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A ‘casual’ stroll through football, fashion and music.

24 Jan

There was one youth subculture that got up the noses of the establishment more than any other in history. They were clued up, dressed up and had an attitude that went beyond realms of any other movement before them.

When it came to shaking things up this lot knew how, where and when to be. It’s not Skinhead, it wasn’t Mod and wasn’t the ripped up anger of the punks. ‘Casual’ embraced everything that went before them but they weeded the shit out of the garden of England and grew into something that is still creating ripples to this day.

Firstly, let’s take a look at the moniker ‘Casuals’.  In the late 70’s, Everton and Liverpool football clubs were both taking part in European cup competitions. The fans from the Mersey travelled everywhere to follow their teams and on these travels the opportunity came to literally smash, grab and steal whatever goods were available on the continent. This usually meant exclusive designer clothing.

Steaming in. Old School.

The skinheads that attended football matches in the late 60’s and early 70’s started to get their steel toe-capped Doctor Martin boots taken away as a safety measure and at some grounds and the laces were removed by the Police at others. Skinhead fashion was always aggressively working class and the Police now had an easily recognizable target for trouble started at football. A movement to supersede the ‘boot boys’ was hiding just around the corner.

The police confiscating boots and laces.

English football casuals took every chance to watch the national team play, with every trip abroad becoming working holidays for some.  Stolen gear was sold as soon as the casuals were back in the UK. Labels started appearing that today sound familiar but in the 80’s, Lacoste, Sergio Tachinni, Ellesse, Gabichi and Fila held certain mysticism for lads that wanted to stay one step of their rivals in the fashion and fighting stakes.

Unlikely Style icons.

The casual look and attitude was just what the football lads needed to avoid the police detection that the skinheads suffered before them. The establishment didn’t expect anyone involved in football violence to be wearing a dearstalker hat, a Barbour jacket and Italian desinger tracksuits.

Footwear also played a huge part in the casual scene and Addidas were at the forefront of innovative trainer production during this period. Adidas have re-issued an Originals range that includes the casual classics Forest Hills and Trim Trabb. Fila and Sergio Tachinni have also released vintage  clothing ranges that use the original designs that were first produced in the 80’s. It just goes to show that there is still a market for these garments and the film industry has also helped with this resurgence. Never turn up at a football match with a bastard pair of trainers on – ask anyone who did, they won’t do it again!

Trim Trabb. Timeless.

As the labels started flooding the terraces, new streams of fashion appeared every week. Lads who once had cropped hair and thought long hair was for girls sported the much groomed wedge haircut. People that were looking like they had stepped off a tennis court or from an 80’s music video started travelling up and down the country on trains using cheap rail fare tokens torn from Persil washing powder boxes.

The inspiration for the wedge haircut. 

 Persil – All good clean fun.

For the football following youth of the 80’s, it was an adventurous and exciting time. Getting off a ‘Football Special’ train with all your mates, dressed to the nines and bowling about like you owned the place, was just the beginning of the buzz. Travelling to certain grounds for out of town supporters was becoming very risky business during the casual era but this was also part on the buzz. If there were just a few of you – you may have got the classic line, “ere mate, you got the time?” Always a tense moment for anyone in this situation, if your accent wasn’t regional, then your luck was up. This was a cue for it to “kick off.” For those that travelled in big numbers the thought in the back of the minds was one of anticipation. If you were confronted by another mob that were not going to let you stroll about like you owned the place it was game on in terms of the fighting. Week in week out, lads from all over the country got addicted to the buzz of football adrenaline and fashion changes. Just like youth cults before it, casual was new, exciting, and dangerous and people put a real effort and passion into it.

The early days of the “Football Special” trains.

The casual scene does exist to this day but not in the sense that it once did. Mass production has reduced the quality of a lot of goods and the ability to ship things from all over the world at a click of a button has taken away the one – upmanship that was once the essence of the casual culture.

“Dressers” still attend football matches, listen to decent music and look the part and if anything casual needs more dedication than ever. I have lost count of the number of times I have seen people wearing the same things at football, but I can memorize the amount of times that I have seen the way someone is dressed and football and thought, that person looks smart in every sense. It’s all about being clued up, as they say.

