In an exclusive extract from Mark Worrall’s most recent publication ‘One Man Went To Mow’ Mark Worrall takes a wry look at terrace clobber and the contrasting fortunes of two clothing brands that have enjoyed ‘must-have’ status in recent years amongst the style conscious fans that follow Chelsea Football Club.
In 1856 when Thomas Burberry opened his first clothing shop in Basingstoke, he could never have imagined that 150 years later his legendary check pattern, initially introduced as a lining to the gabardine trench coats worn by British officers serving in the Great War, would become synonymous with Chav culture following its haughty apprenticeship on the terraces of football grounds the length and breadth of our green and pleasant land. Old Tommy boy would be rocking and rolling in his grave if he could have seen how his iconic Burberry check trenchie, once favoured by nobility and stars of the silver screen alike, had transmogrified itself into the de-rigueur outerwear of the well heeled ‘90s football Casual addicted to expensive designer labels.
To add further insult, the degree of exclusivity that came with pricing clobber out of the reach of most mortals was erased almost overnight when the Burberry fashion house introduced affordable accessories like scarves and baseball caps, the latter becoming the headgear of choice for sartorially aware hooligans and their wannabe counterparts in search of an identity. The counterfeiters had a field day. Did you catch any of those CCTV ‘Binge Drinking Britain’ BBC documentaries from a couple of years ago? I’ll wager an old three-penny bit that the sovereign-ringed stars of the show that you saw retching, reeling and ricocheting off the walls into the arms of the local constabulary would have had some vestige of Burberry check about their persona. By the time the brand woke up to the problem with its UK image, the damage had already been done, but did anyone in the know really care? No, because the terrace trendsetters had already moved on.
From the mid ‘60s, through the ‘70s and ‘80s, in fact right up until the day that old Captain Birdseye Bates tore it down, the Shed terrace had been one of the most sternly critical catwalks in the country. The Mods, Skins and Punks that clambered up its concrete steps and congregated by the old white wall or the tea bar had an exhaustive eye for detail. In the early days it was all about the cut of the cloth, the number of buttons, the width of the tie and the style of the hair. Being part of a youth-cult was a 24 hours-a-day lifestyle choice, and those old-school Caesars of Stamford Bridge would rather have died than fallen behind in the race to be hip.
Chroniclers of style more-often-than-not pinpoint the eminent rise of the label obsessed football Casual to the fag end of Punk Rock and the well-documented European sorties of supporters of Liverpool FC, whose scally element would return home clad in the finest Italian and French sportswear to be had … sometimes literally, and followers of Scotland’s prominent team of that period, Aberdeen FC. I recall a slightly different story. Several years earlier, the Rose Hill Soul Patrol, a likeable bunch of slightly older, wedge-haired North Surrey lads, very much into the look modelled by David Bowie circa Young Americans, could be seen strutting their stuff on the West Stand Benches wearing expensive looking bowling shirts, pleated pegged trousers and beef-roll loafers, a sharp looking contrast to the donkey-jacketed, baggy-jeans wearing away fans who’d congregate on the adjacent North Stand terrace and look on like the rest of us with a mixture of shock and awe. When the jazz-funk loving Rose Hill Soul Patrol boys attended a match, they had no time to return home to get changed for a big night out. By default, the ‘smart-casual’ look required to gain admission to favoured haunts such as the Chuckwagon, Cagney’s, Crackers and Mr Terry’s suddenly found a new admiring and envious audience.
