In the early 80’s football hooliganism hit new heights and even newer levels of sophistication. It emerged and grew organically on the streets of working class Britain. Underground, out of reach of any media attention it, like previous British street based subcultures, developed along familiar lines. Distinct dress codes and mannerisms evolved that made those involved immediately recognisable to fellow participants at a hundred paces (whether in groups huddled around shopping centres, marching down back streets or emerging from train stations en masse) . As yet there were no visual clues for outsiders, the normal world remained oblivious to their existence.
The scene was highlighted in the media and driven overground, initially through style magazines, intrigued with the distinct look of this new clothes obsessed scene and then inevitably through the national press and news reports, outraged at the level of violence returning to the terraces and the streets surrounding English football grounds. As with all previous street subcultures going overground marked the beginning of the end. The new cult now had a name – Casuals, referring to the expensive casual sportswear brands this new generation obsessed over but soon this obsession with specific clothing styles, individuality and dressing as a means of resistance, of making a claim for oneself in a hostile economic climate began to fade, replaced by carbon copy, uniform wearing gangs of youths eager to condense and restrict the scene to a few simple signatures; to simplify the story.
But it was the violence that made the papers, the violence that outraged readers of the daily press and TV viewers alike. They concentrated on the problem as they had done in the early 70’s, a period for many that had spawned football hooliganism. To them it was a football specific problem. The game was out of control with vicious gangs of football ‘fans’ running amok, handing out beatings to anyone who got in their way. There was little need to look outside of the football world , it was football itself that needed to get its house in order an deal with this issue.
Happy to blame football and with no interest in looking at the wider issues they missed any real connection with the state of Britains landscape at the times these problems flared up. In the seventies Britain was heading deep in to recession – an era of bitterness. The optimism and colour promised in the 60’s was fading fast. Dogged by economic decline, at the mercy of hardline industrial action and job losses the outlook for Britain looked bleak. Similarly the 80’s had begun with promises of recovery difficult to find. Record unemployment figures emerged, with the young especially hard hit. It was difficult to find any area of optimism, any refuge from the misery.
First published in 1984 David Robins book “We Hate Humans’ (the title was taken from a chant delivered by Manchester United fans in response to the press labelling them animals) has proved to be something of a landmark in the study of violence surrounding football in England. Indeed there is still no book like it. No book that attempts to give voice to the working class participants and there Saturday afternoon ritual. It was the first book to look beyond the terraces themselves in to the lives of those involved. The first book to take in to account the cultural and economic changes that had been emerging over the previous decades.
David Robins book reaches back through late 20th Century Britain exploring the roots and reasoning behind the development of violence on the terraces. The book charts the story through successive football generations offering revealing accounts of those entrenched in life on the terraces – as place they can call their own, a place that offered them a voice and a sense of belonging otherwise denied them by a complicated web of economics and geography. The histories include stories on the long standing sectarian fueled violence in Scottish football as well as offering accounts of the changing face of youth and the emergence of specific subcultures and groups that grew out of the late fifties and had became common place, nationwide by the end of the 60’s. Fascinating stories, told in authentic voices emerge from the hundreds of hours of tape recorded interviews he conducted over several years in researching his subject.
Robins skill and experience clearly put the participants at ease allowing them time and space to speak freely of their experiences and beliefs. He is able to elicit strong, personal views of working class life.
Robins background made him perfectly suited to the task at hand. Born in to a working class, jewish family in North London, his father was a barber and involved in amateur boxing, his mother a staunch communist. Having excelled at school in 1964 he received a grant to study English at University College London and rushed headlong in to the new owrld of the swinging sixties. His tough upbringing and long term exposure to political ideology clashed perfectly with the emerging counter culture and he began working at the underground newspaper International Times. Whilst he thrilled at political activity he was able to hold the flower power/hippy scene at arms length – much of the posturing and a confusing lack of purpose in this new London based scene simply didn’t fit him.
1968 saw him on on the streets of Paris, involved in the student revolts. Newly energised and with a clearer sense of what could be achieved he returned to England where his political beliefs and interest in sociology collided with working class youth and the troubled world they inhabited. The optimism of the 60’s was fading fast to be replaced by new troubled times of decline and deprivation that had begun to engulf the British Isles and an era of seemingly senseless violence began to unfold.
Whilst many began merely to shake their heads, complain and write off this new generation of dispossessed youth Robins set out to investigate and present the range of issues faced by teenagers in the beleagured Britain of the 70’s. ‘We Hate Humans’ remains unique with Robins outlining the backdrops to successive generations of working class youth and the stories themselves coloured in, made real via the fascinating interviews and first hand accounts from those involved.
Out of print for many years ‘We Hate Humans’ has recently been reissued by Milo Books.