Stone Island – One of the most ubiquitous casual labels.

Casual was also a youth culture that had mass diversity when it came to the music that was in any discerning casual’s collection. I bet if you asked three people who were into the scene in the early 80’s about the music they listened to, you would get three different answers.

Ska, Reggae, Punk, Electro, Oi, Northern Soul, Madchester, Rave, all genres that attracted the casuals. Bands even had casual elements at gigs. The Cockney Rejects had a West Ham Following, The Farm had a huge following in Liverpool, Chelsea fans amongst others loved the early Ska and early Reggae, Cock Sparrer attracted football fans from many different clubs but there was one band that unified casuals more than any – The Jam.

The Jam had the lot. They looked sharp, had a style that set them apart and most importantly, they were brimming with vitriolic anger and were 100% working class. The Jam crossed paths with the Skins, Punks, Mods, Casuals and Soul Boys and to be honest, I can’t think of a band in history that had an audience as diverse as The Jam. The Jam are and were the ultimate casuals band. What was to follow would change it all.

The Jam. “Life is new and there’s things to be done”.

In the late 80’s, the rave scene came along and the casuals found a different reason to travel the length and breadth of the country. It wasn’t a new cup competition, it was dancing rather than fighting that was on the agenda. The ‘top boys’ from football firms all around the country started attending and putting on raves. People that were once fighting on the terraces were now hugging in fields.

From tooled up to loved up.

The drug ecstasy started a new wide-eyed revolution and the thought of getting up for a football match after dancing for ten hours or more was becoming less appealing for most. Dropping an’E’ and raving to acid house music became the craze of the 90’s and again the police got involved. 20,000 people dancing to thumping music in a field, whilst taking drugs was too much again for those in power. Add a sleepy farmer waking up to bass and bleeps at three in the morning, co-operation was thin on the ground. Middle England was up in arms, yet again.

The Criminal Justice bill was introduced in the early 90’s to quash any illegal events that were taking place in the UK and the rights of anyone meeting in groups for any public activity was becoming harder.

The Rave scene in its original state was put to bed and to anyone that was there at the start, it felt like it never recovered.

A common site at most grounds these days.

The Criminal Justice Bill included something that spelt trouble for anyone involved in football related violence going into the mid 90’s and beyond. The Section 60, which increased police powers of unsupervised “stop and search” was introduced. The police now had the power to take photographs of known football firms and banning orders and prison sentences were the final death knell for anyone involved in football related instances from the early 90’s onwards. Put a CCTV camera on every street corner and the risk for most now outweighed the buzz of the original football scene. For many the game is over but for others the adrenaline is as pure as it always was…

“We’re the stars of CCTV.”

In the next part of this feature, I decided to speak to some of the people that were involved in the casual scene in the 80’s

Starting with Cass Pennant, who was part of West Ham’s Inter City Firm and was in and around the subculture from the start. Cass has written numerous related football books, had a film about his life made and most recently released a DVD on casual culture itself, ‘Casuals.’

Looking back, how has the casual scene changed and personally do you think it is still alive and kicking today? 

“The original casual scene at its height and will always be the tennis wear heyday from 81-84, then came the rave era in 87, that started and was the blowing out of the casual scene until the Stone Island, Burberry and Aquascutum baseball cap wearing 90s which was finally for me when the entire North were all dressing and going to England games.

Not much changed, except the loss of hair and expanding waistbands until the vision of Neil Primet started a retro clothing company called ’80’s Casual Classics’ after noticing old skool casuals had used E-Bay to locate the finest gear we ever wore in the 80’s and now its all relevant today with all those 80’s brands back on our high streets. It should never be too mainstream for some of us, but the big difference is, nobody is following anyone as to what is in or out, it’s really personal choice and also the joy of getting gear in XL and XXL, which being a original fashion of youth is something of a big give-away as to who are the real authentic wearers. Another give-away is a white sole on your Diadora Borg Elite or Adidas Forest Hills trainers.

