Sunday, May 31, 2015

Book Review: Who Wants It ?

Book Review: 'Who Wants It ? by Chris Henderson

3 / 5 Stars

Chris ‘Chubby’ Henderson (b. 1959) died in the Fall of 2013. He had been in ill health, and in dire financial straits, for some time, and expired while sleeping on the sofa of a friend’s house – some media reports and blog posts gave the location as London; others Thailand; and others, the Philippines.

‘Who Wants It ?’ (208 pp, Mainstream Publishing, UK, 2002) is a memoir of Henderson’s participating in hooliganism in the 1980s, primarily as a member of the ‘Chelsea Headhunters’ firm, a group that gained considerable notoriety in the UK press for allegedly perpetrating some of the more unpleasant acts of violence that occupied the UK football landscape of that era.

Chris Henderson

The book is not an easy read for Americans, or, presumably, for anyone not quite familiar with the football scene in the UK in the 80s. It badly needed professional editing before seeing print; as it stands, in the first two-thirds of the book, the narrative has more of a stream-of-consciousness character than that of a memoir per se. When combined with insufficient exposition to orient the reader as to the locations and backstories of the myriad confrontations Henderson documents, it makes the book difficult to follow.

Nonetheless, Henderson’s prose (which also reflects, presumably, the contributions of his co-author Colin Ward) succeeds in giving the reader a good, ‘you-are-there’ rendering of the atmosphere of the football hooliganism at the time. Here’s an excerpt of an October 11, 1986 street battle between the Headhunters and the other ‘hard’ firm in London in the 80s: West Ham. 

 As Henderson and the Chelsea contingent made their way to Upton Park (Boleyn Ground) they were confronted by a larger force of West Ham supporters:

Then it seemed like another mob was coming at us from nowhere….suddenly, someone was down and really copping it. Behind me a shout of ‘Chelsea scum’ and a knife sliced the air and then through flesh. The shout of someone realising that the air slash had sliced human flesh, his flesh. A scream of anguish and terror. The horrible sound of pain filled the air and I turned around to see Jock drop to his knees, his face contorted, pulling his shoulders back. I ran over and kung fu kicked the man with the Stanley blade and he bounced off the wall and retreated, coinciding with West Ham backing off across the road. The wail of sirens in the distance.

I looked at the wound in Jock’s back. It was a gaping slash wound, about ten inches long. Blood was pumping out of it and I held on to both sides to try and stop the bleeding.

Accompanying these recitations of battles and melees, Henderson provides spot-on descriptions of the wasted industrial and urban landscapes of rival cities and grounds throughout the England of the 80s, depressing, cheerless landscapes within which alienated youth looked to their clubs, and the accompanying weekend 'aggro', as one of their main sources of self-validation.

Henderson devotes a surprisingly small amount of his memoir to Combat 84, the skinhead band he founded in 1981 with other Headhunters. The band, which was musically underwhelming but provided its audience with a raw, unfiltered does of the skinhead ethos, saw several potential deals with major labels come to naught in the aftermath of a 1982 BBC documentary that portrayed Henderson as a racist, who used the band as a vehicle to foment violent confrontations in clubs and music halls.

Combat 84

Along with recounting the Headhunter’s activities in the UK, Henderson relates tales of the firm’s debauched forays into mayhem on the Continent, most notably a February, 1987 trip that saw the firm trigger fear and loathing throughout France and Spain.

‘Who Wants It ?’ concludes with Henderson’ account of his arrest and trial in 1987 and 1988, part of a clumsy effort by the UK police to thwart soccer violence by specifically targeting those considered the ringleaders. Following his acquittal, Henderson relocated to Thailand, where he ran a bar that catered to a unique clientele: UK expats with roots in hooliganism.

