In talking about Bill Buford’s marvelous account of infiltrating the culture of Football Firms in the 80’s last time I mentioned that part of my own interest in the sociology was due to my travels in the UK. I didn’t get anywhere near the awesome violence Buford did, but I definitely saw some examples first hand of the ‘social chemical reaction’ he talks about and it is here that I’ll share them.
The first time was I think Rugby and not football proper, but it was
the same vibe, the same malevolence emanating through the entire city of
Edinburgh, a city which until that particular night (we’d been there I
think four or five days leading up to that Saturday) I had found so
warm and inviting that I still hope to one day live there. Everyone was
friendly, even the toughest looking motherfuckers in the pubs along
Cowgate, Cockburn or the more off-the-beaten path pubs approaching (but never venturing into) Leith had nothing but camaraderie for the three fly-by-night young Chicago boys hoofing it everywhere in search of adventure, beer and the essence of such a magical city. But then came Saturday and suddenly, something was not quite right.
I think we first noticed it in the afternoon. I’m sure we were up by 10 or 11 – funny thing about traveling, those first two weeks you are indestructible and seemingly inexhaustible. We probably came in the night before tanked – we’d been spending a lot of time during the days browsing the big touristy places like the Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Park, but also scouring far and wide for the little nooks – antiquated, dust-fringed bookstores, occult shops, interesting food venues (Craig’s Mexican Chicken Sandwich, although defying all logic with a name such as that in Scotland, kicks some serious ass) while the nights we spent ticking away the time taming pint after pint of every different kind of lager, stout, ale (and of course, the legal absinthe) while pubbing, clubbing, grubbing and dubbing. So Friday I don’t recall exactly where we were, but it was assuredly out drinking and out late.
So Saturday we would have regardless of the damage inflicted upon our livers been up and re-energized for adventure, as we had every day prior. Only this time, something was different.
We could sense it in the air the second we got outside and began walking around the Royal Mile, Princes Street, North Bridge, and even into the deeper Wynds and alleys of the city of ancient stone. There was, for lack of a better way to say it, a malevolence, an invisible malevolence in the air.
I remember being in the ‘New Town’ area to the NW of where we were staying (the touristy part, previously avoided), and seeing bus after bus of what I believe were Manchester supporters (although again, I think this was Rugby, not football) flooding into the city for the match. And if there’s one thing everyone knows from history, it’s that Scotland prides itself on being able to get any leg up on England that it can. The visiting supporters were met with this wind, this tangible unease wafting through the big open areas surrounding Waverly and all the shopping plazas that had, it appeared by contrast to the ancient parts of the city, sprung up very recently. But these people from the south, in many cases that we observed, seemed to carry with them as much malevolence as the town not-quite-welcoming them. They were there to Vini Vidi Vinci and fuck their hosts.
The day went on, the winds and gray sky eventually ushered in a cold yet strangely balmy night and during whatever adventures ate up our day the match was played and won – by the visitors.
I don’t know about you but if I was a minority of people infiltrating a hostile city, I think I’d welcome in a win for my team with some degree of grace, even if just so not to be outnumbered and overrun.
That is not how we saw the English displaying their pride.
Instead what we saw at the first two (and only two that night) drinking and merriment establishments we went to were drunken fucking idiots shouting in the locals’ faces, cursing their team, their city, their ‘kind‘. I’m not saying it was like this everywhere or with all the visitors; most assuredly it was not. But there was enough of it to where that same tangle of streets and alleys that had become so comfortable so fast now felt unalterably hostile, sporting roving packs – mobs really, of drunken agitators everywhere we looked.
Shit was going to go down, you didn’t have to know the history to know it was certain, and I wanted no part in it. Looking back now maybe that’s why I find Buford’s book so damn mesmerizing – he had the drive, the inspiration, the audacity and maybe even alittle bit of the ‘dude you are fucking crazy’ to explore and examine a cultural phenomenon that I was intrigued by only until it seemed it might swallow me and my friends, ruining our virgin experience of a city I had immediately fallen in love with.
In the end I think I had two pints and turned in, the vibe being too much for me to handle and the only thing thus far my first time out of the country that frightened me, other than the girl I originally went there to meet up with, but that’s another story and a set of double exclamation points behind the fact that before meeting the woman I who became my wife I was a lightening rod for psychopaths. And it would be with her that I would experience this same invisible channel of malevolence not three years almost to the day later.
Next, Part three – THE FINAL CHAPTER mwahahahaa!!!