Cass Pennant with Peter Hooton from The Farm.

What music were you listening to at the time of the casual movement?

The early London football casual scene was sort of 78-80 and so diverse musically and because you had these different and rival subcultures driven by youth that used their UB40 cards to get into gigs cheaper, or they became of part of a band entourage by being roadies, or even forming their own bands. The transit hire van would stop off somewhere from an away match to catch a band on tour and depending who it was they’d be following that scene for next few games. The East End boys did them all, from Sham 69, The Jam, Cockney Rejects and the mod revival going on at the Bridge House in Canning Town – this was the Newham area lads, the Essex lads were far older, they were still Floyd, Zepp’ and pub venues that played classic rock, while the non-East London West Ham lads I knew were very much ‘soul boys’ that followed the Ilford, Canvey Island and Southend club scenes. The Lyceum ballroom I avoided, as much of the West End had North and South London football lads.

My stand alone memory of the time, was a transit drive to Madrid for Castilla v West Ham in the Cup Winners Cup. Everyone took their own cassette tapes and having won the FA Cup beating Arsenal, the Cockney Rejects tracks ‘Bubbles’ and ‘West Side Boys’ were all the rage. Then Grant Fleming forced on pirate tracks of an Irish band he said was U2 -total different sound to anything we had heard and continued plays had everyone blown away by time we drove into Madrid.

The East End was now turning to disco pubs from Stratford to Bethnal Green full of posers but wearing your MA jacket to football and then going to gigs was still all about being a tasty geezer. Then the pirate soul radio of JFM and Horizon etc exploded around the same time. The younger football lads I call the ‘Thatcher’s children’ started to put the colour into Casual, with the track tops, fraying the Lois cord bottoms and diamond Pringle jumpers. By the time I’d come out of doing remand and then a prison sentence from 81 and’82, that one-time geezer crew had firmly got into Jazz funk, Brit funk and into birds. Great days for the music of Southern Freez, Beggar & co, Shakatak, all them – never forget it. We all went to the same places but like as one now, with the black lads from Leytonstone and Canning town all properly on the firm.

The Cockney Rejects. The pride of the East End.

Why do you think casuals had such a diverse taste in music considering most youth movements stuck to one or two genres?

The football lads would often be the influential in crowd by nature but on the terraces it’s a gathering of various groups with the common ground being supporters of the same team. Travel had opened up to be affordable with firms now travelling to the game and for some of us it had become part of the day and adventure. Going to different towns taught you about different music scenes on a regular basis. Before that, youth sub-cultures remained regional and only ventured out on bank holidays, or to venues and gigs that entertained only their own sub-culture, while the football casual scene was a sub-culture born off the terraces and unlike every movement before it was not coming from music. Think about it, the teddy boys hit off from rock & roll, the original skins, it was from the reggae, mods from beat clubs, soul boys South and North came from the club scene and the punks from punk music. The casuals never came from any music link, so it was always going to out last the movements that created their scene from the music and die with it the moment it becomes mainstream.

Freez and their brand of funky dance.

What were your favourite items of clothing during the casual era and your worst?

The distinct black and white dog tooth patterned full length beltless Burberry mac that I wore in the Hooligan documentary about the ICF in the 1984-5 season. Same film that I bellowed out the now infamous quote of , “Kiddie Firm” to the Chelsea hordes on the train opposite us wearing a bright blue Burberry short Harrington style jacket. Both these items were unique and one-offs for their colour and pattern, because at the time the tin-tack macs were like FBI style coats in only navy or beige, same with their jackets. The bright blue Burberry I acquired from Spanish mainland while on a day trip shopping from the fighting going on in Magaluf between rival English football firms. The overcoat mac was from Burberry and sold as a one-off design they were not going to run with.