Summing up, despite its flaws, ‘Who Wants It ?’ is a worthwhile memoir. While readers should be mindful that what they are getting is Henderson’s filtering of events and times and places, and a desire to avoid self-incrimination flavors much of the narrative, there still is enough here to entertain Chelsea fans, and others interested in the football rivalries in the UK in the 80s.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Book Review: Bovver

Book Review: 'Bovver' by Chris Brown

5 / 5 Stars

Before I had a chance to weigh up the options he launched at me, charging down the terrace. I managed to land a punch before he could, straight in his beer-filled stomach, he doubled over, winded. Like a lot of fat bastards he was fit for fuck all. As his hulking mass almost engulfed me I gave him another whack in the face. He lurched over on to one side, his bloated body twisting at an acute angle from his tree-trunk-like legs. He crumpled to the concrete terrace and let out an almighty scream which almost drowned out the equally almighty crack as his leg snapped under him.

“Arrrghh ! I’ve broke my fucking leg !”

He lay there clutching his leg, which was now distorted and looking almost remote from his body.

'Bovver' (356 pp) was published (in the UK) in paperback by John Blake Publishing, Ltd. in 2002.

‘Bovver’ is Chris Brown’s memoir of growing up in Bristol, UK in the interval from 1970 – 1979. During that time he was an ardent supporter of the Rovers, one of the two football clubs in Bristol (the other club being Bristol City, the hated rivals).

Chris Brown (contemporary photo)

The book begins in the year 1970, when Brown was 14 years old, and embarking upon his career as a dedicated fan of the Rovers, taking up his place at the terraced portion of Eastville stadium in Bristol. Known as the Tote End, the terrace was where the dedicated Rover fans gathered to celebrate the feats of their team - and to engage in healthy amounts of aggro.

In those early days Brown was a skinhead, more precisely the quintessential ‘bovver’ boy, with a short haircut, suspenders, turned-up Levis, and hobnailed boots made just right for kicking. Brown and his mates eschewed rock and folk music in favor of reggae and Caribbean music. Among his favorite songs was the ‘Skinhead Anthem’, ‘Skinhead Moonstomp’ by Symarip, and ‘The Liquidator’ by the Harry J. All Stars

As for the aggro……despite his youth, Brown set out to be a valued member of the hard-core Rovers fans, standing beside them during confrontations in the street, and on the pitch, both Home, and Away. Even when they were outnumbered by rival supporters, the Rovers fans gave as good as they got, often coming away from combat clutching prized booty: the scarves in team colors carried by their victims. 

According to Brown, in the early '70s the police (‘Old Bill’, in the British vernacular) were poorly prepared to deter the massive brawls taking place in the stadiums, and by the time combat was forcibly halted,

The aftermath of battle lay all around: bloodied bodies, scarves, shoes and youngsters crying. Did I feel sorry for them …? Did I fuck, should have gone in the enclosure with your old man, shouldn’t you ? Besides, he’ll be doing the same to us in a few year’s time no doubt.

As Brown relates, he and his friends were ever-conscious of their personal clothing style, spending much of their hard-earned money in an effort to stay abreast of the latest fashions, some of which could change within the span of just a few months (or less !).

One of the more entertaining features of ‘Bovver’ is its meticulous overview of the songs that served as the soundtrack to the activities of Brown and his friends during the decade. There are a host of bands and singles mentioned in the book that I was unfamiliar with, and some of these tracks deserve investigating.

The book’s high point – and arguably that of the teenaged years of Chris Brown – came November 5, 1977. The day started with Brown’s mate Iggy being injured by Millwall supporters (they struck his arm with a beer glass, and caused a laceration that sent Iggy to the hospital), putting the Tote End crew into the mood for vengeance as the match with Millwall unfolded. Iggy in fact came from the hospital just in time to join Brown and the other Rovers fans in battling an attempt by the MIllwall supporters to take the End. The Millwall supporters were repulsed, with the television cameras capturing their ignominious retreat back to their section of Eastville for all the UK to see.

