“Newport on the Usk, industrial working town, steel works, docks, dark, in the nineteenth century full of wily entrepreneurs and hoary sons of toil, ruffians in rags, women in shawls, businessmen in stove-pipe hats. It’s not that today. Nothing like” Real Newport by Ann Drysdale
“Newport (…) had a tight little firm of around 50-60 lads who were very loyal to each other. If Newport as a team never existed and these lads would have followed Cardiff and were around in 1945, we would have given Adolf Hitler and his troops a run for their money” S Kaged in Diary of the Soul Crew 2
Some time ago I wrote an article on Newport County’s casual firm back in the 80’s, a “small but game as fuck” crew, according to many sources. It was originally published in the second issue of Etiqueta Grada magazine and, despite being quite lengthy (5,306 words) I have to say the feedback was rather positive, something I’m very proud of.
Shortly after finishing the piece I got in touch with a few Newport lads who happened to live that era. Having been written already, I couldn’t include their testimonies in my first article. However, the information and pics provided very well deserved a second article on the matter –one written from a slightly different angle, less dependent on the books about the Welsh scene that I had read in the past and more based on first-hand accounts. In other words, a more personal approach.
What follows is a collection of experiences and thoughts given by three Newport County fans. Their names are Neal Heard (well-known author of ‘Trainers’ and ‘A Lover’s Guide to Football Shirts’), Tutty (Newport’s widely-respected ‘top boy’) and Andrew (another Newport ‘old face’ and original founder of the Youth Firm). I can only thank them for telling me their story.
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As anyone who read the first article from Etiqueta Grada will remember, Newport is a small town on the banks of the river Usk, located 19 km northeast of Cardiff, Wales’ capital. It was once voted the most violent town in the UK too, but this story was already told. For the newcomers let’s just point out that it’s no surprise that these lads were tough as fuck.
The origins of Newport go back to the eleventh century, when the Normans first referred to it as Novus Burgus (New Town), but in fact the first settlement of significance on the Usk, Caerleon, dates back to the AD 74 or 75, a period in which the Roman troops established a fortress while fighting the local tribes. Roman remains at Caerleon can be visited today on the outskirts of Newport and it’s a place enveloped in mystery: legend has it that Caerleon might have been the mythical city of Camelot, where King Arthur hold his court. The question arises immediately: could Newport casuals be seen as the heirs of the Knights of the Round Table? Maybe. Only instead of fighting dragons, goblins and other magical creatures, they’d carry out raiding parties in Cardiff in search of the Soul Crew.
But let’s start from the beginning. And the very first thing I asked Tutty about (to continue with the Camelot-Newport Firm metaphor, Tutty could be just like Sir Lancelot) was how he remembered the pre-casual years at Somerton Park: “In the pre-casual days I was, like a number of us, a Skinhead and young. I remember the older boys making plans on where they’d try and be before and after the game as to ambush the away. So I guess in some kind of way there were some kind of organisation. My brother, who was a Skinhead older than me, would tell me some of the offs they would have. And he just happened to be the first person I ever saw get arrested – Swindon Town home 1980”. It didn’t take long before the new breed of so-called dressers displaced the skinheads completely, storming the British terraces while sporting a wide array of colourful designer clothing. Tutty again on the rise of casual culture at County: “I remember one day I was a skinhead, the next day I wasn’t, it was as simple as that. The beginning of 1983 I was in boots and braces, Summer I was in sportswear, Christmas my wardrobe was full. It was always the skinheads who would seek out other skinheads in the opposing teams. And being such an awesome fashion, it stood out a mile off. Then we’d notice a few haircuts and bright colours being worn in amongst the skinheads at some of the home and away games. Especially at New Street station. It was almost as if we instantly absorbed it all on an individual basis because the next thing you knew at the next game our boots and braces were replaced with trainers and sports t-shirts, with hair! My hunger for the new fashion became obsessive, I’d spend all my wages on it. It spread quite rapidly over the County even with those who weren’t Skins”.
At this point, Andrew takes up the tale: “My first memories of the fashion was lads wearing the ian sports brands such as Fila, Kappa and Sergio Tacchini, then it moved on to Burberry, Aquascutum and Farah trousers and Lois cords and not forgetting the footwear: Adidas, Diadora and Puma. Everyone also started wearing golf brands such as Pringle and Lyle and Scott. It then started to move towards the Italian and French labels such as Best Company, Chipie, C17, Classic Nouveau, Ciao and Chevignon. The rest is history”.
Neal Heard goes beyond the question and shares a deep insight into the city’s effervescent fashion scene back in the day, placing Newport at the forefront of different revolutionary tendencies: “It’s interesting that you have picked up on Newport as a scene from back in the 80’s. To me, Newport, now known as a uber rough and scruffy city was THE city of Wales back in the 1980’s. The town was always a rough and ready workers town, with a huge steelworks and thriving and busy docks. But for various reasons, Newport definitely punched above its weight fashion wise.
The city boasted a thriving and respected Art college bang in the centre of town, and it’s my firm belief that this had a large and important influence on the cities fashion scene.
The city also attracted the ‘alternative’ and punk crowd from the Gwent Valleys who always had a seditionary and anarchic influence on fashion. So Newport had many and varied fashion scenes, all kinda cross fertilizing each other and none of the scenes became too mundane or lazy and all helped the other to grow.
