The scourge of football hooliganism reared its ugly head again last month as England took on Scotland in a two-legged play off for a place in next summer’s Euro 2000 championships. In Scotland 170 fans were arrested after clashes in Glasgow, while more were picked up in London in the return fixture a few days later. The trouble would have been considerably worse had it not been for the largest police operation for a sporting event in British history.

Hooliganism was also on show when the BBC broadcast a documentary about the notorious Chelsea Headhunters football hooligans. Over the whole of the last football season, BBC journalist Donal McIntyre spent time in the company of some of Britain’s most violent hooligans.

McIntyre, and several other BBC journalists, secretly filmed football violence, the organising of fights and the boasting afterwards. More importantly perhaps, the programme gave the viewers an insight into the minds and mentally of English hooligans.

McIntyre befriended Jason Marriner, 32, a long-time hooligan and loyalist. Through Marriner, he was to meet some of the most violent hooligans around: Andy Frain, nickmaned Nightmare, who boasted while on the way up to Scotland of cutting up an off-duty policeman; the twins, David and Ian Sim, who were later to be sent to prison for attacking Spurs fans; Stuart Glass, who was filmed on camera snorting cocaine off a pub table; and Tony Covele, one of the country’s best known hooligans.

While most of the Chelsea hooligans McIntyre met were in their thirties, he also crossed paths with the Reading Youth Firm, a younger group of hooligans in their late teens and early twenties who follow Reading. They too were involved in drug-dealing, violence and nazi politics.

It was, therefore, unsurprising that his journey brought him into contact with some of Britain’s most extreme nazis. There is widespread racism among the Headhunters, with many having some connection to nazi groups such as Combat 18, the Ku Klux Klan and the British National Party.

On a trip to Copenhagen, Marriner recalled a trip to the nazi death camp in Auschwitz he made with Any Frain where they mocked visitors with nazi salutes. "I quickly took the photo [of Frain doing a nazi salute] and a Polish geezer started crying," Marriner told the BBC. "I think I put the final nail in the coffin when I tried to get into the oven."

Trips to Auschwitz have become a regular occurrence for Chelsea supporters on their trips into the East. C18 magazines reproduce photographs of their activities there, including some where the hooligans are lying on concrete slabs and stealing artefacts.

A few days after returning from the Copenhagen trip Marriner displayed his racist views. In footage rarely seen on British TV, he shouted racist abuse at black and Asian people, and on one occasion spat at someone waiting at a bus stop. Some of the most shocking language used by these Chelsea racists was considered too extreme to be aired on the BBC.

Travelling up to Leicester for a fight with rival hooligans, Andy Frain told McIntyre how he had been deported from the US in the early 1990s while on a trip to visit the KKK. He said he was also imprisoned in Scotland after being caught in possession of Klan hate material. "That didn’t go down too well," he joked.

Even the young Reading hooligans were quick to spout off their racism. On a trip to Bristol Crown Court, Danny Walford and Ian Payne both described their hatred of black people and spoke approvingly of the London nailbomber, especially the bomb that went off in a gay bar in Soho. Payne said that gay people got what they deserved.

Both young men have been involved in nazi politics. Payne, a close associate of Stuart Glass and his more political brother, Warren, has attended National Front (NF) activities in both Dover and London, while Walford has accompanied Frain to nazi concerts.

The Headhunters’ links to the far right stem from the mid-1970s, as the skinhead youth culture became increasingly politicised and associated with football hooliganism. The Kings Road, very close to the Chelsea ground, became a focal point for west and south London skinheads. It was during this period that Stuart Glass and many of the older hooligans became active with both the Headhunters and the NF.

A right-wing culture soon developed at Chelsea, with both the NF and British Movement targeting the fans and hooligans for recruitment. As the culture became dominant, so Chelsea attracted more right wingers from a far greater area.

The Headhunter heyday was back in the mid-1980s when Steven Hickmott led the group. It was not uncommon for 200 people to be arrested in violent clashes against Sunderland, Leeds and Middlesboro.

Hickmott was eventually picked up by police in the country’s first undercover football operation. Sentenced to ten years for organising violence (later overturned after police evidence was questioned), Hickmott was replaced with Chris "Chubby" Henderson, a long-time nazi activist and singer with the Oi band Combat 84. In 1987 he, along with Stuart Glass, was also targeted by undercover police, but was acquitted. Henderson now runs a bar in Thailand, a regular haunt for travelling hooligans like Marriner.

After a few years in the doldrums a revitalised Headhunters emerged in 1990 with a new leadership under Tony Covele. Younger and arguably more violent, this gang became dominant on the England scene for much of the early to mid 1990s. In 1993, Covele led a 300-strong group for the England visit to Holland. As can be seen in footage shown on Channel 4 in 1994, it was only after his arrival at Rotterdam train station that the other English hooligans ran off into battle.

The close Headhunter association with following England has increased the nationalist and xenophobic attitudes of many Chelsea hooligans. Regular trips to Glasgow Rangers and Northern Ireland have only reinforced this relationship.

During much of C18’s existence, it has been the Chelsea Headhunters who have formed the largest single group within it, to the point where the political group was widely seen as a Chelsea "firm".

In 1994 C18 began producing The Stormer, a tatty magazine glorifying Headhunter soccer violence. It was during this period that C18-Headhunters begun their vicious campaign against the Chelsea Independent Supporters Association (CISA), which had angered them by supporting anti-racist campaigns. In one incident, in August 1994, four CISA activists were taken to hospital with serious injuries after being attacked in the Finborough Arms in West London.

The following year 40 Headhunters joined a similar number of C18 activists at Warren Glass’s election count in Hounslow where he was contesting a council by-election for the BNP. The night turned ugly as the hooligan and nazi mob went on the rampage. The victorious Labour candidate was struck on the head with a brick.

It was at this year’s Bloody Sunday demonstration in central London that McIntyre saw the real connection between the Chelsea Headhunters and British nazis . Weeks before the event, Marriner was excitedly telling McIntyre about his role in organising an attack on the march. On the day Marriner was in the close company of Andy Frain, and Will Browning and Darren Wells of C18. Altogether there were 30 Headhunters present out of a total turnout of 80.

The tribal nature of football will always make some involved in hooliganism susceptible to the overtures of the far right. While only a minority will actually become active in nazi groups, the violent nationalism that accompanies English hooliganism abroad and the strong loyalism that is dominant within the scene combines to produce a breeding ground for xenophobia and racism. The Chelsea Headhunters is one example of how the culture of racism and nazism becomes entrenched in a gang of hooligans.

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