The Absolute Game Revisited – Part 10

August 2, 2009


This is a book review from THE ABSOLUTE GAME Number 56 – April 2001 – the author of the book threatened to sue – see if you think he would have been successful

(Bring Out Your Riot Gear) Hearts Are Here (Gorgie Aggro 1981-1986) – C.S. Ferguson – £8.99 – Terrace Banter Publication

The voice of the fans. A voice that was hardly ever heard in the media until the advent of fanzines. But since ‘Fever Pitch’ it’s a voice which has become increasingly strident, and it’s a voice which has recently more often been elevated from the cut and paste world of mere fanzines to the rarefied atmosphere of book publication.

Oh God please take this cup from my lips. ‘Hearts Are Here’ is very probably the worst book of any sort which I’ve ever read, and I’ve read a few honkers in my time. The subject matter (football hooliganism and the glorification thereof) is disgusting and repellent, but the sheer awfulness of the writing offended my fragile sensibilities even more. Although the author is from Edinburgh, the language is lifted from the English hooligan scene of the 70’s and 80’s. Thus, violence doesn’t start, it ‘kicks off’. The author and his two or three spotty-faced schoolboy chums are not a bunch of brainless neds, they are ‘a firm’ or ‘a crew’ or ‘a mob’. You don’t get involved in pushing and jostling after the game, you ‘do the business’. The ‘firm’ doesn’t shout and bawl, it ‘gives it large’. You don’t hit someone, you ‘slap’ or ‘smack’ them. The someone you hit isn’t a man, he’s a ‘geezer’. The place you come from isn’t your local area, it’s your ‘manor’. Your girlfriend isn’t a girl, she’s your ‘bird’. You don’t stand your ground in a fight, you ‘front up’. Something pleasing isn’t just good, it’s ‘sound’. An unsafe situation isn’t dangerous, it’s ‘well heavy’ or ‘well dodgy’, or ‘on top’. You don’t fight with the police, you ‘have a ruck with the coppers’. The police aren’t coppers anyway, they’re ‘the Old Bill’. And so on, and so on. By acquiring the patois of those he obviously admires, the author hopes to give his squalid little tale some veneer of glamour. Instead, he only succeeds in making himself appear even more shallow. But with the use of this eastenders language you cannot help visualising a Phil Mitchell lookalike, a skin-headed, lobotomised, whispering psycho.

So, what is his story? As a trainee juvenile delinquent he starts following Hearts, and right away he’s much more interested in making a nuisance of himself than actually watching the football. Although he glories in violent episodes throughout the book, the reader quickly recognises that much of the action is of a ‘Walter Mitty’ sort – i.e. complete fantasy. It is important to the author’s self-esteem to believe that he wasn’t just some low-life pinhead, so he peppers the narrative with references which make it appear that others took him seriously as a big boy. So, on the first page of the introduction, we are told that during the period 1981-86 the Hearts fans were ‘the most notorious in Scotland’. Thereafter we’re repeatedly told of various groups who were ‘shitting themselves’ at the imminent arrival in their neighbourhood of these notorious Hearts fans. Those ‘shitting themselves’ include Strathclyde Police and Celtic fans at Parkhead. Believe that if you like, but the whole purpose of this drivel is to ensure that the reader understands that the author is ‘well heavy’.

He’s so ‘well heavy’ that as a pimpled youth he appears to have kept a diary of his exploits, since he’s able to quote precise dates and details of events which occurred nearly 20 years ago. Here he is on 29 August 1981 in Dunfermline, “..it was excellent! You felt like you were part of an invading army”. However excellent, life is fraught with danger when you’re a notorious invader, and he brilliantly captures the sheer terror of waiting for a bus in the Fife town, “..a little mob of Dunfermline approached.. there were about half a dozen of them and it looked on top for a while…they just stood around us, staring….it was a nightmare”.