That evening, at the Bristol Exhibition Centre, Brown and friends took in a great Punk / New Wave concert: opening acts Richard Hell and the Voidoids, followed by……the Clash ! Both bands put on great shows to the jam-packed mass within the Centre.

After the concert, on the street outside the Centre, Brown and the Rovers fans found themselves facing off with a large contingent of Bristol City fans in the mood for violence. The opposing forces met in a melee that rapidly involved nearby pub-goers and concert attendees, and turned into, in Brown’s words, a ‘full-blown riot’.

The final chapters of the book take on a melancholy note, as the advent of 1978 saw the UK economy collapse even further, and the entropy-laden nature of life in Albion drove more and more of its populace – including Brown – into a sort of sustained depression that no amount of drink or violence or music could dissipate. A trip to the US, which Brown undertook with the goal of perhaps resettling in the States, turned out to be a disappointment, as Brown was unable to handle the insipid music landscape of the US, with its Grease soundtrack and disco over-exposure.

In 1979, Brown turned 23 and was gradually ageing out of the ‘hooligan’ life, although he remained a true follower of fashion, dyeing his hair blonde, wearing straight-legged denim jeans, and wearing white trainers, as per the style of the Police. But that year saw the fortunes of the Rovers fading fast, and their fans along with them. Chris Brown found himself in the unlikely role of the valiant, but overwhelmed, underdog in the face of the increasing domination of the Bristol football scene by the hated supporters of City.........

Summing up, 'Bovver' is a great read, even for those without a marked interest in football fan memoirs. It's a great overview of popular culture in the UK in the 1970s, a valuable social analysis of that era, and a fond remembrance of the Rovers. 

This one is well worth picking up.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Birth of Death by Jim Starlin

The Birth of Death
by Jim Starlin
from Star*Reach No. 1, April 1974

Although by 1974 he was regularly working for Marvel Comics, Jim Starlin nonetheless found time ro contribute a number of memorable black and white strips and color covers to the indie sf comic Star*Reach. 

This entry, from the inaugural issue of Star*Reach, is fully as 'cosmic' as any of Starlin's simultaneous work on Captain Marvel and Warlock for Marvel, as well as displaying an equally impressive level of draftsmanship.....for example, just how long did it take Starlin to draw each of the tiny outlined 'blebs' that make up the intricate stippling effect on the panel in the lower left-corner of page 4 ?!

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Book Review: Albion ! Albion !

Book Review: 'Albion ! Albion !' by Dick Morland

3 / 5 Stars

'Dick Morland' was one of several pseudonyms used by the British author Reginald Hill (1936 – 2012). Hill was a prolific author of crime fiction, with his ‘Dalziel and Pascoe’ series of novels his best-known works. He did write novels in other genres, including thrillers, suspense, and sf – of which ‘Albion ! Albion !’ is an example.

‘Albion ! Albion !’ first was published in the UK in 1974; this Faber and Faber paperback (221 pp) was issued in 1986.

The novel is set in a near-future (i.e., the early 1990s) UK. Morland posits that the economic travails of the 70s have, in the 80s, led to further breakdown of the social order, leading to ever more violent battles between small armies of football hooligans, the retreat of law and order, and the rise of a new class of politicians whose allegiance is to the football Clubs of their districts. By the early 90s, England’s increasingly enfeebled legal and political systems have been entirely overthrown, and the nation is divided into four quadrants.

Each quadrant is governed by a different soccer Club: these are the United, City, Wanderers, and Athletic. Senior fans who came of age in the 70s and 80s are in charge of the Clubs, and rely on loose teams of hardcore hooligans, christened ‘Strikers’, to maintain order via brutal beatings..... and, frequently, murder........

Most of the cities of England are trash-strewn wastelands where no one ventures out after dark, save those with a penchant for mayhem. The rest of Europe has severed all ties with England, and, along with the US, look upon Britain as a sort of bizarre experiment in populism gone terribly wrong.

