How Yesteryear’s Thugs Have Become Today’s Sad Old Men in LUFC Cyberspace – by Rob Atkinson

Aggressive (but well-disguised) - the archetypal old-time Leeds thug

Aggressive (but well-disguised) – the archetypal old-time Leeds thug

The idea of some “glory era” of football hooliganism is, of course, a contradiction in terms. Football hooliganism, as practiced by adherents of many football clubs around the world, was never about glory. Rather it was an outlet of sorts for testosterone-fuelled negative energy among mainly younger men, who delighted in the potential for a physical confrontation loosely based on sporting rivalry. There was nothing glorious about it; usually in fact there was a dependence upon an element of surprise and the advantage of greater numbers to emerge as “winners”. It was a pain in the neck for authorities both inside and outside of football; for the public who just wanted to support their team – and for what might be called innocent bystanders, who just happened to be in the vicinity when these idiots met looking for savage fulfilment. Football thugs were scary only to each other, really. To those above such primitive displays of attention-seeking, they were no more or less than anti-social pests.

The problem with any mob is the impressionable and easily-led types attracted by the feeling of “belonging” and the adrenalin rush induced by the thought of being pitched against an opposing force. One theory is that those involved will, in time, grow out of what is basically an extension of unruly little boys fighting in a playground. Bewilderingly, though, some people show no signs of wanting to abandon childish pursuits, and are still attempting to demonstrate machismo and aggression well into beery middle-age. There’s an obvious element of compensation going on; the individuals concerned know that their youth and vigour has gone, but – lacking any alternative outlet due to inadequate intelligence – they can’t let themselves admit it.

Today's Service Crew hoolie

Today’s Service Crew hoolie

Comically, the main outlet for such types – in these days of omnipresent CCTV, anyway – is the internet. Cyberspace is, it turns out, a peculiarly friendly environment for those who wish to continue espousing anti-social and violent sentiments, even at an age when they should have grown up and moved on to more adult preoccupations. The capacity of the internet for preserving the anonymity of an individual or group with negative intentions towards society at large is a gift for your average ageing ex-thug. There are several benefits of such a very incognito way of carrying on, which play into the hands and cater for the needs of overgrown playground warriors.

The main thing today’s ex-hooligan turned internet tough old man needs is the presence of a good few like-minded chaps of sufficiently feeble intellect and, ideally, that yearning need to recapture those long-ago days when they could scare people in real-life physical confrontation. Then, as now, the important thing will be the ability to identify with a cadre of “lads”, sticking together in the face of authority and anyone who might wish to challenge such an outdated point of view. It goes back to that urgent need to belong, so characteristic of those who always did feel unable to stand alone and plough their own furrow. It’s the herd instinct carried over into the virtual world: don’t mess with us, we are many and you are few. So it was back in the day, and so it is today – only, with advancing years the ability to either absorb or dish out any genuine punishment has dwindled away to nothing. But advancing age doesn’t seem to encourage the overgrown “lad” to wish to grow up and act as an adult. The former thug has become, against his own will and self-image, what is essentially a sad old man – and there’s a great deal of mutual reassurance from other desperate, sad, internet tough-guys needed to salve that particular wound.

Disappointingly, my own club has as many of these pensionable hooligan types acting in its name as any other. In days gone by, Leeds United had this “firm” (that’s what they called themselves, with no apparent appreciation of irony) who were known as the “Service Crew“, due to their predilection for raising hell after being conveyed to away games via rail and other services, knocking on for forty years ago. At that time, the Service Crew were one of many notorious “firms” who used the occasion of their respective football clubs playing each other, to meet and anthropologically posture at each other. Actual explosions of violence were by no means the norm, although such incidents as did occur naturally made the headlines. But so much of it was the kind of ritual aggression-displays you see on David Attenborough documentaries, where mindless animals, driven by raging hormones, act ridiculously from the onlooker’s point of view – simply to establish territorial or sexual claims. The parallels to be drawn between hooligan and ape are almost irresistible – but it’s important to remember that, while the ape is exhibiting instinctive behaviour vital to establishing itself within a peer group, your average yob is showing no more than a weak intellect and an inability to take on board more than a few pints without descending to the level of dumb beasts.

In this regard, the Leeds Service Crew were no better and no worse than many others. Their claims of predominance notwithstanding, the Crew were just another bunch of pests making life a misery for other sections of society on regular Saturday afternoons around the country. The tragedy of today is that – although football hooliganism has been marginalised by surveillance technology, almost to the point where, as a phenomenon, it is dead – nevertheless, some ageing boneheads refuse to let go of the compulsion to identify themselves as “lads”. In middle-aged men, that’s not only bizarre – it’s laughably embarrassing. But the fact remains that, even nowadays when their former exploits have been just about stamped out, the Service Crew still feels the need to identify itself as a collective which misses what it would term as the “good old days” of football violence. So, they have this forum, where they can chortle about those old days, swap memories both real and apocryphal, share their hideously outdated political and social positions and generally carry on like a gang of anti-social kids even though many of them are well into physical dissolution and should be doing something healthy like sorting the garden out.

