The Terraces

The Terraces

I found a companionship and exhilaration on the football terraces that sustained me in my early days in England. Too shy and undemonstrative to communicate directly with anyone, I was content to scream my head off in the company of strangers. The singing, swaying sense of communal power was uplifting and exciting, a comradeship of the masses that fired me up, giving me strength and a sense of belonging. Blimey, it sounds like how things might have started in Nazi Germany. Those towering grey concrete slopes interspersed with iron barriers usually painted in team colours fascinated me. When I found these ‘Kops’ were named after a Boer War battlefield it attracted me even more. Even when they were empty, I loved to gaze upon them and would get into the ground early to observe how they slowly filled-up. The first clutches of fans would clump in little groups around the barriers upon which they would tie their scarves and drape flags. In the seventies on TV I watched enviously at the waves of heads surging forward in the aftermath of a goal and longed to join such a throng. When I did, invariably for a big game against a bitter rival, I wasn’t disappointed. To be in the middle of such a movement and fall forward collectively at forty-five degrees then crash backwards as the bodies at the front collided with the barrier was both terrifying yet uplifting. It was like some turbulent sea of softlads, thumping against the cliffs, then swirling menacingly before the next charge. And like the ocean it could also be a brutal place. On more than one occasion, a beered-up neanderthal would unzip himself and bellow a warning – bodies frantically cleared a space as he leaned back and unleashed a torrent of steaming amber piss. Sometimes the warning never came and at Tottenham I had a pint of pee thrown over me from someone in the stand above. I found the Stretford End terrace at Old Trafford underwhelming, maybe it wasn’t as steep as the vast banks of terrace at Anfield or Hillsborough. Kippax Street, Maine Road was smaller but on Derby Day with both sets of fans under a low roof and separated by a narrow passage patrolled by Officer Smiley, the noise was deafening. It was here in 1982 that a Robson disallowed goal triggered a tumble of bodies that I was caught up in. There must have been about twenty of us who just collapsed in a great pile – I was on the ground and sandwiched between two people. For a few terrible seconds I thought I was going to be swallowed up in a human spaghetti. This was just a taste of what was to tragically come much later in the decade.

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