It wasn’t always like this. He used to be a face. A player. A terrace celebrity. Now he’s just another faceless nobody on the brink of despair in a world he no longer recognises. Yet, one freezing winter’s day, a chance meeting with a face from the old days at Meadow Lane changes everything. Especially when there’s an intriguing proposition on the table. One he may find difficult to refuse.
Ultra Violence is the thrilling, and sometimes moving story, told partially in flashback, of one man’s journey from idealistic young fan to major football hooligan set against the shadow of a grim and soulless middle age in the bustling city of Nottingham.
In this sample chapter, the gang enjoy its traditional (and never ending) Saturday night out in Fun City.
Chapter 8: The Fountain
You start in the Bench and Bar at the top of the Broad Marsh escalators. When you walk in, the PA is playing Step On by the Happy Mondays and you know that you are in for a good night.
You’ve managed to get the last Football Post from that old boy who has been delivering the paper since the fifties. One day you ought to ask his name.
Preece, Clarkson and Breaker are looking at the League tables and discussing the prospects for promotion this year. Neil Warnock is doing the business for Notts and the team are third in the table looking good. The Magpies are hot and getting attention for once.
Usually, Forest are the media darlings in
, but nowadays they have to share the limelight. Not since Sirrel has there been such a buzz. Notts have some decent players for once and Warnock has them playing like a dream. Draper in midfield. Short and Yates, an iron back line. Fun City up forward scoring for fun. McParland flying down the wing and lobbing them in. It’s worthwhile taking your eyes off the firms in the away pen for once. You couldn’t often say that about following Notts. Bartlett
The four of you drink pints of Becks.
You could go home to get changed but you’ve been out the night before and can’t be bothered. You prepared in advance so you look alright anyway, certainly on a par with the present company - a ribbed chocolate-coloured Armani roll neck, faded Levi jeans and jet-black loafers.
You had only been playing a team of muppets today and sure enough, the muppets didn’t bring more than two hundred, all cloth caps, mongs, shirters and women in big coats.
There were four or five casual wannabes giving it the big one in the
, but you let some of the Notts drinkers from Bilborough slap them as they walked down the Canal while you and the rest went to the Navigation for a last pint before kick off. Norfolk
Battering them would have been below you and you could have potentially ripped your Armani for no good reason.
It’s warm out, for the time of year, and dry. You drain half your pint glass more or less in one gulp and then you feel it, the bulge, as the liquid settles.
You’ve put weight on.
You look a bit like the rest of them now. Not all the way, but you’re getting there. You’ve had to buy new jeans twice in the past two seasons because you’ve expanded from a thirty to a thirty four. On occasion, you can still get into a worn thirty two, but nothing top designer. That lot design for anorexics.
You looked in the mirror the other day and you noticed the beginnings of a double chin. Your mum has made a comment or two lately, when you go round for your Sunday lunch. Your dad hasn’t noticed you in six months, such are the hours in his new job at the heating plant. Generally, you don't eat like an Ethiopian let loose in McDonalds. The odd curry, the odd pea mix when you can’t be arsed to cook.
It’s the booze, just the booze. Becks. Red Stripe. Stella. Southern Comfort and lemonade in Zaks or the Arriba.
You take another gulp of the cold Becks. You estimate this is your seventh pint of the day. Haxford and Crazy Jack wouldn’t even consider seven pints a dinner time session in the week. They’d go back to work after seven pints and put a shift in. You rub your belly hanging over your crocodile skin Lacoste belt. You think of going to the gym three times a week but with Notts and your travelling job, you’re bolloxed when you get back to your flat and can’t be arsed.
You don’t look too bad yet. It’s not as if you’re going to need to be fitted with one of those new gastric bands.
Not like some of the lads.
Your quartet sinks the pints and head for the Dog and Bear.
You walk up Bridlesmith Gate, which is empty. Earlier today, it would have been rammed, one of the world’s busiest shopping streets.
You walk past Wardrobe. A squat meathead in a long black coat stands in front of the shop. Bacchus and his gang of brigands must have been at it again. Meathead’s been there all day, a throwback to a time when most human beings grunted at each other in strange code and avoided sabre-toothed tigers by climbing trees.
You recognise him. He’s
Forest, like all the bouncers round town. When they’re not shagging sixteen-year-old girls from Basford, you can usually find them at the City Ground.
It’s packed inside the Dog and Bear. Forest mostly, some Notts. No women – they generally don’t come out until eight. You stand about while Breaker gets the ale in. The Landlord’s invested in a new Fly’s Eye rack of televisions. At the minute, it’s showing a video of Poison by seventies relic Alice Cooper. That’s been playing a lot lately, along with Simply the Best by sixties suspended animate, Tina Turner.
You realise that the nightmare which is eighties pop music has some way to go before it fades away. The jolly rock beat livens you up and you are shocked to realise that you are tapping a loafer.
