County Road Cutters
County Road Cutters
An Eye For an Eye
By: Andy Nicholls
Date: October 2002
Source: Nicholls, Andy. Scally: The Story of a Category C Football Hooligan. Ramsbottom, UK: Milo Books, 2002.
About the Author: Andy Nicholls was born in 1962 and has followed the Everton Football Club since childhood. He edited the football fanzine Get into Them, whose publication was banned after only two editions. A "Category C" football hooligan—the British police's most notorious classification—Nicholls has been banned from many football stadia and claims to have lost interest in the sport.
Hooliganism—riotous and destructive behavior by spectators at sporting events—once seemed synonymous with British football. Although the game was given a codified set of rules with the formation of the Football Association in 1863, this did little to dampen the passions of those who loved and watched the sport, and off-the-field violence soon tarnished the game's image.
This was largely intermittent and spontaneous until the 1950s, when mass transportation brought large numbers of "away" fans (supporters of visiting clubs) to the matches. Such excursions were often synonymous with heavy drinking, brawling, vandalism, occasionally within the stadium itself. These acts were usually carried out by a small minority of spectators, but as the clashes were very visible and sometimes even spectacular, the problem became exaggerated and the game as a whole began to suffer.
Hooliganism escalated during the 1960s and 1970s, and English clubs in European competition regularly had their visits marred by the violent actions of their supporters. Even worse, fans of continental rivals sometimes tried to outdo the so-called "Hooligan Kings of Europe."
In Britain, hooliganism plunged the sport into crisis: attendance spiraled and clubs left with huge debts and rotting stadia. Throughout the 1980s, although individual acts of hooliganism actually declined, football-related violence became a national crisis, and was alternatively seen as a symptom of national decay, inner-city deprivation, lack of education, poverty, or simple moral bankruptcy.
Things went from bad to worse with the Heysel Stadium disaster of May 1985, when a riot by Liverpool fans caused a wall to collapse and kill 39 rival supporters. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher declared war on the violence and worked with Parliament to pass legislation to curb the hooligan blight.
Most clubs had their own hooligan fringe. Usually they were loosely affiliated but like-minded men who regarded a brawl with rival fans as part of their match day experience. Some took on names—the Chelsea Headhunters, the West Ham Inter City Crew, the Leeds Service Crew.
The County Road Cutters were a notorious faction of hooligans—probably numbering no more than a dozen members—associated with Everton, a Liverpool-based team and one of the country's preeminent clubs. County Road is the main thoroughfare running to the west of Goodison; "cutters" refers to their weapon of choice—a Stanley knife or box cutter. They lurked in alleyways and side streets surrounding Goodison Park, the club grounds, plotting ambushes against rival hooligans.
The following incident took place in January 1989 at an FA Cup replay with West Bromwich Albion at Goodison. After a draw the previous Saturday, an Everton supporter—not involved with hooliganism—lost an eye after being attacked and beaten in a deliberate ambush by West Bromwich Albion fans. The incident received much local press coverage and aroused much anger. This is the tale of how one County Road Cutter exacted his revenge.
AN EYE FOR AN EYE
The chase was over and he was finished. The dimly lit cobbled streets had become his prison and were soon to become his graveyard. The cocky [expletive deleted] was cocky no more.
As he stood penned in the cul de sac, his annoying Brummie drawl was making me madder: "'Ere mate, give me a break, leave it out."
I don't know why I wasted my breath, but I didn't. "Shut the [expletive deleted] up. You're not me mate and very soon you're going to get it, and no amount of cry-arsing is gonna get you off the hook, [expletive deleted]."
That was all he was worth. His fate had already been decided three days earlier when his little crew had attacked a group of Everton supporters, yes, supporters, not hooligans like me, just lads who went to watch the match, and that is out of order. They blinded one bloke; lost his eye, he did, when they smashed a brick in his face as he tried to fight back when his cheery FA Cup trip to West Brom turned sour. I read about it in the Echo on the Monday and was made up, we only got a draw at The Hawthorns, as I wouldn't have to wait long to get even.
West [expletive deleted] Brom. I stood there with a fresh new blade in my hand and still couldn't get me head 'round the fact that I was tooled up for West Brom. But I had to be, 'cos as the Good Lord says in the Bible, an eye for an eye.