If the true origins of the football Casual remain mired in regional debate, one thing is certain. The onset of the Thacherite era heralded the dawn of label mania. Chemise Lacoste, Sergio Tacchini, Gabbici and Ellesse, the names trip off the tongue now. As Saturday approached, true arbiters of terrace style would be making their ‘what-to-wear’ decisions. That reassuringly expensive Cerruti polo-shirt maybe, those new Kappa tracksuit bottoms, and then would it be the Diadora Borg Elite or Adidas Forest Hill trainers that made it onto the plates of meat. Whatever the choice, no matter how many Embassy Regal you smoked or bottles of Holsten Pils you drank … you honestly believed you were fleet enough of foot to evade capture by fat sweaty DM-shoed coppers should you be found to be chanting ‘Chelsea!’ in a manner deemed likely to cause a breach of the peace. If you’re bored during the summer, why not take an adrenalin-fuelled trip down early ‘80s memory lane and check out Danny Dyer’s apparel in Nick Love’s recent film The Business. Were those Fila shorts really as tight as that? Believe it. If you don’t, then take a glimpse at a few early pictures of Blues legend Kerry Dixon kitted out in bollock strangling Le Coq Sportif and you’ll soon realise why our wives and girlfriends of the day started expressing an interest in coming to the occasional match.
My own personal love affair with ‘dressing up’ for football began around this time with my first Pringle sweater, a blue and white diamond affair stolen to order by a light fingered friend, that I regularly wore over a white Lyle & Scott roll-neck. Fiorucci jeans or a nice pair of Lois cords, short enough in the leg to expose Persil-white socks, complemented the look, and my feet were regularly encased in a pair of snide almost-but-not-quite Gucci loafers … concessions had to be made in those days as the meagre contents of my wage packet dramatically failed to cope with this fabulous new wallet-bursting affectation. Impoverished I may have been, but I stopped short of popping down to Portobello market and buying a roll of iron-on Lacoste crocodiles and a box of two-bob three-button shirts to iron them on to like certain enterprising larrikins I knew at that time.
In line with the economic boom, and a full year before Harry Enfield began urging people to look at his wad whilst roaring ‘loadsamoney’, the football fashion stakes had been upped significantly. That wonderful day out for the Full Members Cup Final against Manchester City back in 1986 saw plenty of Chelsea boys cavorting down Wembley Way clad in a dazzling array of designer gear ranging from Aquascutum to Armani, Gucci to Gaultier, Ralph Lauren to Dolce & Gabbana and Versace. All you needed to complement the look was one of those discreet 5p sized Chelsea pin-badges with the lion rampant … oh and while I’m reminiscing … what about that sensational Speedie hat-trick? Happy days!
The only trouble with the majority of these garments was the fact that despite their punitive cost, they tended to be flimsily assembled. No matter how much you earned, a pulled thread on a jumper or a jacket that had set you back the best part of a carpet was going to hurt. There was a definite gap in the market for clothes that were equally stylish, but slightly more hardwearing and able to cope with the vagaries of our eccentric climate … enter Stone Island. ‘Stoney’, was the diffusion brand of CP Company which had started out life as the Anglo-American sounding Chester Perry way back in 1974. Under the umbrella of the Italian manufacturer Sportswear SPA, Stone Island, the brainchild of Massimo Osti, a graphic artist from Bologna with an interest in both sailing and militaria, was conceived. Already fabled for the durability of its knitwear and jackets, Sportswear SPA poured money into material research and developed fabrics that not only looked good, but were durable and easily able to withstand the rigours and rough and tumble of terrace life as the fans who patronised the label soon realised.
What set Stone Island apart from the competition was its distinctive compass logo woven into a rectangular badge and buttoned with militaristic precision on the upper left arm. Another trip to Wembley, this time in 1994 to witness the demoralising defeat by Manchester United, was made memorable by the sight of numerous Stoney clad Chels singing ‘Knees Up Mother Brown’ in the pouring rain at the end of the 90 minutes … fantastic! The following season Chelsea participated in the European Cup Winners Cup. With an infamous reputation that was far from angelic, the continental police were often over zealous in their methods of policing our supporters. FC Bruges away was a prime case in point. The Belgian plod, acting on information from their English counterparts that right-wing political groups had infiltrated Chelsea’s support and were hell-bent on causing trouble, were on the lookout for troublemakers. The Stone Island compass was incorrectly perceived to be the insignia of one of these groups, Combat 18, and as a result a large number of bemused and frustrated Stone Island wearing Chelsea boys found themselves detained and deported despite the fact they had tickets for the game and had been impeccably well behaved. Another fabled story tells how the police were mistakenly led to believe that the Stone Island badge was in fact a medal, handed out by the top boys within the firms for outstanding acts of hooliganism!
