Then you progress ... you move further to the back, you buy the boots and wrap the scarf round your wrist and go stand with the bigger guys at the back who lead the chanting. Then after the game you follow them as they go looking for the away fans ... along the road as their mob are lead along the road to Smethwick Rolfe street station. The big guys try and get at their big guys; you tag along behind; trying to look tough. When the police are not around or running disorganised with their dogs the real fighting starts and both sets of hooligans look for each other; sometimes one gang runs at another 'Stand your ground' and you stand, you don't run. You look for some guys the same size as you and you aim a punch or a kick.
Most of it is bravado. But as you progress to away games you get involved more, you start to run with the big guys and beat people up and also get beaten yourself; smacks in the mouth are shocking at first then you get used to them. Kicked to the ground and getting laid into is always scary. It wasn't always like this ...
You started as a fan. Young kid with all the scarves, rosettes, jumpers and a bobble hat. I went with my granddad who had had the bug passed onto him from his dad and granddad and back it goes. This is your team! Take um for what they are ... they are yours! And that's it; you are stuck for life with a crap team who never wins anything. 68 was the last cup we won. My granddad said he jumped up and landed five rows of seats down; and didn't get home to Birmingham for a couple of days. He never said what he got up to.
We stood behind the goal and if we couldn't see, which was often the case; the crowd passed the kids over their heads down the front, where you squeezed your face through the railings to catch a glimpse. We mostly saw the goalie who was a character, John Osborne. He goofed around and chatted to the crowd when the action was up the other end. He always placed his false teeth at the side of the post before the game and when he could scrounged a fag of someone and lent on the post and puffed away. I remember him losing them one time in the mud; we all howled while he searched around his goal-mouth on his hands and knees.
We loved those pissed drenched terraces. We loved the colours ... the pitch always seemed too green, the scarves too blue, like a vivid avant-garde painting. We took it all in; the swearing, the chants, the banter and loved it all. We got caught up in the humour the passion and the euphoria.
As you got older you moved towards the back, away from your granddad and nearer the cool guys who sang; and then I changed ends to be with the even cooler guys who fought. We stood next to the away fans and threw insults and sharpened coins.
After I left him I would meet up with my granddad at half time behind the stands and he would give me a still warm wrapped package of sausage and tomato sandwich with brown sauce from my Nan. We chatted a little 'Not getting into any trouble I hope?' he quizzed me and smiled as he knew. Maybe he had done the same, I bet he did. I heard there was fighting even in the fifties especially when we paid villa; and I knew he hated them fiercely, and the away day to villa was the highlight of his season. He got so wound up; I could imagine him and his mates fighting in the Witton road after the games in the fifties, with their Teddy boy haircuts and razor knives. I heard there had been fighting before then too; maybe a more sophisticated form of hooliganism. I imagine a crowd making a circle and two men would take off their jackets and with flat caps on take up Queensbury rules stances as the fans urged them on.
But I earned my stripes at a big ruck. We had been to Middlesbrough three years before and only a few coaches and mini vans had made it. We were surrounded in the ground and got kicked and punched throughout the game and the cops watched and when we complained they said 'you shouldn't have fucking come up here then!' As we tried to sneak out we got followed. I had five guys, all my age about 16, put me against a wall and kick the shit out of me, and robbed my pockets, and took my coat. I wasn't the worst off either. The next year a van of some of our heavy boys went up early and attacked one of their pubs. Chrisy Bates got 30 stitches down his back.
So, this was the time for revenge. Some of the guys from the pub fight were there along with some slightly older bigger guys brought in from the factories in donkey jackets. There were about 25 of us and we got the 30 min train up to the ground early. Scarves were put down trousers to protect your bollocks from a kicking and no other colours were worn. The plan was to go into the away end where we expected some of their main men to be. There weren't too many coppers about and we staggered through the turnstiles nonchalantly and gathered under the stand near the burger guy before entering up the steps to the bottom of the terrace. All in, we moved in. We walked up the stairs and looked up. Along the top of the terrace were about 100 guys, who all stopped and looked down. It was obvious who we were and they had been waiting for us. We hadn't expected so many of them and we all stood silently for a moment and stared; my heart and arsehole were pumping. Shit!
Then there came a cry and the 100 came piling down. Our guys spread out and the old guys cried 'Stand your ground!' I stood behind a barrier and waiting for the avalanche to arrive. I was lost in the kicking and punching but managed to land a few good ones back too. We got fucked but we never ran. Some of our donkey jacket guys were laying guys out one after another, Chrisy Bates the guy who was knifed took on five on his own. We retreated whilst we fought back under the stand and the cops pinned us behind the burger guy. Then the 100 stood in front of us and hurled insults and provocation and we did the same back; it was easy now with the cops in the way. Then we were lead through the crowd into our own fans section to applause and cheers.
We were heroes, we hadn't run, we had took them on and gave a good account of ourselves. Hands were shaken, backs were slapped. We had stood our ground and that was the most important thing.