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In early skinhead days the cult was purely a fashion and part of that fashion was violence and quite often violence for violence's sake. One of the earliest manifestations of skinheads and violence was at a hippy gathering in Grosvenor square, October 1968. The hippies were chanting 'Victory to the NLF!' and 'Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh!'. 200 Millwall supporters took it upon themselves to spoil their party and began shouting 'Student Students Ha Ha Ha'. A month earlier they had also hit the news in the Daily Telegraph with the following:
"Hundreds of youths in hob-nailed boots left Margate last night after a weekend of fights and scuffles with police. The boot brigade, successors to the mods and rockers, met police in several clashes on the seafront yesterday and on Sunday. One boy, sixteen and dressed in hill-billy fashion in heavy brown boots and jeans held up by braces said "These boots are just part of the uniform. They make us look hard".
"They make us look hard". It didn't make them hard but that's not what mattered. Just as the teddy boys and mods and rockers had done before, the skinheads were perpetuating a cycle of recreational violence that is still alive today with football hooligans.
Football gave plenty of opportunities for violence and it was noted that the skinheads in Grosvenor Square were Millwall fans. Fear was the key and the skinheads became one of the most feared because they were like wolf packs roaming the streets and their intimidating look made them a formidable force. the average age was still fairly young and they were a few years younger than many of the people they hounded. The following article shows how the original skinheads saw themselves and their violence.
Len Warrington, 15 and Alan Timms, 20 were skinheads for two years about a year and a half ago. They belonged to different gangs then, one in Islington and the other in Archway.
Len, who now works for a printer in a display firm in Holloway says:
'I've still got my boots. I only wear them when I go to football. Up the Arsenal. They're not skinheads there though. When I was with the skinheads we wore shirts with a pleat in the back, Levis and boots. It was like being in the army. We all wore the same.
The younger ones now, like brothers, go out and if they get into bother they call on you. My younger brother, he's thirteen, goes around in a gang, they meet after school and walk about the streets. He wears flares and tries to get the stuff we used to wear. I still like reggae but he goes on about underground music.
I miss the bother in one way. You'd get another crowd walking towards you and you got that feeling that you knew they wouldn't move away. I used to like that.
The only bother now is up football with the other fans. Last season the worst lot were West Ham. Even if we win or lose we still go out and meet the others. I don't know why we do it - it's just like something after a football match. Probably the excitement or something that makes you do it. You don't think about anything much when you're fighting, just that you don't get your face kicked in.'
Alan Timms, who works for the same firm as Len, says:
'I became a skinhead for the fashion and something to do each night. It was only a fashion. I mean I wear flared trousers now - got rid of me Crombie. I've changed considerably. For a start I've been courting strongly for about fourteen months and lost contact with a lot of my friends. You just grow up, I suppose. I still see my gang, but I don't go around with them as much. Like my girl, she was part of the gang then, just followed on. It was always bother coming to you or you going to bother in those days.
I belong to the Archway Club and there you are free to wear what you like. We go to the club three nights a week and we just enjoy ourselves, we hardly ever get any bother. There used to be lots of fights then, of course. Some of them were very bad, fifty geezers involved in one you know. I don't go out looking for trouble now, the only time is when I see someone getting the better of another geezer'.
John Hainsby, 19, Michael McWalsh, 20 and Andrew (Mac) McCulloch, 20, all belonged to the 'Woolwich Chops', a gang of skinheads, two years ago.
They still meet although their clothes and, of course, their hair have changed. John Hainsby explains:
'It was a laugh. A couple of the happiest years of my life. All the skinheads round here have got married, gone away or been put away now. We've grown up and matured. Like we stopped being skinheads after we had our last kicking.
It was great then you know. Like everything had a name. When you went out at night, you went out in your Ben Sherman shirt, your Levis and your 'Doctor Martens' or your Squires. And even when we went down Margate of a weekend you could tell our chaps. We all looked the same, like a uniform in sheepskins, white jeans and boots. We were really together, really good.
We go to different clubs now and we don't go looking for bother anymore. Like in the old days we always had to had to have it go off with the Lewisham Mods down Catford, but we don't go where they are now. Mind you, we got very bad. We had some stabbings in Woolwich... murders like. We don't bother with rival gangs anymore. Mind you, if the Greasers get a bit lippy down the Starlight club then there's trouble.
At one time, Woolwich Chops used to fight with the Army Squaddies every day and night. They couldn't stand them cos they were right yetis. They thought they owned the place.Now if they see you with long hair, they think you're queer. You can't win.If you had short hair, it labelled you right away with coppers and everyone. You can get a more elegant bird now. Like French birds and that. Before, with the short hair, they didn't want to know'.