As if being stared at in Dunfermline wasn’t terrifying enough, the next big confrontation is with the dark apocalyptic forces of that most frightening of ‘firms’ – eh, Queen of the South. Welcome to Hell aka Dumfries. As soon as our man arrives in that fearsome border outpost it ‘kicks off’. The locals (a couple of OAPs and a dog) were ‘well up for it’. In the author’s words, “They piled towards us giving it “We are Queen of, Queen of the South”. It sounded mad”. Indeed.

Then there’s a brief description of a match that I was actually at when Dumbarton beat Hearts 5-2 at Tynecastle in May 1982. He says, “Not surprisingly, the paltry Dumbarton support went home wishing they had never bothered to come through” implying that they’d somehow been ‘slapped’ or ‘smacked’. Au contraire, I was one of the paltry Dumbarton support and it was one of the best days I’ve ever had at an away game. I did see two or three spotty Hearts geeks in Gorgie Road who looked a bit upset at the tonking their team had taken, but their discomfort simply intensified our pleasure. Maybe that was CS Ferguson and his ‘firm’.

And so it goes on. Riots ‘kick off’ on every page. The author loves riots. He loves riots so much that there’s an interesting mis-print on page 32 where part of a sentence should read, “…not many of them were wearing colours”, but in fact it’s printed as “…riot many of them were wearing colours”. Much of the time I have the impression that these ‘riots’ consisted of not much more than a bit of jostling and a lot of shouting. No doubt there were seriously nasty incidents along the way, and I’ll come to that later, but once again the author wants you to share his belief that he was a participant in something dramatic, rather than a by-stander when a few boys had a shouting match. After all, it would not be so self-aggrandising to report that ‘a minor argument kicked off’.

While it tends to ‘kick off’ against Queen of the South and Dumbarton, things are a bit more subdued against the likes of Rangers. I wonder why. On a visit to Ibrox, all there is to report is that ‘extensive damage was done to the toilets in the Broomloan Stand’. Presumably caused by the mere act of CS Ferguson and his pals defecating in them.

Fortunately for all concerned, the police always seem to turn up to spoil everyone’s fun. The only phrase which occurs in the book as often as ‘kick off’ is a variant of ‘the police turned up just as we were about to……’. Of course, the police get ‘slapped’ and ‘smacked’ for their trouble, or at least they do in the author’s fertile imagination.

Yet another visit to the black pits of Hades (Dumfries) for a cup-tie required “ extra police being drafted into the town as they prepared for World War Three. They were shitting it big time”. The police were not disappointed. Naturally, ‘it kicked off’. There was a riot. The police waded in. Everyone steamed in to the police. Etc, etc, etc. Yawn, yawn, yawn.

Next is a match with Celtic in Glasgow. Full-scale riot. Celtic fans shitting themselves. Police take a hammering. After the game it kicks off and the Celtic fans get leathered. Walter Mitty’s right there to report it all.

Basically you get 130 pages of this sort of rubbish. In fact, if you’ve got this far in this review then there’s no need at all to read the book since it merely consists of endless repetition of the bits I’ve quoted, with only the names of the opposing ‘firms’ altered. The author unwittingly accepts this when recounting yet another riot, when he says “The East Calder lad started getting lippy…some of our lot followed him and done him. You could write the rest of the script yourself…” Yeah, you could. If you were brain dead.

Aside from the ‘riots’ which he participated in, he kept a weather eye on happenings elsewhere, and indeed kept a scrapbook of newspaper reports of crowd violence. The genuinely major riot at the Luton-Millwall game in 1985 he describes as ‘magic stuff’. The Heysel Stadium? He sat at home watching on TV and ‘cheering on the Liverpool fans when they charged the Italians…it was good to see the Scousers flying the flag when they scattered the Italians’. Then, with no concept whatsoever of cause and effect, he piously maintains that ‘no-one seriously wants to see someone lose their life because of football violence’. In any event, he thinks that “…if the Italians had stood to finish what they started, it would have been a different story altogether”.