The Service Crew forum actually used to serve a purpose not all that long ago. Like its slightly watered-down counterpart WACCOE, it used to be a half-decent source of Leeds-related news and gossip, although obviously there was still that element of tough talk, threats and posturing going on in the background. Boys, after all, will be boys – even old, fat, bald ones.

These days – and this applies equally to the Service Crew forum and WACCOE – the useful content has almost disappeared. Both sites have degenerated into what might best be described as a virtual “peeing highest up the wall” contest, as the usual crowd of insecure inadequates strive to out-do each other, whether that be in the context of weak jokes, fascist propaganda, or simply ganging up on any contributor who doesn’t conform to the group ethos. The surprises come in the lengths to which some will go in order to seek the approval of their bone-headed peers. Desperate for kudos, some middle-aged or elderly morons will happily transgress boundaries of behaviour that an adolescent would think twice before crossing – and will receive the sniggering approval of his fellow reprobates. You find yourself having to shake your head, reminding yourself that some of these people are grandparents. The mind boggles.

From some points of view, of course, all of the above represents progress. Football violence has died an unlamented death as a major player in modern fan culture. It rears its ugly head so rarely today, and is confined to just a few notorious clubs – so as a social irritant, it’s more or less disappeared – which at least makes the match-going experience that bit more pleasant for the grown-ups. But the price for all this would seem to be an insidious process whereby formerly quite readable fan sites are becoming hackneyed examples of mass attention-seeking, virtual posturing, recurrent cyber-bullying and the expression of views and standards deemed unacceptable in this century. It’s a pity – for anyone who might wish to trawl the net for anything useful in connection with their favourite football club.

For myself, as a moderate Leeds United fan with left-wing views, some areas of the net are becoming almost no-go areas – always allowing for the fact that I find it amusing to wind up some fairly hard-of-thinking and gullible types who find their refuge on the more extreme, FV-nostalgic boards – the Service Crew Forum being probably the most obvious example. On such occasions as I do engage with these less-than-able types, it’s usually a salutary reminder that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword. But the sad thing is that another formerly usable site has become useless – and there aren’t enough truly well-informed and worthy places on the web for that to be something we can afford.

Some consolation may be derived from the thought that, just as actual hooligans have decayed and become too old to indulge in the physical stuff, so too will this middle-aged and elderly generation of virtual thugs eventually pass by and disappear into doddering senility – some self-evidently, earlier than others. The general trend is one of progress towards enlightenment, towards a time when the negative factors are removed, one by one, from the game that most of us can love without feeling the need to kick somebody’s head in, or even indulge in a little cyber-posturing. Such a desirable state of affairs would probably imply the demise of the Service Crew forum, of WACCOE, and of a couple of other havens for the insecure and deluded latterday “lads”. And that – as any intelligent recent visitor to either of the sites referred to above might agree – would be no bad thing.

18 responses to “How Yesteryear’s Thugs Have Become Today’s Sad Old Men in LUFC Cyberspace – by Rob Atkinson

  1. It’s an interesting article Rob, as most of yours usually are, however you can not avoid the fact that in the early to mid eighties a large percentage of our crowd would be made up of these types of fans, obviously in a crowd of 8k not everyone was a boot boy but there were plenty around the periphery who would get stuck in should the need arise, more terrace culture than died in the wool hoollie, and it is inescapable that our club more than most would have been kept afloat by these you insinuate are undesirable, to modern football maybe they are dinosaurs, but I would much rather be around the hard core lads having a few jars and a proper sing song than be sat with kids in jesters hats with painted faces, the pressing need to create atmosphere in grounds ain’t going to come from the happy clappy brigade that are encouraged at grounds these days, not that they haven’t got a place but I can well remember being 14 and wanting to be in pen 5 as opposed to the right side of the kop, they looked to be having much more fun than I was, and so it proved to be. For the record I have never thrown a punch at a football match so I can not be associated by deed to the service crew, but to denigrate them when you have no idea who or what they are is a little unfair, by your own admission they are anonymous so how can you refer to them as old, fat, bald or anything else. If the narrative of the day was to believed, the narrative of the press at least every Pringle wearing youth with a Perry boy hair cut was a lawyer or a banker so bang goes the Neanderthal tag too.

    I respect you Rob, or at least enjoy what you write but on this occasion I think your at least someway off the mark.



    • It’s an era that has passed, and the individuals concerned should by now have grown up. I find it sad and depressing that so many so obviously haven’t.


    • Your dislike of them is obvious so why do spend so much time on the site? If people want to have a few pints at football then fight other like minded people then why don’t you let them? What gives you the right to judge and question them? I’m sure some of your actions are questionable but you don’t people making judgement. You clearly don’t understand FV so leave it to people that do.


