DCSIMG

A history of Leeds United violence

PETITE redhead Caroline Gall is not the most likely of people to spend their time hanging out with football hooligans.

But the journalist admits a fascination for the darker side of life.

"I'm intrigued by gangs and crime," she says, "I think a lot of people are.

"And this is social history we're talking about here. Like it or not, it was a culture that attracted thousands and thousands of lads up and down the country."

Gall spent nearly two years socialising with past and present members of Leeds United's hooligan gangs for her book Service Crew.

By the early 1980s, the Leeds Service Crew had become infamous throughout Britain, bringing terror and violence to football grounds up and down the country.

Gall had previously written the history of the Zulus – the Birmingham City hooligans – and was approached by Leeds to put their own story in print for the first time.

She travelled to Leeds United games around the country, speaking to those fans who wanted to tell their stories.

"I think they had been thinking about doing a book for a while. A lot of football firms have over the years.

"I went to home and away matches, met them in pubs and generally got chatting to them.

"I was in their hands. It's their take on what's happened over the last however many decades. It's up to them what they want to say.

"I spoke to everyone from guys in their fifties to those in their twenties. Despite their reputation I never felt threatened by anybody and I was never in any debatable situations."

The book is filled with tales of scraps with rival firms and police in riot gear, arrests and wrecking sprees through grounds and towns.

Buses and chip vans were set alight, pubs trashed and battles fought with darts, iron bars, knives and even axes.

The trouble got so bad that national newspapers even called for the club to be closed down.

"I guess it goes from when rival schools fight each other," says Gall. "It's one area against another area and it's all about defending your honour.

"It was about going to a match on a Saturday and whatever else went with it.

"But there were a lot of funny stories, friendships and amusing incidents over the years too. It certainly wasn't just violence, violence, violence."

Nevertheless, the photographs in the book are a snapshot of a time when the hooligan movement had spiralled frighteningly out of control.

In one, smoke pours out of a blazing coach carrying rival fans to Elland Road, its driver running for his life.

Another shows police on horseback charging hordes of Leeds supporters following a pitch invasion.

Then there are the Service Crew members dressed in Ku Klux Klan outfits and another group making 'Heil Hitler' salutes outside a pub.

"Leeds did pick up a racist reputation over the years," says Gall. "Some admit they were into it.

"The firm itself was predominantly white and some people had staunch racist views back them. Not just in Leeds but around the country."

Gall says those who took part in the violence were all willing participants and ordinary fans were never deliberately targeted.

"Innocent people did get caught up in it at various stages, that's inevitable. But to deliberately attack someone on their own was a no-no.

"There was an etiquette and one of the unwritten rules was not to go too far.

"For a gang of 10 or 20 to set upon one fan wasn't the done thing and you knew when someone had had enough."

The European Cup Final in Paris in May 1975 was when Leeds United first became synonymous with hooliganism.

Defeat to Bayern Munich, coupled with some controversial refereeing, enraged the thousands of Leeds fans who pelted the pitch with seats and coins before spilling out of the stadium.

Once outside they attacked every German fan they could find and tried to tip over a bus carrying Bayern supporters.

Coverage of the rioting reached far and wide, putting some supporters off going to matches for life but attracting a new generation of youths who read about or saw what happened.

The result was that hooliganism reached new heights with police often powerless to quell the violence inside and outside football grounds.

The Service Crew name was born when a group of Leeds fans travelled to Manchester on a normal service train rather than the regular, heavily-policed match day specials.

Before long it was known throughout the land, marauding Leeds fans wreaking havoc wherever they went.

A new hooligan faction – the Very Young Team – also rose to prominence and was soon leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.

In May 1985 – on the same day as the Bradford City fire which killed 55 people – a riot at a game between Leeds and Birmingham City saw an innocent teenage boy crushed to death when a wall collapsed.

One of the most infamous episodes in the history of Leeds United's hooligan element came five years later at Bournemouth.

A win would see Leeds crowned Division Two champions and up to 10,000 supporters made their way to the South Coast on a scorching hot Bank Holiday weekend.

But it was the so-called 'scarfers' – those outside the firm – who caused the most mayhem.

Cigarette machines were hurled through windows, petrol tanks on motorbikes set on fire and fights with police in riot gear broke out around the seaside town.

But by writing about such violence isn't Gall guilty of glamorising it?

"A lot of people are going to criticise me," she concedes. "They might think I'm making them into folk heroes. But I tried to be impartial and honest.

"I'm not the first person to write about it and I won't be the last. It's a subject that's eternally popular and people clearly want to read about it.

"There is no denying the football hooligan his place in the annals of British social history."

In more recent years better police tactics, stiffer penalties and the increasing use of video cameras to identify troublemakers has cut violence considerably.

"I think most people realise it's too much hassle nowadays," says Gall.

"A lot of them have grown up and grown out of it. That's half the reason why the book was done, a look back on what's gone on.

Nevertheless, Leeds United's reputation for trouble lives on.

Just a couple of weeks ago a pub in Northampton was wrecked by a group of Leeds fans who hurled rocks, road signs and manhole covers at rival supporters. Eighteen men – all Leeds fans - were arrested.

Last November there were 21 arrests when Leeds and Carlisle fans clashed in Cumbria – despite a police operation described as 'the largest of its kind in 30 years'.

"I don't know whether the police will ever be able to completely kill it," says Gall.

"But the heyday is long gone. It's one battle a season now, if that, if anybody can get round to organising it or it happens by chance."