CS Ferguson was a teenager when these events occurred. It might be possible in a touchy-feely, social work psychobabble sort of way to explain his attitude and behaviour in terms of juvenile angst and teenage dysfunction syndrome. More probable is that his brain hadn’t developed beyond the amoeba stage. Sadly, mature years don’t seem to have afforded him any better perspective. He expressly says that he has no regrets, and he apparently still finds at least the thought of violence to be quite exhilarating. Therefore, do not look to this book as some sort of sinner-on-the-road-to-Damascus-repentance. Instead this is just a celebration of anti-social, criminal behaviour, with quite literally no redeeming features at all.

I’m aware of the fact that there is now a genre of football-related writing in which people recount their experiences as football hooligans. ‘Terrace Banter’, the inaptly-named publishers of this book, appear to specialise in that field, having published a number of titles of a similar nature. On the cover of this book they say they are interested in hearing from other ‘firms’ who would like to publish a book about their exploits. In other words, here is an outlet for every eraserhead in the country to scrawl barely literate ramblings about violence and vandalism. Some pretended intellectual justification is painted on to this loathsome project by suggesting that this is a valid part of ‘working class culture’ which is being swamped by the new culture of plastic seats and replica strips. Now, I’m with them when they feel threatened by the current over-commercialised direction in which football has been travelling for some years. But violent troublemakers are not, and never have been, a valid or admirable part of working class culture, and to suggest otherwise is quite contemptible. Sure they exist, and sure there may be room for documenting their activities, if only to assist in understanding them and then exterminating them. But to allow them to wallow in some sort of glory is sick. House-breaking is part of working class culture, but I don’t imagine there’s much call for books by housebreakers proudly recalling their best thefts. The tragedy of it all is that ‘Terrace Banter’ and CS Ferguson and others of that ilk do not seem to realise or care that there are victims of their ‘exploits’. As it happens, most of the victims are other working class people, though that’s by the by. While CS Ferguson might think it was ‘sound’ for he and his ‘crew’ to engage in pitched battles in Princes Street, during which people were ‘slapped’, shop windows were put in, and the ‘old Bill were smacked’, I’m sure most of the shoppers in that street would disagree. One could have little objection if deranged individuals like CS and Co went off to Anthrax Island and killed each other, but just what gives them the right (a) to attach themselves to football and (b) inflict their stunted personalities on others whether in the football ground or elsewhere. I know hundreds of football fans. A proportion of them support Hearts. All of them are passionate about football. None of them feel the need to ‘slap’ or ‘smack’ anyone to prove their allegiance. As far as I know none of them have engaged in rioting, rucking with the coppers, breaking shop windows, or smashing up toilets. None of them are the Johnny-come-lately plastic seats and camel coat brigade and yet they all seem able to enjoy football without offering violence.

Let me get to the end of this review by giving a personal account of a meeting with Hearts ‘fans’ during the period covered by the book. Who knows, CS himself might have played a part in what follows, though he doesn’t mention it in his narrative. I was at a Rangers – Hearts game at Ibrox in the mid-eighties. After the game, the Hearts ‘crew’ did their usual and hid themselves away until the main bulk of the Rangers support had left the area. Then it was safe for them to get on the underground train. I was on a train populated almost entirely by teenage morons in Hearts scarves. At the next station, a young black woman got on the train. Once the train was moving, the Hearts ‘firm’ began chanting directly at this woman “Monkey, Monkey, Monkey”. One of these cretins (CS Ferguson?) stood directly in front of the woman and accompanied his monkey chanting by jabbing his finger repeatedly into her face. I admit that I was too cowardly to intervene, since doing so would inevitably have resulted in getting ‘smacked’. But I have rarely felt so agitated, disgusted, outraged and frightened in my life. Lord knows what the woman herself felt. Even if CS Ferguson was not on that train, he probably would think that such an episode was a great laugh, and ‘well sound’.

Memo to ‘Terrace Banter’. This is the kind of scum that you dignify with your talk of working class culture. This is the kind of behaviour which you encourage by publishing pieces of shit like ‘Hearts Are Here’.

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