos I don’t think anyone before them had done anything so outrageous, apart from trying to take an end, and you’d never take the Kop, not in those days anyway. They’d managed to disrupt the game, get all these scousers after their blood, not many of em really and lived the tale the tale. It’s one of those things where I ask lads now, Liverpool and Chelsea lads who I know, ‘do you remember when Chelsea were firing slings into the Kop?’ and no-one remembers it, maybe I dreamt it or something.’
Stoney noticed the professor stopped making notes at this point and looked up at him.
‘I didn’t dream it,’ he said defensively, ‘it deffo happened. Deffo. Liverpool v Chelsea 1972, 73 maybe, couldn’t have been older than 7 or 8, me dad had his car robbed not long after and we stopped going and that was that.’
Stoney still sounded hurt by this.
‘How did that affect you?’ the professor asked as Ramon placed their mugs of tea on the table.
‘Cheers mate’ Stoney said to Ramon, taking up a defensive posture on his chair. He didn’t want to get dragged into any fucking shrink shit. He gave the professor a cold stare.
‘How did what affect me?’
‘Your dad not taking you to the match,’ the professor answered returning his stare with what Stoney perceived to be a half smirk on his blotchy, beardy face.
‘How do you think it affected me?’
‘I suppose it upset you.’
Stoney stared the professor out giving a sarcastic nod. He detected a change in the professor’s body language, noticing how it had suddenly become more animated now they’d turned the subject onto more personal areas, the old father-son bullshit that these cunts always seemed to get boners for. Stoney could sense the next question coming.
‘What was your relationship like with your dad?’
Stoney fell silent. He visibly bristled.
‘I’m not….’ the professor sensed he was treading on uneasy ground. Stoney leaned forward placing his arms on the table inches away from the professor.
‘Look mate, let’s get something straight,’ he almost whispered, giving his words added menace, ‘I’ve come here to talk about football, I don’t mind telling you anything about what I got up to with the lads but let’s leave me aul fellar out of it OK? That’s none of your fucking business.’
The professor coughed nervously and leaned back away from Stoney. He switched off his recorder and closed his notebook.
‘I’m sorry, maybe we should leave it there for now.’
Stoney could see the professor was a bit frightened; maybe he hadn’t left his old ways behind him at all. He’d obviously intimidated the poor Scottish fuck. Maybe he was fooling himself, perhaps he’d never be able to leave it all behind, his past was always going to creep up on him at some point. The mental scars weren’t as obvious as the physical scar on his face but they went much deeper. Stoney leaned back again.
‘Sorry you’ve had a wasted journey,’ he said with a more conciliatory but slightly sarky tone.
‘No, no, not wasted at all Mr Stone, it’s been very valuable but maybe we should leave it there for now and perhaps speak again soon.’
‘Fair enough’ Stoney replied sensing that this prick wanted to get out of there and on the next train back to JockoLand as soon as possible.
‘How much was the tea?’ the professor asked putting his book and equipment carefully back into his fancy shoulder bag.
‘It’s on me mate.’
The professor stood up and reached across to shake Stoney’s hand. Stoney hesitated for a second and briskly shook his cold, weak studious hand. He didn’t grasp too tightly but made it clear that he wasn’t happy with the way it had gone. His body language reverted back to old poses and postures and this was classic ‘studied indifference’. It’s all a front, everything’s a fucking front. Stoney was a time-served, City and Guilds Front Merchant and the vibe he was giving off to the professor said ‘do what the fuck you want pal, I haven’t travelled 200 miles for a cup of piss weak tea and an old story about Cockney dickheads with slings. If you can’t take a bit of anti-Freudian advice then fuck you and fuck YOUR dad while you’re at it.
The professor hooked his bag over his shoulder, mumbled an insincere ‘Goodbye’ and shuffled out of the Nook as self-consciously as he’d shuffled in only half an hour earlier. Ramon came straight over to Stoney and in his best Scouse-Chilean accent asked;
‘Who the fuck was that?’
To be continued.
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