Interview with Riaz Khan

Riaz Khan was a member of the Baby Squad of Leicester City in the 80s and one of the first casuals of Asian origin in the United Kingdom. He wrote a book about his experiences during those years entitled ‘Khan, Memoirs of an Asian Casual’.

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Picture: Simon Harshant

Tell us about how your childhood was and if you were subject to racial prejudices that were going on at that time in the UK.

I was born in Leicester, the oldest of 5 to Pakistani/Afghani parents (Pushtoons). From an early age we were subjected to racism from the National Front. It was tough growing up in a predominately white area where racism was the norm whether it was in the media, television programmes, politicians and the education system, there was an environment of hate all around. The walls and fencing around Leicester had words like ‘Wogs out’, ‘Pakis Out’, ‘Nazis Rule’ etc. My brother and I used to get chased by skinheads trying to kick our heads in but we were too fast for them! My childhood was difficult because of the above and also because my parents worked in factories, earning money to afford the mortgage, food, bills and to help their families abroad. So you can imagine we as kids were not the best dressed and we didn’t really receive birthday presents until much later in our teens.

A third of the population of Leicester have a foreign origin, most of them Asians who would have arrived in the UK after the British Nationality Act 1948, as is your father’s case. How is life in Leicester between different ethnic groups these days?

In the old days there was a bit of animosity towards each other because of the partition of India, but we had to stick together due to racist attacks on the Black and Asian communities. Life now in Leicester within ethnic minorities is relevantly good apart from the odd outburst of religious animosity or drug gangs fighting over their own turf.

At first you were one of the very few Asians in the Baby Squad, although some time later there would be around 20. As far as I know, there were some members of the firm who didn’t like you lot. How were those first times with the other lads?

There were 3 Asian lads who were part of the old firm. These lads had been following LCFC for a number of years and had adopted the Casual scene when it arrived in Leicester in 1982. I came along in 1983 and did not see many other Asians apart from the 3 older ones. There were some members who did not like the influx of Asians. We must remember that before the Casual era these same lads were skinheads and it did take some time for them to accept us. But in time we stuck together and became part of a firm that was well respected for their multi-racial element.

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Football, clothes, fights, friends… Of all this, what made you join the Baby Squad and take part in the casual culture?

We had our own little firm called the YTS (Young Trendy Squad) and we became part of the Baby Squad. What made me join was the clothes. I loved the style, it was smart and unique. The first time I saw the Baby Squad was in 1982. They wore pastel coloured tank tops, Fila T-shirts, tight jeans and white Adidas trainers sporting either the flick head or mushroom perm. I looked at them and thought that they looked really smart. I then saw them again a few months later in a small shopping mall around 10 of them led by a black Rasta. I said to myself I want to dress like them. But what really got me into the Casual culture was the music video I.O.U. by Freeez. The young guys in this video were dressed in tracksuit tops, bleached jeans and Nike Wimbledon trainers. That was it, I wanted to dress the same way so I started to. I was in this shopping mall in the summer of 1983 when a young lad called Mark wanted me to join his gang called the YTS, this was the beginning of my 6 year journey into the casual scene.

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What clothing brands were your favourites in the 80s? And today?

In the 80’s it was Navy Arctic which was a branch of Bonneville (Massimo Osti label), Stone Island (because of its military look), Armani, Taverniti (Massimo Osti label), Fila (Borg label) and Lois. Now I like Plurimus, Stone Island (Ghost or Shadow), CP Company and Nigel Cabourn.

For footwear in the 80’s it was Adidas Gazelles, Timberland shoes and Converse (yep) baseball boots. Now I like Fracap boots, Adidas Spezial trainers (TRX) and Timberland shoes.

At the beginning of 1983, you were wearing a red Fila BJ track-top, Lyle & Scott roll-neck sweater, whitened jeans and white Puma G-Villas. So you already dressed like a casual at that time but you weren’t in the firm yet. How was that time when you bumped into some casuals at the Clock Tower?

As mentioned before my friend Mark approached me and asked if I was a football lad. I replied that I wasn’t. He then went onto to say that the clothes that I was wearing belong to the trendies (casuals) and to wear those clothes you have to be part of a football firm. It was like a uniform that you associated yourself with, similar to a soldier wearing a uniform, everyone knows he belongs to the army. He asked me to join his firm the YTS and I accepted out of embarrassment.

As you say in your book, casuals were judged between them for the clothes they wore but if, in addition to dressing well, you were brave and good at fighting then you were a “top boy”. Who were the real top boys for you in the golden age of casual culture?

There were a few lads who we looked up to in the 80’s for their dress sense and bravery. Ryan Bartley, Dom Quinn, Mick Day, Zoony and Dom Franklin were well dressed lads but we super seceded them mid 80’s when it came to clothing!!

