INTERVIEW WITH CASUAL CONNOISSEUR PART I: FOOTBALL, FIGHTING & FASHION (ENGLISH)

The first time I met Tom and Dan in person, was funnily enough a casual encounter. I was visiting the UK for a short time to see a few friends. That Friday afternoon I was walking down Brick Lane killing some time before heading to Brixton to see The Streets play at the Academy. I noticed two similar silhouettes walking towards me, but I wasn’t too sure until we bumped into each other. Dan said: “yeah, I thought I recognised your jacket, nice one”. From that day, many pints have flowed together and now I can count them as good mates. Being two clued up blokes, I took the opportunity to fire some questions about football, casual culture, their brand Casual Connoisseur and the misery the Tories are forcing upon us.

Here is Dan on the keyboard answering our questions…

  • It’s a common thing that anglophiles like myself regard the UK culturally on a high pedestal, as in we kind of wish we were born here. But I guess everything that glitters is not gold. Could you tell us what was it like to grow up in North England in the 80s?

I think it was OK for me, I was born in 1980, so well aware of the social struggles around at that time, but as a kid I was more interested in what was in front of me like Star Wars and Action Force figures and going ‘playing out’ all day. My Dad worked in advertising and we grew up in a nice spot, so it was alright really. He was working away in our early years in Saudi Arabia so I was always a lot closer to my Mother. I thought Magnum P.I. on telly was Dad as he looked a bit like Tom Selleck. He was a manic depressive and an abusive alcoholic and ended up doing several stints in the psychiatric hospital, so there was plenty of not very fun times growing up, I don’t need to go too deep into that though. Everyone has their problems to deal with don’t they? I do think that has shaped me in life though, I’d say it put me off settling down and getting married.

Up here, we have a very significant culture with the bands and venues of the time, it can get very overdone all that though, there’s a lot of cool history here but it can become a bit of a parody of itself with all the Manc cliches, the old adage of ‘this is Manchester, we do things differently here’ loses a bit of its meaning when they are still going on about the Hacienda to sell trendy new Ancoats apartments to rich kids from out of town.

  • I recently found out about the friendship between lads from UC Ceares in North Spain and some of your lot, and this bloke I know from Ceares was telling me about their visits to Edgeley Park and games away with their Stockport mates. It’d be good to visit Edgeley Park for a game there when we’re back allowed as I have never been. When did you start going to the football? And what does it mean for you to follow County through and through?

I’m not too sure I’ve heard about that, but the name does ring a bell. I’ve seen quite a few lads from abroad coming to watch our games, Germans, Swedes, etc. It’s great to see that they’ve chosen the dizzy heights of Edgeley Park and Castle Street over Old Trafford or the Etihad. I’d say my first proper season was 1990/91, we were allowed to go on our own having been taken the odd match by my Grandad, older brother and occasionally my Dad. That season saw us win promotion and we were very good for that whole decade, it was a magical time. For me that’s all I really knew, we were spoiled really, four trips to the old Wembley in two years. Two promotions, several near misses, knocking out Premiership clubs in the cup competitions. Great individual players, two of our best managers, punching above our weight and some great and fairly nasty rivalries with clubs like Stoke City, Burnley, Wigan and Bradford City. To me, it’s my local club, I can see the floodlights from my bedroom window. I could never be a glory seeker, you support your local team. I’ve had interest in other clubs, visited their stadiums, Dynamo Berlin, Sampdoria and Catania. But there’s only one for me and to be honest, one is enough most of the time! I understand the link ups with other clubs though, especially overseas. We have a thing with Hamburg and the lads from over there are always sound, again, the fact they’ve made proper friendships with little old Stockport is great to see.

COUNTYLADS
COUNTYLADS
  • I suppose you got into the whole firm thing. How did that come about and how do you remember those crazy years? Do you still have that same buzz inside?

I used to really enjoy it, in my early twenties it’s all I cared about. I’d work and live for Saturday afternoons, the whole casual scene was really good back then, if you look back at the late 90’s it still seems too recent, but it’s pretty cool to look back on when you see old photos even now, the gear then was probably my favourite era. Big coats, jumpers, scarves and caps, everyone didn’t look the same, it was less of a uniform, you could tell people made the effort. The football thing was a great time, away matches, big turnouts on trains or coaches or even the little five of you in a car jobs, great days. A lot more care free then.