My film production ‘Casuals’ has everyone wanking over their trainers and what must my pair of size 12, all white Ellesse, long pointy nose shape that the lads called my “torpedoes” think? They had the Ellesse badge protruding out on the back of the heel. They were from Europe, from a thieving trip by the Under-Fives who could not find anyone in the pub that was a size 12. By the time they came to me, I knew the reason and would only part with a fiver to teach the thieves a lesson (rob a popular size next time). Never ever in all my travels saw another pair anywhere in the country, I got ribbed for their shape that made them look size a 15 but boy was they the softest leather trainer ever. If I knew the name (That’s the trouble when gear comes unboxed) I would have searched high and low on E-Bay today-they would be worth a mint.

Burberry was the order of the day.

Which songs would you choose to sum up the casual era of the 80’s?

The Whispers – And the Beat Goes On, because of a mental mad weekend in Blackpool with the young ICF. We had it with groups of Burnley, Man Utd, Leeds, Celtic and everywhere we went, one of us had to carry the portable double-decker tape player that everyone called, (totally politically incorrect to say now) ‘Ghetto Blasters’. Our escape was made from the guest-house when word came back to us that all these firms were now joining up looking for West Ham Cockneys. So after a mad dash, we enter the station running, where we came across Man City and Wigan having it. Decide now, wait for the train, or pick a side and join the fight? Wigan outnumbered, so we sided with them and saw City off. Wigan and West Ham on same train and buddies now, then as we approach near Crewe, the Wigan we had helped, they try turn on us… Which was a big mistake.

The same Whispers track (pre-release off pirate radio) was on continuous play on this massive silver double deck tape recorder and someone commented and we all nodded in agreement that the film ‘The Warriors’ had nothing on us as the Inter-City hurtled back South. That song and weekend summed up a dawn of the casual in West Ham ranks. A young crew of unknowns, dressed like London spivs and fought like gangsters, that had gone from Cockney Rejects into Jazz funk and soul overnight – like Jam to Style Council, plus this new attitude of have money and will travel together and with the Thatcher attitude that everything starts and ends at London. These boys emerging were like all mini guv’nors.

The Whispers – And the Beat Goes on.

The North’s liking for the electro beat bands never really did it for our lot but if it had a terrace anthem edge to it like ‘Don’t you Want Me Baby’ byThe Human League they would be in on the sing-along, but if I go back to Brit-Funk outfit Freez when in ’83 their video I.O.U was first seen. The casuals I knew were quick to notice the Sergio Tacchni wear, with the split frayed Lois jeans and cords worn by the kids body-popping in the video, wearing Nike Wimbledon’s and Adidas Samba.

An absolute classic. This was the future.

Cass’ casuals DVD is well worth a watch for anyone interested in this subject matter and is available on DVD now.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Casuals-DVD-Peter-Hooton-narration/dp/B005GKYNOI

The next person for the interview treatment was Garry Bushell. Garry wrote for the music paper Sounds in the 80’s and was one of few mainstream journalists aware of casual culture and the people and music involved.

When did you first become aware of the casual movement, as at the time I think you were writing for Sounds?

The Casuals were a terrace phenomenon, they incubated in and around football grounds, so it was predominantly a working class thing and I really became aware of it around 1980/81. The people who became those first Casuals had been Mods, and skinheads, and Glory Boys who I knew. It grew out of other working class cults

At football matches, the police were looking for crops and DMs not blokes in Farahs and trainers with wedge haircuts and too much jewellery; so Casual made sense

The papers were still going on about skinheads for years after the real terrace hooligans had moved on

You put the band Accent on the front cover, which at the time caused quite a stir. Basically, from what I know, seeing a group of smartly dressed lads on the front of a rock magazine was not in keeping with ethos of Sounds. What attracted you to the band?

Sounds had a Mod sensibility at its core, and there are huge parallels between Mod in the sixties and Casual in the early eighties. Think about it, the love of clothes, and looking good, the love of black music, fighting and the odd line of sulphate. They’re the same thing a generation apart. And both were driven by the need to be the best, to be the ace face.

I didn’t go out looking for a casual band, but I had my ear to the ground in those days and I was listening out for anything new and interesting.

Why do you think there were not that many bands that calling themselves “casual”?

