The 1970’s was a dark age in British football fandom history. Hooliganism; an expanding, increasingly organised counter-culture. A world created for an extremely small section of society; the white, working-class, male youth. Hooliganism rejected expressionism or societal advancement of any kind. Its practices actively excluded, and often attacked those that weren’t part of their smaller community.
In contrast, bellowed a new age of pop music. In the wake of the ‘swinging sixties’, an age encapsulated by slick four-piece hippy bands, burst the individualistic seventies. A decade of colour and independence of expression, where aesthetic and fashion were as important as guitar chords. This vibrancy, however, was normalised often by those from similar backgrounds to football hooligans.
So how did two such opposite worlds co-exist? And how did the working-class man define himself in such a polarised world?
Far from being the start of sporting violence, the decade saw fan violence take on a worryingly organisational front and entrench what we now know as hooliganism. Football clubs grew firms; battalions of similarly-minded fans who organised to meet with other similar groups to engage in fist-fighting at its tamest. Some grew so large that they are now household names. West Ham’s Inner City Firm (ICF), Millwall’s Bushwackers and Manchester United’s Red Army all have their origins in the 1970s.
This was a counter-culture that fought its way into the spotlight on both a national and international level. Newcastle United and Nottingham Forest fans drew national coverage when their 1974 FA Cup quarter-final was suspended during the game as hundreds invaded the pitch and assaulted Forest’s Dave Serella. Leeds and Manchester United both received European bans after fighting on the continent.
But hooliganism meant more than merely violence. This was a way of life. Fashion statements were collective, accents became emblematic of your true identity. Minor faults in one’s personality were stamped out. More aggressively rejected was homosexuality, femininity and any colour other than white. Hooligan’s chants often included derogatory language in response to all of these. Symbolically, black players like Viv Anderson were attacked with banana skins and monkey noises. 1970s hooliganism was responsible for much of Britain’s cultural backwardness and orchestrated an inward-looking masculine construct.
Step forward Elton John. A lifelong Watford football fan yet unapologetically distinctive and spectacular in appearance. Easily identified by his far from inconspicuous spectacles, glittery suits and colourful shirts, Elton John stood for everything that the hooligans despised: individualism. Indeed when he came out as bisexual in a 1976 interview, Elton even claimed ‘It’s going to be terrible with my football club. It’s so hetero’. And he was not the only one. Pop icons like David Bowie and Freddie Mercury challenged the countries views on sexuality and obliterated gender constructs in a way that had never been popular before. Their use of make-up and tight clothing in particular smacked of an ideology that ignored the constrictions of the football terraces.
It wouldn’t be unfair to give the 1970s the epithet of the ‘confused decade’. Politicians made drastic u-turns in policy, energy shortages and economic turmoil forced the construction of society’s everyday life to be rethought and masculinity was no different. What it meant to be a man often depended upon which circles you flaunted. But when these circles overlapped, one was enveloped in a baffling dichotomy.