Four pints of Stella appear. The pub is solid with lads and it’s just six thirty. You stand in the doorway and look outside. It’s quiet, but by seven, the place will be full and by eight, heaving, difficult to get served.
More Notts arrive in the pub and you drink up, the echoes of Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus in the ether, and you head up
Bottle Lane to the QEII, a dank fleapit frequented by prehistoric pissheads and Forest. The pub is decorated with bottle green and whipped cream ceramic tiles, which makes the place look like an oversized toilet. It reeks too, but it is tradition to visit the QE, a link with Nottingham’s past.
Too many pubs have shut lately, particularly the Flying Horse, with its ever present smell of steak and its Minos labyrinth of rooms, each framed with ornately carved oak beams and hardwood furniture which was antique fifty years ago.
And the Exchange, a Shipstones pub, minute, almost quaint, until you went inside, the back wall lined with fragrant and alluring tarts, sitting quietly, sipping Babychams, halves of lager and black, squired by ear-ringed pimps with Stanley blade decorated cheekbones.
Visiting there was heady stuff for a kid. The Council turned a blind eye while developers turned those historic pubs into a yuppie-shopping arcade for the Park set. Galleries, couturiers, jewellery shops.
You can see the way the world is going.
It won’t be long before the QEII - with its toilet-influenced décor and permanent reek of piss, fags and bitter-slops - goes the same way.
And the Arriba above it.
There are plenty of you now, Notts coming in all the time. Haxford is in there along with Kent and Wykeham and the Skull, who is a
Forest fan, a big mate of the Bully’s and now temporarily adopted by Notts. There is no chance of a table, everyone standing, pints in hand. You’re talking about football, the upcoming fixture down at Pompey; the fighting news from around the country; who’s hot, who’s not, who’s rioted, and who’s shat it.
Always football. Always football violence.
You hear that five thousand
Birmingham destroyed the resort at Blackpool ensuring that countless civilian holidaymakers from to Tipton won’t be welcome on the Golden Sands this summer. Coventry
You hear that Millwall battered
Leeds at Watford Gap services. You hear that a coachload of Wolves held a copper hostage after a three cornered battle between them, , and Leicester on the M6. Hostage negotiators and armed Police were called. Carlisle’s Border City Firm set light to the away stand at Hull Preston causing an evacuation. Thirty-seven arrests in the ensuing fighting. Burnley and Reading fought a pitched battle in a Centre… Westfield
After a while, it all became wallpaper and yet the wonder never stopped, it was infinitely entertaining talking about fighting, you never tired of it, never became tired of it, you were experts in it, cultural commentators every inch as skilled and knowledgeable as the people on Panorama and World In Action. You knew every firm in the country and you followed every snippet – whether urban myth, radio newsflash, tiny newspaper cutting or rare TV footage – the news disseminated, as if by magic.
You finish your beer and the fifteen or so of you walk out of the pub in a line, walking past fifteen or so Bulwell lads, the fifteen or so
Carlton lads, or a fifteen strong stag party from , all waiting to take your places. Stamford
You go up the road to the Lord Nelson, but you don’t stay there long, because it’s a bit shit and Haxford, who generally leads these endless crawls, is talking about crossing it off the list.
It’s always crowded and the DJ still plays New Romantic stuff like the Human League and Tubeway Army and Soft Cell even though it’s a decade too late and you may as well be listening to George Formby and his banjo.
The beer’s rank too, kept in dirty pipes too long. You visit the Nelson out of habit, the round, the round.
It’s not even eight thirty and you’re in the Fountain. You walk in, a long line, one after the other, past the bored bouncers who know you, but don’t acknowledge you because they’re too cool for that. Ship of Fools by World Party is on the PA system. The bar isn’t too busy and in any case, the Fountain put plenty on, up to ten bar staff on a Saturday night.
The barmaid you’ve been chatting up for ages is working tonight. She sees you and edges to the Notts side of the bar. Rita her name is and she seems to like you. It’s been nine months since you got any and you’re getting ready to ask her out. Something always stops you though. Not just with Rita. You don’t know what it is.
You put a big smile on your face, a type of manufactured grin you believe makes you look cool and attractive.
Tonight, Rita is wearing hoop earrings and a cream lambswool v-neck top, which balances a tiny gold crucifix on a golden chain. She’s wearing a denim skirt down to the middle of her thighs and Scholl wooden sandals. There isn’t an ounce of fat on her, with the exception of the beginnings of a lady tyre. That’s quite fetching, you think. But you wouldn’t want the tyre to get any more obvious. That would put you right off. She’s got flawless legs, with no divots and scars, no scabs or veiny trails. Legs are your big thing and she’s got sexy feet too, tonight varnished violet with a gold toe ring bringing out her natural colour.