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Inter City Firm, Red Army, Leeds Service Crew, 6.57 Crew, Zulu Warriors, Millwall Bushwhackers, Aberdeen Soccer Casuals, Yids, Headhunters and Soul Crew are some of the most notorious and talked-about firms in the UK. If you had to say which was the most dangerous in your opinion, who would it be and why?

For me it has to be the Soul Crew. They had numbers (just as big as Man Utd’s firm) and they were brawlers. The ICF and the Bushwhackers came in close behind. I have always had respect for the Soul Crew for their bravery.

On October 1, 1983, your first awayday game was at Birmingham. Tell us what happened to you and how you ended up being arrested.

We travelled by train to Birmingham. I was very nervous and excited at the same time. We came out of the train station and spilled out onto the streets of Birmingham. I was following the Baby Squad not knowing what was going to happen. I recall walking under a walkover which connected to a shopping mall and I looked up. All I saw was these afros looking down at us. The after a few minutes we heard a chant of ‘Zuluus’ and a bunch of lads came running down. All of a sudden it went off, a brawl right in the middle of this island. It was electrifying and scary at the same time. I did not know what to do. Then this spotty ginger haired lad started bouncing in front of me saying ‘come on then’. I went towards him when suddenly I was lifted off the ground by a policeman! I was thrown in the back of a Mariah (police van) where I witnessed a black lad called Paddy getting a beating by a couple of policemen: ‘You black bastard’, ‘nigger’, etc. I was petrified as I thought I would be next. We were put in a cell and eventually released late in the evening.

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What were the most memorable battles you were involved in?

The most memorable for me was Arsenal at home in 1984. There was fighting from the early morning all the way to the evening. Many hooligans were arrested and we waited for the Herd in the Leicester courts the following week. It went off in the courts and the police had to take the Arsenal fans out the back of the courts in a couple of police vans. Another moment was when we ambushed the ICF outside the train station in 1987. It was a surprise attack at which the ICF could not retaliate due to being pinned against a wall. Another ambush was on the Coventry Legion in 1985. They were very surprised and ran for their lives. A very scary moment for me was at Aston Villa’s ground in 1985. Around 40 of us ran a group of Villa lads only to be confronted by about 300 of them! We ran for a very long time only to be saved from the police!

On 22nd February 1985, you had a unique experience. One of the teams of the city that saw the birth of casual culture, Everton and their County Road Cutters, were visiting you lot. Did you expect a different way of dressing from them? Were you disappointed? Because, according to your book, Leicester’s firm was the best dressed of the country.

I was very disappointed as they were not really dressed up at all. The Scousers were the pioneers of the casual culture and to see them not dressed well was a big let- down. Leicester was the best dressed firm in the Midlands by far but Arsenal had the best dressed firm in the country along with Spurs.

The game against Chelsea was the last one you attended in the 88/89 season. Something in you had changed. Your opinion about football violence was no longer the same. There were many incidents that day with the notorious London firm, but the tragedy of Heysel a few years ago and the Hillsborough disaster made you see things in a different way. Do you remember how that day was?

That day was chaotic with fights going on throughout the day. I remember we ambushed the Headhunters near New Walk where they had nowhere to go. There was fighting in and around the ground. I was getting bored with the football violence after I had witnessed a young woman being glassed in the face at Bournemouth a couple of years prior to the Chelsea game. I came home and saw the Hillsborough disaster on the television and I thought to myself I cannot continue doing this, so I stopped and became a raver!

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After that 88/89 season it would be time for flowered shirts, baggy trousers and acid house. How was that period of your life?

It was a different time and a different vibe all together. Instead of fighting, we took up dancing instead. We dressed down for a while wearing Fruit of the Loom grandad tops and jogging bottoms. Clarks Wallabee shoes which were great for dancing in. We grew our hair long, took ecstasy and acid dancing to Acid House music. We would go to raves in Coventry or Birmingham dancing with rival firms whom we’d be fighting a few months previous! However, the labels came flooding back in. Stone Island, CP Company, Paul Smith and Ralph Lauren became big again amongst the clubbers. Ravers became clubbers and going to smaller venues like Venus in Nottingham became more popular than raving in a field. After a couple of years of ‘raving’ the drugs took its toll on me and along with personal family problems I became ‘weird’ and totally isolated myself from everybody. I was like this for nearly 2 years until I found a new avenue and reconnected to my faith.

Finally, do you think that casual culture is still alive today? What has changed for you from the 80s to nowadays?

The clothing is definitely alive where us old casuals look for that bit of memorabilia whether it maybe a pair of rare Adidas trainers or an old 1980’s Massimo Osti jacket. The clothing never leaves you. There are instances where football violence has occurred but in totality it has died out to be honest. Is it worth getting 3 years in prison for throwing one punch? Not for me.

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