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CASUALS: THE LOST TRIBE OF BRITAIN They dressed cool and fought dirty, but their impact on fashion has been largely ignored. Now they are making a comeback . . . in bookshops

THEY were the days when a thirst for violence merged with a love of fashion, days when rival football fans turned on each other in bloody battles, days which forged one of Britain's most controversial youth movements, whose lasting impact has been airbrushed out of history by social commentators unable to make sense if it.

The height of the casual movement . . . and its effect on Scotland, particularly Aberdeen . . . is recalled in Congratulations, You Have Just Met The Casuals, a new tome that tries to shed light on the phenomenon, even if it's unlikely to rewrite the history books.

Its author, Dan Rivers, is a former member of the notorious Aberdeen Soccer Casuals (or the ASC as they became known).

His blow-by-blow accounts of street and terrace battles are unlikely to change the minds of those who long ago decided casuals were unworthy of cultural examination.

Yet there is a small but growing number of voices who believe the legacy of the casual cannot be so easily dismissed, who argue that it can be found on every street in every town and city in Britain; that its impact on popular consciousness still affects the way society perceives young men; and that its influence can be felt on the music young people listen to and on the clothes they wear.

For Stuart Cosgrove - television executive, broadcaster and devoted football fan - casuals are the great hidden subculture of British life, unloved by virtually everyone.

"Mainstream football fans resent their violence, sociology lecturers can't think of anything interesting to say about them and even the companies whose labels they sport, such as Burberry and Stone Island, just wish they would go away, " he says. "Unlike the punks and the mods, they have nobody theorising on their behalf.

Academia should learn to love casuals."

The movement began in the late 1970s, ostensibly when Liverpool fans followed their team to Europe and were exposed to fashions not widely available in Britain.

Take labels such as Fila, Lacoste, Burberry and Kappa, add a taste for serious fighting and a new youth culture was born.

It was, according to cultural commentator, former NME journalist and Oasis biographer Paolo Hewitt: "One of the biggest workingclass youth cults ever, " but because its home was the football terraces [which at that time were entirely the preserve of the working class] rather than universities or art schools, it went largely unexplored by the media.

Author Phil Thornton, a former Manchester United casual, grew so sick of reading books about British youth culture and British dress sense that relegated casuals to a sentence or a paragraph that he wrote his own account of the movement, called simply, Casuals. "You get a lot written about punk and mod but there was nothing there that addressed casuals at all, " he says.

As with every youth movement before and since, it was the clothes that marked the casuals out. "It wasn't even being covered by the fashion magazines, " says Peter Hooton, the former frontman of indie group The Farm, who was editing an influential football fanzine called The End in Liverpool as the 1980s began.

From its pages, Hooton derided the violence that was becoming such an integral part of British football, but in every other respect he was a fully paid-up member of the casual army. He didn't start The End to chart a subculture - he was a football fan first and foremost - but he grew increasingly annoyed at what he saw as a metropolitan dismissal of a genuine working-class movement.

"I remember Kevin Sampson [later The Farm's manager and now an author] writing to The Face in the early 1980s with a piece about casuals and they rejected it. They said there is absolutely no interest in that subject. That was their attitude."

Hooton remembers his first brush with casualdom. "This lad came into a pub in Liverpool, must have been 1978 or 1979, and he had a pair of strapover training shoes on. Everyone was amazed. They said, 'Where did you get them from?' and he just went, 'Switzerland.' And that was it."

It's generally accepted that the casual has "Made in Merseyside" stamped indelibly in his DNA. Easily the most successful team in Britain throughout the 1970s, Liverpool FC were also dominating European competitions from 1977 onwards. And where the team went - Rome, Paris, Madrid - significant numbers of fans followed, picking up items of sportswear unavailable in the UK. By the late 1970s, away fans visiting Liverpool's Anfield ground would have noticed clusters of outlandishly dressed young men in exotic-looking tracksuit tops and shiny new trainers. Later these same fans would adopt tweed jackets, deerstalkers, even tennis and cricket gear, as terrace fashions changed with the seasons.

In 1981, Liverpool won their third European Cup Final in five years, beating Real Madrid in Paris. Hooton was at the midweek game and, like thousands of other fans, travelled over on the ferry the weekend before. As well as football, he had training shoes on his mind: a rumour had spread about a shop in Paris called The Adidas Centre which sold trainers unavailable anywhere else. It was the Holy Grail as far as Hooton and hundreds of other Scouse soccer casuals were concerned. They spent all weekend scouring the city looking for it.

"It was a myth. I don't think it ever existed, " he says. "But by the Monday morning, all the sports shops in Paris had either shut or they had bouncers on the door."

The labels so beloved of the casuals are hardly more enthusiastic about the link. "You have all these labels like Prada, Burberry, Armani, and they all want nothing to do with it because of its connection with football violence, " says Hewitt. "On the other hand they're making millions of pounds out it."

Examine the leisure-wear industries today and you'll find multi-million pound operations feeding an appetite for training shoes and sports wear that is a direct result of the casuals' love of labels. The racks in every high-street sports shop now groan under the weight of retro trainers such as Adidas Stan Smiths or Puma G Vilas.