As ‘Albion ! Albion !’ opens, a young journalist named Whitey Singleton, who lives as a British expatriate in the US, is aboard a jet liner traveling from Tokyo to the Sudan. Singleton devotes many of his columns and essays to criticizing the state of affairs in his birthplace, hoping to persuade the US and the European Union to intervene and restore law and order to England.

Unfortunately for Whitey, his plane is hijacked and diverted to Heathrow. There he is recognized by the Athletic Strikers, who have little respect for his criticism of their social order. Whitey is placed under arrest, beaten up, and sent to prison.

With the realization that his American citizenship and journalist’s credentials do little to deter the actions of the Club, Whitey recognizes that he will have to act on his own to escape the prison and find some means of leaving England. This decision will force him to make alliances with the very people his columns have railed against. But as Whitey Singleton is to discover, his allies have their own plans for him……..and, as it turns out, the future of England………..

As a near-future sf novel with an offbeat, imaginative premise, by and large ‘Albion ! Albion !’ succeeds.

The initial chapters of the novel are the best, as the reader shares Whitey’s disbelief and bemusement in coming to grips with the bastardized, ‘hoolie-meets-droog ‘ civilization that rules England. Somewhat inevitably for a narrative written by a crime novelist, the middle chapters tend to belabor various political intrigues taking place among the Clubs, and there are quite a few contrived twists and turns and double-double-crosses. Things do regain potency in the final chapters, including some passages that prefigure the real-life disasters (i.e., Bradford and Hillsborough) that beset the UK soccer scene in the 80s.

Those with a fondness for ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and other visions of a dystopian future UK are going to want to have their copy of ‘Albion ! Albion !’.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Roy of the Rovers: The 1970s

Roy of the Rovers: The 1970s
Titan Books (UK) June 2009

Leave it to the Brits to produce a comic book ?!

But a comic about soccer it was.....Roy of the Rovers began print in 1954 as a serial comic in the boy's magazine Tiger, before becoming its own comic book title in 1976. 

The series ceased publication in 2001, but it remains an indelible feature of British popular culture of the 20th century.

This large trade paperback from Titan Books compiles the two- to four- page episodes from the 'Roy of the Rovers' comic book, published by Fleetway on a weekly basis from the inaugural issue of September 25, 1976, to June 2, 1979. While credits are not printed in the strips nor in this compilation, the scripts apparently were written mainly by Tom Tully, and the art was done by David Sque.

[The book's content was derived from scans of those 1970s - era pages, so the reproduction of the comics is not hi-fidelity.]

Also reproduced are selected advertisements and articles appearing in the comic book.

For American readers, at least, some of these features border on the surreal....take for example this group photo of 'Elton's Lads', with Elton John and Rod Stewart posing in the front, and Bill Oddie - one of the cast in the great 70s UK TV comedy The Goodies - standing in the back....!

Roy Race played the striker position for the fictional team of Melchester. In addition to the intense action on the soccer field, additional drama was generated from Roy's conflicts with referees, management, and teammates. 

Social issues also intruded into Roy's world of good sportsmanship; several episodes dealt with the effects hooliganism was having on the action on and off the pitch:

Some stories can be seen as an acknowledgement of the increasingly fractious state of society throughout Europe. For example, in one episode, bad behavior by a player from the Swedish 'Zalmo' squad triggers some 'aggro' on the pitch....... but Roy's innately British sense of fair play and sportsmanship defuse the situation, and draw grudging admiration from a disbelieving police:

All in all, even if you're not a particularly ardent fan of soccer / football, 'Roy of the Rovers: The 1970s' is an interesting look at the UK of that era....and for some Brits of certain age groups, I imagine the advertisements will bring on some degree of nostalgia......?!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Fix by Pepe Moreno

'The Fix' by Pepe Moreno
Epic Illustrated No. 30, June 1985

Another offbeat tale from Pepe Moreno...this one features some black humor regarding the 'fix'.........