My sincerest apologies for this blatant stereotype, it is solely intended for explanatory purposes. First and foremost, the lad’s footwear; the Adidas Samba, to a Scouse lad, is what Jordan’s are to any basketball fan – unquestionably essential. Hopeless analogies aside, the widespread popularity of brands such as Adidas and Ellesse (represented by the lairy puffer-jacket), within youth high-street fashion has the ‘football casuals’ culture to thank.
The term ‘casual’ resonates with the youth of today, and is perpetuated, or at least played on, by films such as The Firm and The Football Factory. Visually, The Firm offers the most potent example of how a ‘football casual’ would likely be recognised by a young lad today; it seems as long as you’re decked out in a bright red Fila tracksuit, or maybe a nice Sergio, that you’ve become a part of this laid back football-oriented culture. Absolutely not. To do so would be an insult to the working-class, football-going Scouse youths of the 70s and 80s; they weren’t cultural icons – quite the opposite – they were serious.
Kevin Sampson, writer of Awaydays, actually hates the term ‘casual’, stating that this label only came about when London tried to repossess a scene whose roots and soul was in the North West. Awaydays might not be such an adrenaline rush in comparison to Green Street, but Sampson has created a snapshot of the Merseyside scene unsusceptible to London’s, or any other regional influence.
So what was this scene in the North West that Sampson alludes to? Phil Thornton, an ex-Manchester United casual and author of Casuals: Football, Fighting and Fashion, traces the “working class fascination with sharp dressing” in Liverpool back to Victorian times, when scallywags, through their dressing aimed to throw punches at their social superiors. Thornton charts the changing fashions, from the Italian-suited Teddy Boys of the 50s to the Teds adoption of mod clothing during the Merseybeat boom of the 60s. It is by the 60s that music becomes a fundamental element to the then-nascent ‘scally’ scene.
Scouse scallies were involved in crazes that came and went – skinheads, bootboys, punks; all of which had associations to different types of music – but football remained a constant to their working-class lifestyle. By the mid-70s, an improved transport system and relative economic prosperity allowed football-going scallies to travel to away games in large numbers, encouraging the development of football gangs that adopted urban fashion in order to distinguish themselves from the older men at games.
A far cry from their recent exploits, Liverpool FC were extremely successful during the 70s, reaching, and winning the 1977 European Cup final in Rome. The stream of Scouse lads entering the continent encountered a vast array of new and obscure fashion labels; obscure German Adidas and Puma items suddenly became very popular with Scouse football fans. It was by the late 70s that the Liverpool ‘scally’ scene in had developed; they were a hybrid collection of football-going trendies and punk misfits latching onto the up-and-coming electronic music scene.
With the success of Liverpool FC, a sense of superiority set in with Scousers, especially with regards to their fashion sense. For instance, the ‘wedge’ haircut, inspired by the cover of David Bowie’s album Low, became the hairstyle for Scouse football fans, as it distinguished them from other sets of fans. Thornton sees this sense of superiority as reflective of Liverpool as a city; it has always been somewhere that revels in its own individuality and its aloof attitude towards the rest of the country.
Whilst there was no mainstream media appreciation of the intricacies of the Liverpool youth culture of the 70s and 80s, a fanzine called The End enjoyed considerable readership for its coverage of the scally scene. First published in 1981, The End was originally intended to focus on local mod bands, but the format slowly became less musical and more sociological, focusing on aspects of Scouse fashion, politics, football and council estate culture. The End adopted a tone of superiority, using a lot of Scouse vernacular to keep outsiders away, and expressing a loathing of anything ‘wool’.
But what of the rest of the country? Taking London as the best example, it is plain to see that the casual culture here was not as rich in musical and social significance – it was overwhelmingly about fashion. The London look quickly became distinct from northern fans; tennis and golf wear was strictly a London trend for football casuals. In contrast to a more tight-knit Liverpool, the sheer size of London and its multi-ethnic populace prevented any single look taking hold.
It now seems that Sampson’s disillusion with the term ‘casual’, especially in reference to Liverpool, is qualified. For the football-going Scouse youths, the culture they were engaged in permeated into all aspects of society, and so could not have been ‘casual’. Ultimately, it has been the external perceptions – those from the media and academia – that perpetuate the images of an irrelevant cult.