The football violence continued after the first wave of skinheads. Just like today, it was was a recreational thing and both sides were up for it but sometimes the skinheads would choose somebody at random to attack.
Sunday: Michael Croft introduced me to the phenomenon of the "skinhead" or "peanut". Now I see them everywhere - racing along the aisles of local trains, wrestling on escalators, hanging around country towns, throwing stones on television.
At fourteen, they are quite distinct from Hippies or Rockers, or Mods, or the Teds of yesteryear. They are anti-hair with only a short fuzz on their bullet craniums. They wear large boots, jeans, braces over T-shirts.
It is almost as if they were deliberately styled on the dead-end kids of pre-war slumdom, Our Gang turned nasty, comic paper caricatures no longer funny.
They act as the shock troops of the age revolution, mercenaries who will attack any minority group just for fun - Catholics, Pakistanis, courting couples, police, pop groups, football crowds. Invisible and unpredictable, they are given respectable excuses for vandalism by adults, in Ulster as in Slough.
Unpredictable they were and that is where the bad rep came from. Nobody was safe from their wrath. The following extract talks of 'unprovoked aggression' as skinheads beat up a passer by.
Brighton, Easter Bank Holiday, 1970. A group of skinheads traps a man behind a parked car. They attacked him with boots and fists. The man has done them no harm. He was merely walking in the street when they arrived. He is a victim - like so many others in this year when law and order is a topical issue - of unprovoked aggression. But this time there was someone to put it on record.
The picture was taken by Daily Mail photographer Bill Cross. This is his report of the incident:
'I was in Pavilion Gardens, 200 yards from the front, when I saw about 200 skinheads running through the street shouting football slogans. They started off in a sort of jog-trot which became faster and faster. As they increased speed they shouted louder. It was mass hysteria. Two men aged between 20 and 25 were walking through the gardens as the mob ran forward. They were just ordinary chaps, not wearing leather jackets or anything like that. About seven or eight of the leading skinheads started kicking at them. The two men held out their arms trying to reason with the skinheads who were shouting at the top of their voices. The skinheads took no notice. One of the attacked men ran out of my camera frame and was chased by two skinheads. The rest set about another chap as he tried to escape behind a parked car. They kicked and punched him and then ran to catch up with the main body. The skinheads broke windows of shops and overturned tables outside restaurants. They held their arms in the air like victorious gladiators. I couldn't help feeling a bit sick watching parents grabbing their children from the gang's path.'
Skinheads quite rightly became the folk devils of their age. They made so many enemies that nobody liked them - but just like Millwall fans - they didn't care. The violence was seen to be part of the cult and it was accepted that they would grow out of it and their dirty deeds would disappear with the style they left behind. Just like Alex in Clockwork Orange which became so popular with the skinheads, they would just 'grow out of it'. In some parts of Britain though it took a long time to die out, if it ever did. In London too, there were still skinheads to be found before punk and the 78 skinhead revival. During this period, the Last Resort opened and with it the Crucified Skin was born. What was the significance? Was it a sudden manifestation of morality or conscience. "Yeah, we're bad but we aint all bad". Needles to say the image became a skinhead icon and it kind of signifies the good side of skinhead. The crucified skin is a pastiche of the injustice dealt out to someone who is seen (by christians at least) as being the epitome of good.
Skinheads aren't all bad and never were. During the late seventies there was a tube crash in London and the Suns front page headline was "Skinhead Heroes" (You can see it on Del's wall in Nick Knight's Skinhead) as testament to a rescue made by some skinheads. The Sun just had to go for the sensationalist headline! This stuck in my mind back then and I never saw skinheads as being totally bad.
At the end of the day skinheads are just normal people who for whatever reasons may have skated close to the edge of what would be considered evil. The following dialogue demonstrates exactly the skinhead psyche. He talks in one breath of steaming into police with hammers then in the next breath denies being bad and tells of how he was always respectful to the elderly.
"I went to college. I'm an electrician by trade, and touch wood, I've never been unemployed. You know, several others who were in our gang are in business now. One of them is an architect surveyor with a half-million pound turnover and two villas in Spain. He got done for having a row at Coventry, I remember. He got three months D.C. (Detention Centre) for steaming into the Old Bill with a hammer.
All these things what we was to the older people - hooligans, louts, tearaways - you know, it's not true. I mean I like to think I'm a likeable person as such. Maybe I wasn't so much then, but even then I was polite and never disrespectful to elderly people. I had neighbours who'd say 'Oh he's a lovely boy, he helped me home with my shopping yesterday' and all that. I mean, just because I done things on Saturday afternoon on the terraces and Friday night at the club, it doen't make me a bad person."