Many people from Newport went on to do very well in the London Fashion scene, Steve Strange of Blackwood often seen in Newport went on to form the Blitz club. Fraser Moss, founded the fashion label You Must Create (YMC). Simon Spitteri is menswear buyer for huge and influential clothing site, Mr Porter. Com. Fraser Trewick founded Hakwsmill Denim Co and the list goes on and on, with stylists, buyers, designers all hailing from the town going on to over achieve. Your humble respondent, went on to author ‘Trainers’ and now works for Le Coq Sportif developing my own range for the grand old brand.
I was a wannabee footy boy back then, but for me I always found the crossover between fashions more interesting. So although I loved lots of the Casual clobber, especially the early ‘Granddad label appropriation stage’ I liked to tweak it so I wasn’t just an off the peg dresser, and I think Newport as a town took and embraced this approach.
Hence the County Firm, were top dressers and over performed on the terraces in both dressing and more brutal angles. Lots of the early adopters to the scene came from Punk, Mod or Skin backgrounds, so the look wasn’t so clichéd.
Newport went on to be the scene dubbed, the New Seattle by the NME, and this independent spirit existed clothing wise in all the fashion scenes, including the NCFC B-Team and Youth Firm movements”.
So now we are left with two names: B-Team and Youth Firm. B-Team was basically the term used by older lads like Tutty to refer to the mob, and even though they got a few cards done with the B-Team on them and used to sing the ‘A-Team’ soundtrack quite loud all the time for a laugh, it was more of a crew name and they never really put it out there. Newport casuals didn’t bother too much with names.
On the other hand, the younger element of Newport’s firm, known as the Youth Firm, was formed in 1986 by Andrew and some others. There were many older lads involved at the time as dressers and the skins before them had been creating mischief for quite a while. The Youth Firm was made up of boys between 14-18 and soon became a vicious little crew that had their own offs. Cardiff being always the preferred choice for mayhem, they continued the tradition of paying the Soul Crew visits on non-match days and attacking their pubs. Sometimes rugby games played at the capital city provided the perfect excuse for these lads to look for trouble, as Tutty recalls: “Some of the guys would go to The Arms Park either with the notorious Friendship Pub or to a couple of internationals for an off, and had it, but it wasn’t a regular diary appointment and not one of mine. Having said that, we would round up a crew to pay a Saturday afternoon summer visit out of football season for an off”. But Cardiff weren’t the only enemies they would encounter in Wales; over the years Newport had several offs with both Swansea and Wrexham. Andrew from the Youth Firm remembers one of his first games against Wrexham: “I was only 13 and we played Wrexham at home on a Tuesday night, they came off the train and were walking over Newport bridge. We came up behind them about 50 of us and about the same amount of Wrexham. It was going off for about 10 minutes, then more and more Newport started to turn up and Wrexham turned and run. I always remember one Wrexham lad in a Kappa ski jacket fell, and one of the older lads pulled out a Stanley blade and slashed the front of his jacket and put a calling card inside. You have just met the NCFC B-Team. Calling cards were commonly used by most mobs back in the 80’s.”
You can read about some other scuffles as told by Newport lads and their enemies alike in the book ‘The Trouble With Taffies: Welsh Hooligan Gangs’ by Jeff Marsh, which I highly recommend to anyone with an interest in the Welsh scene. Funnily enough, Tutty is mentioned in the book: “The other main face at Newport was Tutty. He always got up Lazers on the weekends and he always wore all the trendy gear that they wore at the time. You could say he was the top dresser out of all the County boys from what I can remember. He and his brother were always in trouble with the Old Bill”. Needless to say I had to ask him about his influences in terms of clobber and his favourite look over the years: “Being part of the changing fashion and looking back, my favourite by far was the sports wear era, I loved it.
To ask if Newport were influenced by bigger firms is a hard question to answer. From a majority of books I’ve read it seems no-one has been influenced by anyone lol. Upon my changeover, I clocked someone and liked what they had on, then you could say that person, who I’ll probably never know, gave me an idea. So personally I would’ve been given an idea then took it on board myself.
That’s goes for a number of Newport back then. None of the main boys liked owning the same items. And with such a variety on offer if you were prepared to travel to other places, as I did, it was quite easy not to”.
At some point at the end of the decade acid house and rave culture spread across the whole of Britain, which meant that a lot of footie boys got into MDMA and dance music big time. This factor, along with Hillsborough, had a huge impact on the number of fights that would take place at the British football stadia in the years to come. Newport, as I already wrote in the first article, wasn’t an exception. On the contrary, with the aggravating circumstance that the team was relegated and later demised due to financial issues (it was eventually re-founded at the very bottom of the British football leagues and forced to play home in England). Or as Andrew puts it:“Yes you are on the right track, a lot of the boys started raving and dropping E, the mad thing was you would be dancing in raves with lads you were fighting against a few years earlier. It was only in the late 90’s that the lads started to come back together at football when the rave scene started to die”. Tutty jumps in: “The end of 1989 I personally took the turn into raves and was hooked. I stopped going to the football and was deciding which rave/club to go to next. This consumed my forthcoming years. I then had to stop and get back into the real world. Such is life :)”
I wouldn’t like to finish this piece without mentioning the Disorderly Young Casuals (DYC), the ones who carry the flame for both casual and hooligan at Newport nowadays. In this regard, I shall leave the last words of this article to Andrew: “Yes, it is mainly the DYC that get involved these days. But the lads do still come out for the big games such as Portsmouth and Bristol Rovers. Most of the DYC are on temporary banning orders and awaiting trial for a row they had with Leyton Orient earlier this season [2015-2016 season]. Trouble at Newport is now few and a far between. Fair play to the DYC they are a game bunch, with their numbers growing all the time. Most of them are sons of old lads from the 80’s”.