It’s your round and you order four Becks.
She asks you what town’s like.
You tell her it’s busy. Plenty out.
She asks what you’re up to tonight.
You tell her the usual round. As if she didn’t know.
She asks whether you’ll be back in for last orders.
You nod. Always in the Fountain for last orders.
See you later, she says.
You suppress excitement. It might mean something, it might not. You can’t read women. If you consider something like that an invitation when it isn’t, when you strike, she’ll pull away, asking who you think you are. The whole rejection makes you look a bit of an idiot, especially in front of that lot.
Yet if you don’t strike, she might think you’re not interested: Next thing you know, she has her tongue down the throat of one of the top
The place is buzzing and a queue develops outside, civilians in suits and loads and loads and loads of women looking splendid and up for it. There must be three hundred people in the pub by eight forty five and it soon becomes difficult to get to the bar. Rita is flat to the boards. Haxford is telling you and Tom about a ticket deal he has for Primal Scream at
. You’re only half-interested in Scream. Haxford is the type of entrepreneur who would buy and sell anything. Any ticket you want, for any event, Haxford can usually find you what you need. You know that if Notts ever got to Wembley and it was a sell out, Haxford would have tickets. Not that he would sell them to anyone. He was good like that. He’d always sell to Notts first. Rock City
He’s tall, six foot, taller than you. He doesn’t bother dressing up for matches and he rips the piss out of you and Breaker for wasting money. He once referred to you as Gaylord and you weren’t happy, but that’s Haxford, he rips the piss out of everyone. Once, one of the lads in the firm was going out with a much older woman. Her name was Ginny. The gap was fifteen years at least. Coming back from one of the annual
Blackpool weekends, Haxford’s coach passes a cemetery. Look. He taps the lad with the older girlfriend on his shoulder. That’s where Ginny lives. The target of his affectionate humour was visibly shaken. There are some vile nicknames going around and most of them emanate from Haxford or Tom who are pitiless in the face of weakness. Still, he’s the type of alpha-male who can get away with this kind of stuff. He even rips the piss out of Older Bully. But not Younger Bully. He’s quite mild around him.
It starts to get uncomfortable now in the Fountain with pockets of civilians barging into you and sticking fags in your arm and standing where you usually stand and Haxford decides its time to go up to the Malthouse. You’d much rather go to the Bodega behind it but that’s the price of running with the pack. There are at least twenty of you now and you walk down Bridlesmith Gate mob handed. You’re pleasantly pissed and talking to Clarkson about something and nothing, and he’s talking back to you about something or nothing and you hear snippets of modern sounds from each pub you pass. Gangs of girls ten strong in red high heels and long coats and fresh make up and thirty quid hairdos and twenty quid clasp bags all the colours of the rainbow, smoking, laughing. It all seems to happen in slow motion as they walk past under the streetlights and some of the lads know some of the girls and waves are exchanged and implicit in the waves is an unwritten message of I’ll-See-You-Later-In-The-Fountain.
The Malthouse DJ plays a Madchester song you don’t recognise – Carpets? Scream? – and Breaker passes you a bottle of Newcastle Brown for some reason. You look round to see if it’s for someone else but there’s no-one, the drink is for you and this is the point of the night where you start hiding pints, giving the lads the impression you can stand your round and hold your drink when in actual fact you’ll be hiding pints behind statues and on the plinth near the toilets, no more than a quarter drunk, because its only just past nine and you’ve got five hours to go at least and you’re not Haxford or Tom who, by a conservative estimate, have already downed fifteen pints since lunch in the Bentinck and you know, like a pair of Terminators, they are never, ever, going to stop.
You leave the Malthouse behind and head to the Bodega and then, after that, you decide to go back to the Fountain for the last hour. By the time you get back, the place is half-full. You’re well experienced in the rhythms of Nottingham’s night life and you know that the ebb and flow of drinkers usually leaves the Fountain free between nine thirty and ten thirty, so you strike, all twenty of you and this time, the bouncers um and ah about letting you in, because you’re all hammered, staggering, loud and boisterous, but Haxford has a word and in you go, your corner free except for five civilians in moustaches, jackets, shirts, ties and trousers who are probably off to Madisons to try and pull. The gang encircles them and the intimidated quintet move further down the pub.
Rita comes straight over to serve you and you order two pints and two halves, the latter puff’s duo for you and Preece, victims of far too much ale. She’s definitely smiling now and you know you’re in with a chance. She tells you not to go away and that afterwards, she’ll come out and have a chat and you nod, buy her a drink too, the money for which she puts in the communal tips tray.
You check your wallet. You’ve well overdone it today and you hope Rita doesn’t want a late night curry because you’ll have to borrow money and you hate that. You aren’t paid until Friday and you spent most of last month’s salary on a black leather blouson from Ralph Lauren
You’re in a situation.