Last month, Burberry's chief executive Rose Marie Bravo said the label's adoption by "chavs" - the English equivalent of neds - "probably had not helped" the upmarket brand's UK performance.

Some commentators have tried to depict the casuals' adoption of brands such as Pringle, Aquascutum and Barbour as signs of an aspirational intent. "I've always thought that was bollocks, " says Thornton. "Essentially, most casuals were aesthetes. They were into the look of clothes and the feel of clothes and it just so happens that these things are the nicest.

They weren't making any comments about subverting the class hierarchy.

"I think the dandified male has been a recurring theme throughout British youth culture. There's always been this British working-class obsession with fashion and not allowing yourself to be browbeaten. You dress in a way that marks you out as special."

It was this obsession with labels that helped the casuals movement take root in its first Scottish city, Aberdeen. Rivers traces the impetus for the formation of the ASC back to a European cup match between Aberdeen and Liverpool in October 1980: "On that day, a section of the away support were seen dressed in 'trendy' sportswear - designer tracksuits and top-of-the-range trainers - rather than the traditional club supporter's uniform, which was normal clothes adorned with the team's colours of red and white."

Inspired, some Aberdeen fans took up the mantle and were soon scouring the country for hard-to-find, or just plain expensive, items of clothing. Like the Liverpool casuals they also had their own European shopping excursions to look forward to - in the 1983 European Cup-Winners' Cup competition, Aberdeen disposed of the mighty Bayern Munich and then beat the even mightier Real Madrid in the final in Gothenburg.

A year later, in the same competition, they went out in the semi-finals to Porto.

Germany, Belgium, Sweden, Hungary, Portugal: over a two-year period Aberdeen fans visited all these places and, unlike the Liverpool casuals, many had oil money in their pockets to fund their clothes purchases.

Gradually the casual trend spread throughout Scotland, with Hibernian and Motherwell the two other clubs at which the new look found the most favour. Until these sides "turned trendy", it was usually with their skinhead followers that the ASC would wage war. With the birth of the casuals, the numbers doubled. Hundreds would fight pitched battles in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee.

The ASC were the first, biggest, and most feared of the crews that plagued Scottish football in the 1980s. Week in, week out, Rivers and his sharp-dressed soldiers would do battle with other gangs: Hibernian's Capital City Service, Motherwell's Saturday Service or perhaps The Utility, a combined gang made up of Dundee and Dundee United supporters.

The publication of Rivers's book, compiled from the notes and diaries he kept at the time, supposedly marks the 25th anniversary of the gang's foundation in 1980, though that in itself is a hazy concept.

It's not as if there was ever an inauguration ceremony. It is the latest addition to what has become a minor publishing industry.

One of the earlier books in the hooligan memoir canon also featured Aberdeen FC.

Jay Allen's Bloody Casuals, published in 1989, is still regarded as one of the best of its kind though it's now out of print. Edinburgh Central Library's single copy is kept under lock and key in the reference section because all the others were stolen, a common fate for books of its type. Fill out the requisite form and a librarian will bring you a slim, well-thumbed volume straining with expletives; an unabashed celebration of fists, Fila and football.

If the violence is the least attractive aspect of the casual phenomenon, its influence on the music industry was altogether more benign. By the end of the 1980s, the casuals melted away from the football grounds. One important factor was the Hillsborough disaster in which 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death during an FA Cup match.

In the tragedy's aftermath football cleaned up its image. As police and authorities clamped down, the writing was on the wall for the terrace culture that had spawned the casuals. Even the terraces themselves went, swept away by a report into the Hillsborough disaster which recommended the introduction of all-seater stadia.

But that wasn't the end of the casuals' influence. Lured into nightclubs by the house music explosion, the casuals were transformed from rowing hooligans into loved-up ravers by a new drug, ecstasy.

Bands like Manchester's Happy Mondays, former casuals to a man, took the fashion style that had developed on the terraces and put it into the nightclubs where it became the dominant look.

The influence can still be seen in acts such as two-time Mercury Prize nominee Mike Skinner, who records under the name The Streets. "He's probably the most visible ambassador, " says Thornton. "If you look at what he wears it's not that dissimilar to what kids were wearing in the late 1970s in Liverpool. He might be wearing Reebok instead of Adidas Samba and a Stone Island coat instead of a Peter Storm cagoule but the look's the same." Liam Gallagher of Oasis was an earlier version, though in the mid-1990s, the media had a different label for people who dressed like him: "polo geezer". The terms may change, but society's attitude remains the same.

When Aberdeen take on Hibernian in a vital league game at Easter Road this Saturday, scan the crowds heading to the match and you'll see practically every young fan sporting something of the old casual uniform. It might be a pair of designer trainers or a Lacoste polo, it might be a CP Company jacket or, for the wellheeled few, a Pounds500 Stone Island coat. The casuals have grown up and calmed down but in our brand-obsessed 21st century, their legacy is everywhere.

Congratulations, You Have Just Met The Casuals by Dan Rivers is out now ( John Blake Publishing, pounds-17.99)

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