People always say that, to understand how far we’ve come, you need to look in the past. Whilst that sentence probably sounds a bit cliché, it could surely be used in discussions regarding the evolution of the common Premier League football supporter over the last 30-40 years.
If you’ll recall, the Premier League has only turned into a global league in the last 10 or so years. With the boom in the Britain’s biggest league came international contracts to show the matches in places as far away as Indonesia. Clubs like Manchester United and Chelsea are no longer secrets, nor are they really clubs: they’re now international brands.
Whilst the word “brand” makes Premier League purists cringe — and those who grew up with the game — many of us, myself included, understand that the global “brand” is what makes the league so appealing. Without the international television, there’d be less international flavour. And without the international flavour, I can guarantee you there’d be less money coming into the league.
With that in mind, I think most would be in agreement that the international influx in the Premier League has diluted one group that built the league: the British football supporter. Most of us only know of the club supporters we see on the telly, chanting their lungs out in the streets, but being silenced in the stands.
The supporters of the Premier League have changed drastically over the years. Today’s Premier League fan culture is a hodgepodge of fans from all over the globe supporting a club they’ve probably known for maybe 10 years tops. That’s not to say new fans are a bad thing; far from it. But if there’s one thing that used to make British football so intriguing, it was the fans.
Starting with the 1960s, a British subculture know as ‘casual’ culture was born. These were supporters who supported their club, but instead of wearing their club’s shirt to the match, they brought their news fashions to the football terraces instead (back when terrace football was still the rage).
The 1970s were followed by a mod revival that was brought on by Liverpool fans who introduced the rest of England to European fashions that they acquired while following the club at their European Cup quarter final in France against St. Etienne. Those expensive European and Italian designer clothes they were wearing when they came home were most likely looted from stores during violent outbreaks that were commonplace when supporters travelled abroad. It was just part of the culture and the times.
To get these designer clothes, football supporters travell abroad to the outer most reaches to get them by any means possible; or in some cased, find a spot that sold counterfit luxury goods that looked dead-on to the original. Soon enough, grafters from the Northwest of England were travelling abroad on a consistent basis, immersing themselves in new cultures, music, and closthing styles. Some came back after the buzz had worn off; others decided to stay and make a new life for themselves.
This is where Ian Hough comes in to the picture. Hough is a writer from Manchester who grew up in the ‘casual’ culture and saw it first hand. His first book, Perry Boys, detailed the “casual hooligan trend from its origins on northwest England’s terraces to its later metamorphisis into the rave/’Madchester’ culture.”
For so many of us who never grew up with the sport and are still novices to the history of the game in Britain, Hough’s first book gives us a great idea of what it was like growing up during the height of hooliganism is the country.
After his first book came out to great reviews, Hough decided to take his Perry Boys story a bit farther. His new book called Perry Boys Abroad takes a look at the Perry Boys from Hough’s first book; only this time Hough chronicles his own abroad experiences chasing in the height on Manchester’s changing fashions.
But Hough isn’t the only voice in this book. He takes the time to sit down and talk with these Northwest England grafters who made a life for themselves doing all kinds of legal (and sometimes illegal) work to live a different life in the outer corners of the world. This book isn’t so much about the ‘casual’ culture (most of which was centered around fighting at footbal match) at home, but rather what the culture did when they went abroad.
Like Hough said, “if you think casual culture was limited to fighting at football matches, think again.” I was amazed to read how these men gave up everything they knew for the chance to live a life as a relative vagabond, going from country to country, exploring everything they possibly could.
“Post-rave Brits,” as Hough calls them in his book, are few and far between these days. They truly are a dying breed that chased a different lifestyle most of today’s generation would never go after. But for those rare few who still exist in such places as Mexico, America, and Thailand, Hough allows them the chance to tell their story. And I can assure you it’s a story worth reading about.
Ian Hough is a hidden gem when it comes to writers who know British culture. Whilst there are plenty of people out there who can write a book about Manchester United’s history, there are very few who can write about the culture and history of those who sat and witnessed club such as Manchester United in the flesh, and lived to tell the stories in a way that brings you back to your childhood.
If you’ve never heard of the ‘casual’ culture, I emplore you to read Hough’s work to get a better idea of what it was like to live in the Northwest of England (Liverpool and Manchester played an intergal role) during the ‘casual’ culture. There’s more beyond the history of the game than just the football on the pitch. The lads in this book lived a life most of us will never experience. But there’s one way you can live vicariously through their stories, and that’s by reading Hough’s new book.
Favourite exceprt from the book: “Replica football kits were a new fetish item back then. Being poor in 1977, Christmas was my one hope of ever owning one. I remember nervously scrutinising the only red home shirt I ever had like it was a lunar astronaut suit. As the crackers and glasses of sherry made the rounds, I couldn’t believe I’d finally managed it. Mentally obsessed by that stadium and feeling unworthy of the colours, I made my trembling way into the world of Manchester United. I was branded for life, penned in behind those red railings with the other animals, my heart heald aloft on a roasting rod, sacrificed to the immortals who stroked that white leather pill about the park.”