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It was always a debate that you if you wore the clothing you were fair game, I would agree with that, even as recently as the early 00’s you didn’t see every man and his dog in Stone Island or Goggles, so you could tell back then who were the ones who ‘at it’. I still get the buzz from all the gear and that, I don’t think that will ever go away, it meant a lot for a long time, so it’s always interesting to see how that evolves. I’ve enjoyed going to matches for the first time in years over the last couple of years. There was a point I’d just turn up every week, because I had to out of habit or loyalty and we were at our worst, I can always remember a kid in front of me reading the ingredients on a Coke bottle out of sheer boredom because the football was so poor.  Things are looking up, we dropped as low as the sixth tier and it was desperate at times, but we ended up being a bigger club, we’d go to away games in big numbers and have a lot more fun, grounds at that level had bars or clubhouses so beer was available as you watched the game (it isn’t in the league) that was great and one thing I’ll miss. We won promotion at Nuneaton in 2019, Champions of the National League, it’s not an ‘honour’ I ever thought we would have bestowed upon us, but it was a great season and hopefully one that puts us on the right track for our long awaited return to the Football League, fingers crossed! We’ve spent a lot of money now with our new ownership, there’s been a lot of changes, it looks like the Play Offs for us though. No fans allowed in yet, so would be a very odd and subdued promotion IF it happened, I’d take that though.

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  • When it comes to football violence, there’s been more than enough written about it. But I think many fail to really get the point, going round and round elaborating on sociological hypotheses. To me, it’s as simple as Nunk said on The Firm: “Why don’t he just tell them we like hitting people?” What do you think?

There was a time when you would go to matches and the chances of misbehaving were there every other week, sometimes you would go looking for it. There’s away matches where things have happened and you’re coming home all telling your versions of the day’s events, often over elaborating with the details and still to this day all those tales get told, especially late at night when you’ve had a skinful. There was times it was an incredible buzz. Then there was other occasions where you were filled with the fear for weeks worried about what was to follow, it’s probably the worst feeling in the world that. I ducked out of it all for a while after a fight which was all captured on camera, which I got nicked for weeks later, whilst sat having my tea. I went through court and escaped going to prison, I had a large fine and ended up doing about 250 hours of community service, from digging graves to working in a charity shop and I hated every second of it. Basically, we were told by the police we went beyond self defence and should have simply walked away, it’s easier said than done as many would expect.

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So, for me that was time to grow up, being twins we always stand out as well, then later being known for doing a brand it made things difficult, most of the time it’s brilliant to be recognized but other times it’s not good. I don’t want to get too deep, but the violence side of things can be horrendous too. I’ve seen nasty things go on, mates getting locked up, even this season lads at our place have been given bans and jail time. It’s still very serious in the eyes of the law, most of the time it is a bit of fun between like minded parties, but when the public and property is at risk, it’s a crime. That’s understandable. Not necessarily football related, but I’ve seen at first hand the absolute devastation mindless violence can cause a family, one punch thrown can change everything in a second, ruin lives literally. Over what? Looking at someone the wrong way? Trying to stop a fight? We only get one chance at this, if anything I’ve learned is life is too short.

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  • Sometimes people and friends from back home ask me about what it’s like to go to the football in the UK nowadays. Often from that romantic view of a traditional culture, vibrant atmosphere, firms causing trouble, etc. In Spain football is dead in my opinion and I feel like things are not much different here, but it’s not easy for me to explain. So let me ask you for a bit of help on this one. How do you think the British football scene has changed over the last decades and why? Are the good old days gone forever?

In many ways I would agree, it will never be what it was. You have to make the matchday experience as good for yourself as you can, for me that would be an early start and a late finish. I hate to say it, but fairly more often than not, the football is the dull bit that gets in the way of a good day. I’m sure most older lads would say the 1980’s was the best time, young lads free to roam, football trains put on specifically and we’ve all heard the tales of jibbing away matches far and wide and pinching nice clothes from European outings, I’m sure it all gets a bit exaggerated but it definitely happened.

  • When did your interest in casual culture first start?

There’s a weird era when you’re young and wearing the club colours, the shirts and scarves and are happy to, but then it gets more interesting watching those around you, as you grow up a little, people who you may have been a bit scared of a couple of years earlier seem cool and arguable, like most clubs, some of the actual, best most loyal fans in the ground. Once you hit drinking age and can legally mingle in the pubs it became more apparent about the lads at the match, back then I’d have called them the ‘scallies’, you notice the clothing more and more then start to get hooked on it all, go to games dressed up, hoping people notice you and then something clicks. It was a different era back then, no smartphones nor social media. You would only really discover stuff yourself by being there, or word of mouth and maybe lads’ magazines of the time.

