Welcoming Committees

BY NIGEL BEAN

Early 80s – The old train rattled into Euston. Back then we still had the old slam shut doors that were difficult to open from the inside. I had gone down to London with my old mate Jimmy but we were to part company almost immediately as I was on my way to watch Arsenal v Liverpool and he was off to watch Watford play a London team, I can’t  remember which. This meant I left the platform and went straight down into the underground tunnels, Jimmy went up onto the main Euston concourse, and we bid each other safe journeys.

As soon as Jimmy reached the main concourse he wanted to turn and run back from what confronted him. His heart pumped furiously, he told himself for Christ’s sake Jimmy they’re not after a lone Watford fan – and there was a heavy police presence. To the untrained eye Euston would have appeared as on any other Saturday – to a trained eye like Jimmy’s it was a lot more packed than usual, mainly with young men in their late teens and early twenties.

There were hundreds of them, leafing through magazines in WH Smiths or queuing up quietly for coffee -some reading the train timetable. Some were even helping grannies with their bags. The lads Jimmy saw were clean shaven, with smart haircuts, wearing jumpers, jeans and smart trainers. The boy next door image had been fooling the police for quite some time. The police were looking out for the boot boys and skinheads and didn’t see the impending danger Jimmy had spotted.

Jimmy knew an ambush was about to happen. Who were they? Who were they after? Jimmy found a quiet corner of Euston and waited for the drama to unfold.

He didn’t have to wait long. The waiting police moved down to a platform as a train pulled in, the doors swung open – almost kicked from their hinges – and 600 – 800 scousers piled onto the platform singing  “Liverpool, Liverpool” to announce their arrival into the capital. The police started the escort by leading from the front, they led them right onto the concourse – and the trap was sprung.

Hundreds of youths piled in from all four corners of Euston. A shop emptied as a crew roared head on into the escort – punching, kicking and head-butting anything in sight. Those police and Liverpool fans leading at the front were the first to take a hiding as helmets flew off in all directions – the assailants had to go through them first to get at the Liverpool fans behind. The Liverpool fans were getting a hiding and backed off as the police on the side and rear of the escort drew truncheons and joined in the battle to rescue the situation. It was then the assailants announced their identity, “She wore, she wore, she wore a yellow ribbon” it was the battle cry from the Arsenal Clockend. This was the Liverpool fans’ welcoming committee.

A stalemate ensued. This crew of Clockend were not going to let the Liverpool escort through and stood firm so the police were forced to lead them down into the underground the way I had gone about 10 minutes earlier. What the police had forgotten is that tunnel was also accessible from the concourse above so as soon as the Liverpool fans started entering the tunnel the Clockend ran down the escalators and straight into the Liverpool fans again. Another bloody battle ensued with more cracked skulls and hospital visits for some.  Welcome to London, Jimmy thought as he stood quietly out of the way – he had a lot to tell me later on that day when we met up again.

The police restored order and backed off the baying Clockend crew with truncheons drawn. This allowed the Liverpool fans to continue on their journey. But the Liverpool fans knew it was far from over – that was just the welcoming committee. They had to stop at other stations, knowing a similar sized crew would be waiting. Then the march up to the ground – here infiltrations were made into their ranks for an assault in the ground.

Then it was back home again after the game. The police held away fans back with the daft idea the home fans would clear and go home. They never did. The delay simply gave them more time to organise their surprise in the underground tunnels or back at Euston for a royal send-off back up North.

Running battles between fans outside Euston and Kings Cross raged weekly through the eighties from early morning until late at night. Those hooligans involved claim they loved every minute of it. Other teams played in London that day – Chelsea could have been playing Leeds, also bitter rivals, and the same old shenanigans would have taken place between them. Tottenham could have been playing away and arriving back in Euston around 8:30 p.m. – the Cockney reds were forever returning from watching Manchester United somewhere.

As Saturday evening wore on the crews diminished in size only for the likes of the battered and bruised crews of Arsenal Clockend, Chelsea and Tottenham – who were fighting one another earlier – join ranks to form a London crew and wait in the underground tunnels for the Northern Johnnies that had stayed down in London for a night out and were heading back home on the last train out of town.

(Before you feel sorry for Liverpool fans, don’t – they had their welcoming committees up at Anfield for the cockneys. Stanley Park near their ground – never has a park been so aptly named. Whatever you think of big Brother we should thank CCTV for putting a stop to these bruising encounters and giving the police the upper hand.)

Nigel Bean is a CSM regular and normally comments on animal rights activists and hunting. His days as a football hooligan come as a surprise to all of us at the magazine.