Hoddle may not have won the FA Cup for us in 1994, but he brought in Ruud Gullit … who brought in Gianluca Vialli … who had a penchant for those exceptional formal shirts that had two buttons at the neck and a cutaway collar … which just happened to create an exceptionally smart look when worn under a crew necked Stone Island sweater, although you had to buy your Stoney one size larger to facilitate this. When the Stone Island flagship store eventually opened in Beak Street, Soho it offered a near religious experience for those who took the brand seriously. As with Burberry, Stone Island rapidly moved on from cult status to achieve critical mass. The clothes became more affordable, Osti left and was replaced as designer in chief by Paul Harvey, and for a time, particularly when the Oasis boys were swaggering around onstage in various odd looking Stoney creations it looked like the end of the road for the brands credibility. When I saw Ant & Dec presenting their pop show CD UK wearing Stone Island sweaters with the badge removed, a prerequisite to gain admission to some provincial pubs these days, my own collection of Stoney was consigned for a while to the back of the wardrobe. Harvey however, put together some great new collections, confounding the critics, me included, and Stone Island pulled through.
Nowadays, thanks in part to another of Nick Love’s films, the excellent John King novel based Football Factory, on any given match-day, in any given town, you’ll see the familiar compass logo in abundance. Click around on eBay and you’ll find a proliferation of enamel badges amalgamating the compass with the crest of just about every football club in Britain … someone recently was even auctioning a pair of ski’s bearing the Stone Island motif. Stone Island, or Clone Island? With all this exposure, not to mention Preston from the Ordinary Boys and Mike Skinner of The Streets swathing themselves in Stone Island, can the brand continue to hold its head high? Time will only tell. As for me, I’ve got several pieces that still look as good as the day I bought them … and more importantly I still love wearing them. If the compass logo is getting too ubiquitous for you, then why not return to the source and put down a deposit on a limited edition CP Company Mille Miglia jacket … a mere snip at £675. Having said that, not too far up the road from Bologna, in the medieval hamlet of Masagno, another Italian sportswear company have been busy building on a similar heritage in recent years. Boasting a range of clothes designed to meet the requirements of Third Millennium man, the impressively named Paul & Shark are throwing down the gauntlet to their Stone Island countrymen. My swanky Typhoon 20,000 jacket is repellent to the pressure exerted by 20,000 mm of water … just the job if I encounter any water cannon toting riot police on my travels away with the Chels in Europe next season.
What price brand loyalty then? At the end of the day, if you can be bothered, there are enough labels out there to create your own style. Follow the leader, be part of the pack … or stand out from the crowd and do your own thing. What do you fancy? Maybe you’re just happy to wear your replica Chelsea Adidas shirt with pride, there’s nothing wrong in that. Personal choice, or peer group pressure? Give me a break. Whatever your point-of-view, just remember there will always be fashion disasters whichever side of the fence you sit on, and be thankful that the scandalously dreadful Chelsea Collection that accompanied the arrival of Master Bates’ despised CFC lion logo back in 1986 has, along with said lion, been consigned to the dustbin of recent history.
Mark Worrall is the author of cult terrace classic ‘Over Land and Sea’ and Blue Murder ‘Chelsea Till I Die’ his latest book, ‘One Man Went To Mow’, and the forthcoming ‘Chelsea There, Chelsea Here’ will be published in just a few weeks. For further information and the opportunity to purchase signed books visit www.overlandandsea.net