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My first taste of it was an away match at Stoke in the FA Cup in 1997, this was their old ground and anyone who went there will tell you it was not for the faint hearted. We’d beaten them to get to Wembley in 1992 and people literally turned cars over, some friends of mine who were straight members were all put in hospital. This time, if my memory is correct – we had played them in thick fog, we scored early and then they battered us for most of the game trying to get an equalizer for us to snatch a second at the end, it was an upset as they were a division above us. It was a hairy walk back to the station, I was just a kid and not really in with a mob, but they were coming over attacking us on the walk back, there were police alongside us and things seemed to be kicking off in front and behind us. I remember speed walking but kept turning back to have a look and then, much to everyone’s amusement, I walked straight into a lamppost! As we got to the station, there was still lots of commotion around and some local copper fondly told us all trains had been cancelled. I was at college and had about £2.50 on me, everyone was diving in taxis to Crewe to get a connecting train and we were starting to worry as we were the last ones left on a cold night in Stoke, thankfully two lads let us jump in theirs. I remember an overwhelming sense of joy when we got on the dual carriageway and felt safe. All I can remember was Fleetwood Mac’s Everywhere being on the radio and it will always remind me of that night. After that, I was a little late getting into that scene, the following season a good friend who I’d grown up with was jailed at eighteen with a dozen others for a row at Bury, at the time it was quite a high profile trial as I think one of the first incidents where town centre CCTV was used successfully, so that was very much an eye opener of just how serious the whole thing was. In the noughties everyone seemed to wear things a size too big, I was no exception. I remember paying about £185 for a Stone Island zip through jumper that would probably still be too big for me now. I only wore it twice, I got leathered in it outside the Tower Lounge after Blackpool away by some Portsmouth lads and also in Manchester on a night out where we ended up in A&E.

As I said, clothes are still a big thing for me, until I first got a disposable income in regular jobs, I probably had like two outfits. It’s been a bit of an obsession (on and off) ever since.  I’ve got more stuff now than I will ever need, I often get asked about doing something with it as a collection, but it’s always been just me hoarding stuff, always disorganized. I have about three boxes of hats, never mind all the coats, that’s a different issue. I often wish I could snap out of it. I know of other chaps like me, who just go mad with it, trying to get everything, it does become an obsession, the thrill of the chase and all that.

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  • I wanted to ask you about Countylads. When I started becoming interested in casual culture in the late 2000s, there were only a handful of sites in Spain about it and I didn’t really read anything in English until some years later when you had already moved onto your next thing. For people like me who were late to the party, can you tell us what Countylads was all about?

It was dubbed a ‘celebration of Casual culture’ all self done, probably quite poor looking back, graphics made on MS Paint, but then I stuck at it and it kept improving. We had several pages, the first to really pay any tribute to Massimo Osti, things back then were pretty scarce, there was only ever two or three photos of him on the Internet. We started doing alternative match reports, pages dedicated to brands of the time like the usual suspects and Saxon and 6876. Interviews, stuff like that, the imagery was I guess what made it stand out. That’s why it was popular, it was for everyone, not just about Stockport County. One day it just vanished off the Internet and I always thought it must have been shut down for promoting hooliganism, every club who had a mob had their own website or forum in those days though. I had to redo the whole thing from scratch but always improved it as I went along. I can only ever find snippets of it now on web archives, but it made its mark and people still talk about it fondly, which is always nice to see. There was a graphic I posed for of me in a Mille Miglia and deerstalker hat, we did it as a print in the early days of CC, I’ve seen at least five tattoos of it! That’s my legacy.

  • A while ago I read an article by an older lad from Majorca – about his experience and opinions of the Spanish take on the casual culture – where he mentioned that Countylads was one of his reference sites. Were you aware of the influence you had? What memories do you keep from those years?

Yeah, I met a guy at a game in Genoa once, outside the Luigi Ferrari Stadium, he had translated Phil Thornton’s book into Italian and worked for the media I think. He came over and spoke about it, it was mad that. I used to get a lot of good feedback, comments and emails from overseas lads. It’s great that people remember it.

COUNTYLADS

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