When people talk about Mod bands they talk about rock bands like The Who, and the Small Faces, but the music Mods listened to was predominantly black soul music. With the first modernists it was jazz, but then it was Motown and Stax and early Ska. Mods had been going for years before the Who had their first hit. And it felt the same with the first Casuals who were in to black music to begin with. Knowing the roots of the cult, I would have expected a casual band to be a direct descendent of a band like The Jam – that combination of smartness, good tunes and lyrical sharpness. Although having said that, the first band who dressed like Casuals were the East End Badoes from Poplar who played fairly raucous Oi music. They were formed by Skully from West Ham and Terry Hayes who was Millwall, but their career went down the gurgler….

The EEB’s are back! 

Were you surprised at the diversity of the musical tastes of the football crowd?

No, even the people who followed the Cockney Rejects at the start had widely varied musical tastes; people are rarely as easily pigeon-holed as they’d appear to be on the surface

Casual wasn’t music based. I think Casuals were a movement based around fashion, which incubated around football terraces. Suddenly the West Side and The Shed became the cat walks! and the first Casuals valued the hottest new black music : jazz funk and early rap

Derek B. This track blew open the UK rap scene. 

Which three songs, sum up the casual era for you?

From a rock point of view, All Together Now by The Farm, We Are Lost by Accent, The Way It’s Gotta Be by the East End Badoes… although there are jazz-funk songs that touched many more people than the Badoes ever did! More Casuals had heard of Harvey Mason and Bobby Lyle than Terry Hayes, much as I love him.

The Farm – All Together Now

To sum it up. How would you describe the casual movement from a personal point of view?

Casual was about looking good, and being hard and sharp. It wasn’t set in time, it was an evolving look, that started with Lacoste, Slazenger and Pringle and developed into the most exclusive ski wear they could get their hands on. The problem for bands like Accent was by the time they’d come through, most of the actual casuals had moved away from designer labels.

http://www.garry-bushell.co.uk/

Next up is self-proclaimed former casual and one time member of the casual band Accent, Mick Habenshaw Robinson.

How did you get into the casual scene?
Living in Fulham it was all around – local pubs/ clubs but primarily football. Chelsea was my team. Spotting diamond Pringles, deerstalkers etc.
The legendary Pringle.
Where were you buying your clothes from at the time and what clothes labels do you like these days.
Stuarts in Sheperds Bush mainly but also Aquasctum, Scotch House , Later on Gee2. Now it’s Ralp Lauren, Westwood, Lacoste and Billionaire Boys Club.
How did the band Accent form and what were your influences?
We were all friends and had been in different bands who kind of
grouped together. Brian (singer) and me were the  original and regular members and wrote the songs. Steve, on guitar, was an old mate from school days, Chris, the drummer, was through an advert in a music paper. Influences were The Jam, punk and post punk bands.
How many releases did the band have and how many gigs did you play and was the response to the band positive?  
One single, 50 odd gigs, built up a following and always had a positive/lively response. It got to the stage where we could fill the Fulham Greyhound.
Accent – We are lost.
What bands/artists were you listening to during that period?
The Jam, Clash, New Order I was also getting into soul (through the Jam b-sides initially) some electro as well.
What were your favourite items of clothing at the time and which ones do you think were the worst?
Deer stalkers, I still think that was an amazing sight, the early diamond Pringle jumpers and Trim Trabb trainers.
Personally, I never liked the Bennetton rugby shirts.
The Deerstalker. Yes, these were the rage.
Do you think the casual scene exits still, in any shape or form, or is it all just a re-hash of what went before?
In the ‘Casuals’ DVD it showed the kids who are currently  into the casual/ mod crossover which was nice. I think the knock on effect of casuals is still around, but as a movement, no. There is a cut off age for wearing tracksuits. Ha-ha.
What is your best memory of that Era?
Playing at Chelsea, appearing on the cover of Sounds, Gary Bushell
reviewing our gigs and deer stalker hats! The buzz at football too, it was exciting and also extremely passionate.

Accent’s gig at Stamford Bridge.