So do any of the men she spoke to feel a sense of shame at their past exploits?

"I'm sure some who were involved may have regrets about some things that happened, but generally it's seen as a full-on culture that they enjoyed being part of and one that was embraced by thousands of lads.

"The experiences they shared had a bonding effect. You were either into it or you weren't, but for those that were it completely took over their lives."

Gall likens it to an addiction that many of those involved have had to conquer.

One former hooligan, Eddie Kelly, says in the book: "Although football lads around the country had a fantastic time, it is coming to an end.

"We are taking a back seat and letting others do it."

Last December the same Eddie Kelly was recently arrested for breaching the terms of a four-year football banning order imposed for assaulting a steward two years earlier.

Perhaps for some it's an addiction that's too powerful to conquer.

Service Crew: The Inside Story of Leeds United's Hooligan Gangs is out now priced 15.99. The Yorkshire Evening Post has ten copies to give away. Send a postcard with your name, address and daytime telephone number to: Service Crew Competition, Features Department, Yorkshire Evening Post, Wellington Street, Leeds, LS1 1RF. Entries should arrive no later than Wednesday, February 27.

Not just in Leeds but around the country.”

Gall says those who took part in the violence were all willing participants and ordinary fans were never deliberately targeted.

“Innocent people did get caught up in it at various stages, that’s inevitable. But to deliberately attack someone on their own was a no-no.

“There was an etiquette and one of the unwritten rules was not to go too far.

“For a gang of 10 or 20 to set upon one fan wasn’t the done thing and you knew when someone had had enough.”

The European Cup Final in Paris in May 1975 was when Leeds United first became synonymous with hooliganism.

Defeat to Bayern Munich, coupled with some controversial refereeing, enraged the thousands of Leeds fans who pelted the pitch with seats and coins before spilling out of the stadium.

Once outside they attacked every German fan they could find and tried to tip over a bus carrying Bayern supporters.

Coverage of the rioting reached far and wide, putting some supporters off going to matches for life but attracting a new generation of youths who read about or saw what happened.

The result was that hooliganism reached new heights with police often powerless to quell the violence inside and outside football grounds.

The Service Crew name was born when a group of Leeds fans travelled to Manchester on a normal service train rather than the regular, heavily-policed match day specials.

Before long it was known throughout the land, marauding Leeds fans wreaking havoc wherever they went.

A new hooligan faction – the Very Young Team – also rose to prominence and was soon leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.

In May 1985 – on the same day as the Bradford City fire which killed 55 people – a riot at a game between Leeds and Birmingham City saw an innocent teenage boy crushed to death when a wall collapsed.

One of the most infamous episodes in the history of Leeds United’s hooligan element came five years later at Bournemouth.

A win would see Leeds crowned Division Two champions and up to 10,000 supporters made their way to the South Coast on a scorching hot Bank Holiday weekend.

But it was the so-called ‘scarfers’ – those outside the firm – who caused the most mayhem.

Cigarette machines were hurled through windows, petrol tanks on motorbikes set on fire and fights with police in riot gear broke out around the seaside town.

But by writing about such violence isn’t Gall guilty of glamorising it?

"A lot of people are going to criticise me,” she concedes. “They might think I'm making them into folk heroes. But I tried to be impartial and honest.

“I’m not the first person to write about it and I won’t be the last. It’s a subject that’s eternally popular and people clearly want to read about it.

“There is no denying the football hooligan his place in the annals of British social history.”

In more recent years better police tactics, stiffer penalties and the increasing use of video cameras to identify troublemakers has cut violence considerably.

“I think most people realise it’s too much hassle nowadays,” says Gall.

“A lot of them have grown up and grown out of it. That’s half the reason why the book was done, a look back on what’s gone on.

Nevertheless, Leeds United’s reputation for trouble lives on.

Just a couple of weeks ago a pub in Northampton was wrecked by a group of Leeds fans who hurled rocks, road signs and manhole covers at rival supporters. Eighteen men – all Leeds fans - were arrested.

Last November there were 21 arrests when Leeds and Carlisle fans clashed in Cumbria – despite a police operation described as ‘the largest of its kind in 30 years’.

“I don’t know whether the police will ever be able to completely kill it,” says Gall.

“But the heyday is long gone. It’s one battle a season now, if that, if anybody can get round to organising it or it happens by chance.”

So do any of the men she spoke to feel a sense of shame at their past exploits?

“I’m sure some who were involved may have regrets about some things that happened, but generally it’s seen as a full-on culture that they enjoyed being part of and one that was embraced by thousands of lads.

“The experiences they shared had a bonding effect. You were either into it or you weren’t, but for those that were it completely took over their lives.”

Gall likens it to an addiction that many of those involved have had to conquer.

One former hooligan, Eddie Kelly, says in the book: “Although football lads around the country had a fantastic time, it is coming to an end.

“We are taking a back seat and letting others do it.”

Last December the same Eddie Kelly was recently arrested for breaching the terms of a four-year football banning order imposed for assaulting a steward two years earlier.

Perhaps for some it’s an addiction that’s too powerful to conquer.

l Service Crew: The Inside Story of Leeds United’s Hooligan Gangs is out now priced 15.99. The Yorkshire Evening Post has ten copies to give away. Send a postcard with your name, address and daytime telephone number to: Service Crew Competition, Features Department, Yorkshire Evening Post, Wellington Street, Leeds, LS1 1RF. Entries should arrive no later than Wednesday, February 27.

grant.woodward@ypn.co.uk

 
 
 

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