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.

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