He didn't look as hard now as he had in the ground [at the stadium], safe behind the fences and 100 bizzies [police]. He was the one with the big mouth singing:
He's only a poor little Scouser [person from Liverpool]
His face is all tattered and torn
He made me feel sick
So I hit him with a brick And no he won't see any more.
Bum bum. Dead funny. That was his mistake, well his second one: His first was coming to Everton and marching around County Road, chest out in a big and brace and silver baseball cap. His sort have no hiding place at Everton.
I loved the Upper Park End Stand, I did. Get in the front row and clock the mouthy [expletive deleted] below. After the game we would come out the same gate as them and were soon in with them, and then they were not so hard. The chase never lasted long.
Goodison was ace, it was, loads of little alleyways, no street lights, none that the kids hadn't smashed, anyway. And when the first punch was thrown and the roar went up, not many stood to fight.
This [expletive deleted] was no different and he was gonna soon regret coming to Everton.
I ran at him in a frenzy and slashed him and just, well, carried on slashing him. Slash after slash after slash, through his clothing. But I couldn't get my target—I wanted his eye. He was on the deck now screaming, pleading for me to stop. [expletive deleted] off.
I tried to prize his fingers back from his face but he was a strong lad and he wasn't giving an eye up that easy. I cut his fingers to the bone but in the end his screams made me do one as the curtains began to twitch and the bizzies must have been on their way.
I had failed, but had given it a good shot. He was in a bad way but, unlike the Everton fan on Saturday, this mouthy West Brom [expletive deleted] would be able to see his scars through both eyes. That [expletive deleted] me off. Still, he would remember this night for the rest of his life.
So what? Welcome to Everton, you have just met the County Road Cutters.
The attack on the West Bromwich Albion fan was just one of thousands of acts of football hooliganism committed during the 1980s. It followed an FA Cup Third Round replay, of which Everton had won 4—starting a run that would take them to the final that May against local rival Liverpool.
By then, however, the city of Liverpool was reeling from the worst disaster in British football history. On Saturday, April 16, 1989, at an FA Cup semifinal between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough Stadium, Sheffield, ninety-six Liverpool supporters were crushed to death against a fence when massive crowds outside flooded into already crowded tunnels leading to popular seating areas. The disaster had had nothing to do with hooliganism—but the fencing had been put up to keep hooligans away from the pitch [field].
The report into the tragedy by Lord Justice Taylor concluded that the game as a whole was suffering a "general malaise or blight," the result of which were decaying stadia and a self-perpetuating spiral of decline. The Taylor reports made a number of recommendations, but the most significant was a call for the transformation of antiquated football venues into all-seater stadia, a huge public investment in the game's infrastructure.
Results were dramatic: Football's missing millions began to return. During the 1990s a huge influx of TV money helped further football's renaissance. Since all-seater stadia were easier to police than the old terraces, the hooligans of previous decades were all but forced out. Though they never quite went away—rioting British fans have made international headlines on a number of occasions—and organized skirmishes between sets of rival gangs still occur, football hooliganism has ceased to be a national preoccupation.
The County Road Cutters have disbanded, although recollections such as the one above and others who were hooligans or claimed to be part of such groups appear from time to time in fanzines like When Skies Are Grey. These accounts are replete with exaggerations and misty-eyed nostalgia for the good old days when football was as much about the fighting off the pitch as the game on it.
Everton fans, unlike many of their counterparts, never had a serious reputation for hooliganism, although small-scale violence often accompanied games with local rivals Liverpool and Manchester United. In February 2005, after an FA Cup tie with United, thirty-three men were arrested from both sets of fans. Far from being the norm, however, such incidents are now the exception.
Corbett, James. Everton: The School of Science. London: Macmillan, 2003.
Williams, John, Eric Dunning, and Patrick Murphy. Hooligans Abroad. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 1985.
―――――――Football on Trial: Spectator Violence and Development in the Football World. London: Routledge, 1990.
Rivals.net. "When Skies Are Grey. The Everton Fanzine." 〈http://everton.rivals.net〉 (accessed March 2, 2006).