What was the reaction to the band after you appeared on the cover of Sounds?
In the Sounds it was awful, they were trad’ rock based. The readers couldn’t stand it all. They hated casuals and football. It did get more people at our gigs and led to an interest from big record labels, although we didn’t get signed.
Did Casual influence in you in any way as you got older and left the scene?

Yes, the attitude and confidence that looking smart can give you and the desire to dress up and wanting to improve yourself in appearance. I always head straight for the Lacoste Shop at the airport, even if I don’t buy anything – just looking in awe at all different colours you can get in a polo shirt.  Ditto with Ralph Lauren. If i’m ever in New York , seeing all the cheap Ralphie gear, I am literally in heaven.

The Lacoste polo shirt. Never out of fashion.

Next up I asked Danny Brown AKA  ‘Black Danny’ who was in Aston Villa’s C-Crew a few questions. Danny wrote a book on his exploits following Villa called ‘Villians’ and was in and around the casual scene as it took off.

When did you first notice the casual scene taking off and where?

I first noticed the casual scene in 1980 with lads kitted out at London clubs in Fred Perry shirts. The following years Manchester and Liverpool lads had a fusion of clothing that was second to none.

How deeply were you into the casual clothes and what were you wearing at the time?

Early 80s when Villa where playing in Europe, I would spend a good deal of time in France and Italy getting those sought after items of clothing such as Lacoste, Fila and Tacchini, which couldn’t be bought in the UK at the time.

What were your favourite items of clothing from that era and the ones you really didn’t like?

My favourite items of clothing; Adidas track suits, samba trainers and Slazenger jumpers. I didn’t like classic Kickers shoes or Ben Sherman shirts.

Adidas Samba. A terrace legend.

What music were you listening to at the time and did you go to a lot of gigs?

Mixed with the rave scene and street culture of the era, I was also into Reggae, Jazz Funk, Rap, R&B.  I went to many gigs all over the country; my favourite club was The Haçienda inManchester. The Haçienda was labelled the most famous club in the world by Newsweek magazine.

If one club defined the 80’s it was Manchester’s Haçienda.

Do you think the casual scene has survived or do you think it’s past its best?

The casual scene is still alive and kicking, though I’d say the format is watered down.

Give us three songs that sum up the era for you?

The Clash – Armagideon Time. Grandmaster Flash – The Message. Dennis Brown – Stop Your Fighting.

The streets of America came to the charts. A timeless 80’s classic.

Do you still go to football much these days and how do you view the modern game with all the SKY TV and multi-Millions of pounds spent on players?

Yes I still go to most home matches atVilla Park, and meet up with the same lads on a Saturday afternoon. Things have changed massively to the extent it’s a different place, with modern stands and building going up left right and centre. If you look at the rate of development within most football grounds, they are almost unrecognizable from the grounds I went to in the 80’s. In some way it’s a shame, but you can’t expect fans to watch Premiership football in an undeveloped ground in these modern times. As for the Sky Sports and the multi-millions of pounds spent on players, to be fair, I don’t blame the players. I hope the people who run the FA have a plan B if Sky Sports decides not to renew contracts.

Lastly, I would like to say a massive thank you to everyone involved in helping with this feature.  Without the help of Cass Pennant, Garry Bushell Mick Robinson and ‘Black Danny’ most of this would have have remained an idea. Cheers and thank you for your help and support.

Footnote: This was written out of a sheer a passion for football, music and clothing. I would never claim to be an ‘expert’ on any of these subjects but I have always loved all three and I hope this feature conveys those feelings and emotions that I have felt for the last three decades.

Here are some links relevant to all the subjects covered in this feature.

Clothing:

http://www.80scasualclassics.co.uk/index.php

http://www.stuartslondon.com/

http://www.trainerstation.com/

http://www.bbclothing.co.uk

http://www.peacefulhooligan.co.uk

Author websites:

http://www.casspennant.com/

http://www.blackdanny.co.uk/

http://www.garry-bushell.co.uk/

Music:

http://www.radioreverb.com/index.php?id=169

The above is Mick Robinson’s radio show. Seriously, this is the best radio show there is!

General sites of interest:

http://www.terracelinks.info/

http://casualcoblog.blogspot.com/