  2. have to admit there was often occasions on my excursions during the 80’s and 90’s that I was only too pleased to see a mob of sevrice crew coming my way after being chased in the opposite direction by a mob of equal knuckle dragers from a opposing team , thing was rob that’s just how things were back then , having said that it does seem very sad that middle aged men still want to gloryify the violence that went hand in hand with football back then , thing is I bet a large number of these fella’s don’t have a favorite game or goal or player or anything football related


  3. Kevin Wilson

    Service Crew? Just a bunch of soft Nancy Boys Rob. Back in the 60’s and early 70’s we had proper ‘lads’. Working in engineering in Hunslet at the time we used to go to Elland Road still wearing our steel toe capped boots! Nobody argued with us! That all stopped once the lunatics took over the asylum! Happy days!
    Great read as usual Rob.


  4. Cyberspace lacks real characters. There’s the irony


  5. The Service Crew were a formidable bunch, but the violence particularly during the hugely embarrassing scenes at Odsal in 1986 was absolutely unforgivable.
    I was at Odsal for that “pay as enter” Bradford v Leeds game and I found it extremely difficult to understand just why, so called Leeds fans were throwing stones and rocks, down onto me and my fellow Leeds fans, at the front of the Odsal side terrace.
    I also remember standing in the front section of the Kop, for a home game in 1987 and somebody near me, being knocked out by a snooker ball, which had been thrown by somebody at the back of the Kop.
    The embarrassing, ball bearing throwing incident, against Kevin Keegan, in the early 80’s, also dragged Leeds name through the mud and closed down the Elland Road terraces for 2 games.
    The crowd atmosphere back then was absolutely brilliant, but it was not a very safe time to be a Leeds fan, if you just wanted to watch the game.


    • I remember the incidents you mention, I was there for them too. I agree with all you say, the atmosphere WAS fantastic. But at times, it was poison, evil. Racism was rampant and the whole thing was designed to appear to early twenties or thereabouts sociopaths. That was me at the start of the eighties, but I reacted against Thatcher and grew up. More recently I remember being in Barcelona for the Champons League game in 2000 – walking up la Rambla and witnessing thugs in LUFC colours barging into bewildered shoppers and tourists, pushing them around because they were easy meat and Leeds were mobbed up. Was that something to be proud of?? No way. 15 years after I jibbed in over a flattened temporary turnstile at Odsal and then laughed as my eyebrows got singed when the chip van blazed, the scales fell away from my eyes, and I saw the Leeds thug element for what it was – a nuisance to be contained, controlled and then moved on as quickly as possible.


  6. John Atkinson

    Do you not think that a 52 year old man maintaining a blog about a football team is also a little sad? Can’t imagine my dad doing it.


  7. LOL aye good article. Believe it or not a lot of “lads” grew up and became mainstream supporters. I think it is sad that some still feel the need to encourage the new generation to act in the same fashion- It was a different time back then:politically, socially etc etc but it happened and yes a lot of the hard core lads out there did go some way into keeping their own clubs going. I remember boro surviving on crowds of 6000 in the 80’s and half of those would have been “lads”, and although Newcastle fans have a reputation for passion and loyalty- there was undeniably an underbelly of violence and hooliganism present, but in the 70’s and 80’s it was easy to get caught up with it all and the “lads” probably did keep a lot of clubs in business by the money they brought into the club. These days I don’t think there;s the excuse for lads to get involved because it is rightfully frowned upon but back then it simply wasn’t, because a good percentage of the home gate was made up of like minded individuals and as you know young men will gravitate towards this if this is what is on offer. Like I say most people Ive known have moved on a long time ago- the game has changed, football has changed and perhaps more important than all this is that if you are prepared to fork out £50 for a ticket on the off chance you might get a punch up then you must need help!!


  8. Will Grayson

    I love how all the old wannabe’s on the SC site are crying cos they can’t leave a comment! Try leave a comment on there that even remotely challenges their way of thinking and it’s immediately deleted by their insecure and anonymous coward mods. As a site it really shames our club, not all Leeds fans are so humorless and angst ridden. That site back in the day used to have some of the best banter around before they banned fans of other clubs


  9. wetherby white

    interesting article Rob. Im about your vintage and was ever present at ER in late seventies and eighties, only gave up regular attendance when in a fit of red mist over the signing of Carlton Palmer-oh and wife, young kids and a bit skint as well!
    Unfortunatly I have to hold my hand up to joining pitch invasions, coin chucking and unsavoury chanting-stuff I truly cringe about now. However, the atmosphere was still in that period, something special and I do miss it. Its a shame it couldn’t come back minus the crowd trouble and all that went with it, but maybe that “edge” made it in the first place?


    • I think most of us could hold our hands up to some youthful indiscretions – and the atmosphere was like a drug, a hell of a buzz. But you grow up. At least, most do. The inexplicable thing about the rump of SC still gobbing off on the net is their failure to leave behind their joyous days of immaturity.


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