Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Bouncing Rovers Fan

Some of us will recall the trip to Waterford for the Rovers Blues Cup game in either 1981 or 1982 and the hooliganism which took place in the main stand during the game. Clearly there is no place for physical violence in a football ground but it has to be said that the performance of the bouncing Rovers fan was the stuff of legends, in a time when this was close to being the norm.

Faced by a wall of locals, this guy (probably no more that 5 foot 6) performed a kind of a grasshopper movement (yet remaining in the same place throughout), as he landed kick after kick on the noses of the dumbfounded locals. Brutal though it probably was, it stays in our minds because of the close to comical movements of the Hoops fan and the total unexpectedness of it all.

Football grounds in the seventies and early eighties (up to the introduction of all-seater stadiums) were potentially dangerous places, although this, (with a perverted logic applied), arguably added to the attraction.

These two videos document the visit of Man Utd fans to White Hart Lane in the mid-seventies when the badge of honour for away fans was to "take" the home terraces. Ignore what was happening on the pitch, and put all your effort into taking the home end. Success generally came at a price - getting thrown out of the ground, being carted off to hospital with a very sore head, and occasionally worse.

The supporters adopted identities and even had business or "calling" cards - the Red Army Red Army (Man United), the Inter City Firm or ICF (West Ham), the Headhunters (Chelsea) or the Zulus (Birmingham City). Political influences were strong within the ranks of these groups and many were infiltrated by right-wing factions who preached intolerance towards blacks, Asians and Jews.

Only when the activities of these groups resulted in fatalities was action taken by the Authorities - looking at videos of games from the mid Seventies it is amazing to note how many indicate an almost total absence (or inadequacy) of a police presence. This was to change gradually over time and the increased stewarding and policing, together with the all-seater stadiums demanded after Hillsborough, has led to the high quality product, in terms of safety, that the Premiership represents today.

Looking at the videos also brings back to memory the hairstyles and dress sense (or lack of sense) from the era. Horrendous, and we were close to being part of it.

Finally I wonder where that Rovers fan is today, thirty years on? I hope he didn't succumb to a life of crime and aggression - the reality I'm hoping is a lot simpler - that he settled down, has a two-bedroomed terraced house in Knocklyon (two children), works as an Administrative Assistant in the Service and gets the Luas up to Rovers new stadium every Friday night.

Here's hoping.