You have enough money for a taxi and a couple more rounds in the Arriba Club. There’s no way you’re taking Rita to the Arriba. Not on the first date. She’s far too classy for the Arriba. The lads come over, get their beer, and admonish you for your tardiness. You tell them to fuck off, even though you hardly ever swear. They give it you right back.
After last orders, Rita comes over with half a lager and lime and she stands next to you. Before you can even say hello, Tom, Clarkson and Swifty are all over her like fleas on a greyhound. They swamp her and she’s not averse to all the attention, even if it is drunken attention. Clarkson can scarcely breathe, never mind have a conversation.
The air is thick with cigarette smoke and you are tired and irritable. You’ve had far too much to drink and even if Rita wants to take the night further, you’re going to be struggling.
The boys entertain her with pissed flirting communicated in an alien language. Then they spot three women they know by the cigarette machine. Ample breasted blondes in black two-piece suits who look as if they’ve been drinking since last Christmas. They seem to be struggling to remember the sequence involved in lighting cigarettes. One of them, with thighs like a footballer, puts the wrong end of her cigarette in her mouth.
They all laugh.
Like vultures, your friends spot the dead meat lying on the parched Serengeti and soon they’re dive-bombing out of the azure skies.
You’re alone with Rita. She’s been to the toilets and dabbed perfume on. You don’t recognise the brand. She asks whether you have a light. You say you don’t smoke and for a moment, everything looks less like the perfect jigsaw you want it to be. Nevertheless, you’ve been out with smokers before and you are sure Rita will have encountered the odd non-smoker in her life so you let the jagged moment pass. She asks a nerdy looking bloke in a blue striped shirt for a light, lights her cigarette, and taps you lightly on the forearm.
What are you doing after this?
I don’t know, you say. I’m a bit pissed. You?
I can see that. Your mates are completely hammered.
Football. It’s all football.
Fancy a club?
Not really, no. I just want to go home to bed.
Oh, I do. I could do with a dance. All your mates are going to the Arriba. They’ve just told me. One of them asked me to go with him.
I’m not saying.
She winks at you. You’re not bothered.
is a free for all, and like the aftermath of a kicking, or being arrested, it’s every man for himself. You shrug your shoulders and watch Fun City Cher strut around an aircraft carrier surrounded by hunky sailors on the TV above you.
Are you going? She asks, probably aware you aren’t going to say anything.
I usually do.
Are you going to take me?
If you want to go. The place is a dump.
I know the Arriba. I’ve been there a couple of times. Full of oldies, she says. She has that welcoming, playful face a woman sometimes gives a man when the two of them have crossed a Rubicon.
They don’t play very good music in there, you say.
I don’t know so much. I enjoyed it when I went. Me and me mates danced all night.
Round your handbag?
Rita moves closer to you. I didn’t take a handbag, but yeh. We might have danced round someone’s handbag.
You look at her and realise once again that she’s a very good-looking woman, everything in proportion, beautiful big brown eyes and a lovely voice. Not much
Nottingham in it. She might even be from out of town, you surmise.
Okay, you say, finally. You can come. That’s if you know what you’re letting yourself in for with this lot.
I’ll be alright, as long as you look after me. She puts her hand on your forearm again and the sexual tension between you is palpable, but it might just be the drink talking so you stay impassive.
I’ll try my best, you hear yourself saying.
I have to go and clear the empties and the ashtrays. Don’t go without me. I’ll meet you in twenty minutes.
Later, Rita comes over, a blackcurrant coloured coat, a woollen cherry scarf and a subtle leather clasp bag that clearly cost a few quid.
She slides her arm into yours and the two of you leave for the Arriba Club.
Town is at its most vibrant in the hour between last orders and the long slow walk to the nightclub.
Illuminated by streetlights and the light escaping from pub windows, the place has finally completed its transformation from bustling shopping capital to a party paradise full of people loving the weekend.
There’s no fighting tonight. The vans and Policemen in hi-visibility jackets stand idly near the Council House chatting amiably to uniform groupies and cheerful pissheads. Everywhere there is a smell of melted cheese, fried chicken, piping hot chips, hamburgers and hot chilli kebabs. Invisible cumin clouds rise above the curry houses. Takeaways doing great business from the all day drinkers too hammered to get in Camelots. On a good night, which this is, revellers whoop it up in the streets. Partygoers joke, old lovers cuddle for warmth, and soon-to-be-lovers dance their enigmatic dance of anticipation. It’s comfortably noisy. Music is everywhere, coming from every club doorway. Club queues snake down pedestrianised walkways like animated dominos.
In the black sky above, the moon hovers, watching over proceedings like Old Father Time.
You and Rita walk up
Bottle Lane and join the queue for the Arriba.
They’re playing Ride On Time.
You smile and Rita asks you why.
Get your handbag ready, you reply.