Here we interview Johnny Proctor, the Scottish author of the novel ‘Ninety’.
You were born and raised in Fife, a city separated from Dundee by the Tay Bridge. How was your childhood there? What do you remember about the first time you went to see Dundee United?
As a kid growing up in Fife it was, as I would imagine, the exact same as over the rest of Scotland, a case of playing football (or “fitba” as we call it) from the moment you left the house until your parents called you in when it started to get dark outside. Scotland is a football crazy country and for kids towards the end of the seventies and the early eighties we didn’t have much else to do other than play the “beautiful game” in our leisure time. Soccer casuals had yet to come on the scene and during this more simple era your average Scottish young boy practically lived in the football kit of their chosen team and a pair of Adidas! Due to some (in my opinion) embarrassing complexities of the Scottish culture, with myself going to a catholic school it was then assumed that like ninety nine percent of others I would be a Glasgow Celtic supporter however I was taken to a Dundee United match at Tannadice Park against Kilmarnock when I was eight. United won seven – nil and after that day there was only going to be one team that I would support! I guess we all remember our first game in more detail but despite watching almost a thousand Dundee United matches over the decades I still remember that game more than some that were played a lot more recently. The walk to the stadium alongside all the other fans. Being lifted over the turnstile and into the stadium for free as was the case with a lot of kids back then at football matches. The fact that it was a winter match so was played with the floodlights on. The songs that the United fans were singing and the cheers that accompanied each goal going in. While there was still a long way to go in the season Dundee United were one of the teams in contention for the championship along with Aberdeen and Celtic, there was just such a great vibe about the stadium in only the way that you can find when someone’s team is winning every week. I recall that United scored five out of the seven goals inside the last twenty minutes of the match. It was crazy!
It was the end of 1980 and Aberdeen played at home in the second round of the former European Cup against Bob Paisley’s Liverpool. The Scottish champions against the English champions. It is said that the Scottish boys saw casuals for the first time there. What do you think about this?
While there is a bit of contention between Liverpool and Manchester United over who started off the soccer casual sub culture in Britain with Liverpool’s “scallies” and Manchester’s “Perry boys” the one thing that isn’t up for debate is that due to playing each other in European competition it was Aberdeen who got the first glimpse of a group of lads who would go on to become known across the country as casuals. An old friend of mine from back in the day was there that night at Anfield and remarked on how much they stuck out from everyone else in terms of haircuts and designer clothes bought from Europe. Considering what had come before at the matches had been skinheads this only served to highlight how different a group casuals were with their different attitudes to dressing in high end expensive gear. I was still relatively young back then but as is the folklore of Scottish hooligans. Following that experience in Liverpool. Aberdeen, which was and still is considered a rich area of Scotland due to the oil, put together their own firm, the ASC and stocked up on designer clothes and the rest was history for the Scottish game.
A curious case is that of Dundee. During the 83/84 season the boys of the Dundee football team, the followers of Dundee FC and the Tannadice Trendies, the boys of Dundee United, joined. From this union, a joint firm called Dundee Utility was born. How did this union come about?
For a definitive answer to this I’m afraid that it would need to be left to the original founding members from both football teams in Dundee to answer however on the face of it it appeared to be a collection of reasons that saw the formation of the Dundee Utility. Dundee is a small city in general and in all honesty it’s my belief that if we were starting all over again in terms of football teams across Scotland there would only be one team in the city. With it being a small area everyone seems to know each other and unlike Glasgow. Dundee has always seemed to have a rivalry between the two city teams that has been more of a friendly rivalry than a volatile one. There is no segregating the two sets of fans before and after the Dundee derby and it is not uncommon to see friends, some in the tangerine of United and some in Dundee’s dark blue walking to the match together. This connection, I feel, made it more easy for the two sets of gangs who wanted to fight at matches to come together than it would’ve been to be vicious rivals. Due to practically living beside each other had the separate teams hooligans been hated rivals it would’ve led to issues every single day and not just on the four times a season that Dundee United and Dundee would play each other. I also think that numbers was also a catalyst for the two teams to form the union. When teams like Aberdeen, Hibernian and the two Glasgow sides came to Dundee they always brought big firms with them and realistically it was probably going to take the formation of the Utility to make sure that when those teams came to the city of Dundee they would be given something to think about before and after the match.
How and when did you start to meet up with the guys at the Dundee Utility?
Coincidentally, before casual culture arrived in Scotland I had been wearing the same designer clothes for years before through no other reason than my mother dressing me in labels like Lacoste, Fila, Ellesse and Adidas. It was only once the firms started to appear at matches across the country each week that I discovered it a fucking pain in the ass to be dressed in those clothes whilst not actually affiliated with any particular firm. Going home and away to watch your football team, it only ever increased the chances of you taking a beating at the train station or on the way to / back from the match. Through not wearing team colours to the matches like all other casuals there were even a few examples where I almost took a beating from my own fans when coming across the Dundee Utility on awaydays. This simply through how I was dressed, dressed like them but not actually being *with* the firm. The casual look back then was really distinctive and it was easy to spot another hooligan and naturally if you came across another firm while dressed similarly then automatically they would assume that because they didn’t know you it meant that you must’ve been with another firm. It was a complete minefield. It was in 1990 that I first met the Utility in a sense of them not wanting to rip my head off! Dundee United and Aberdeen were playing each other in the semi final of our version of your Copa Del Rey. The match was at the neutral venue of Tynescastle Park in Edinburgh. There was a lot of trouble that day and it was after the match that I came across the Dundee Utility. After I had dealt with the initial questions of who I was and my choice of clothes I was eventually asked if I wanted to “help do Aberdeen.” With Aberdeen and Dundee being the same general direction it resulted in both firms travelling out of Edinburgh on the same train. It was chaotic as you would expect. There was attempts to separate both firms in different train carriages but that was only semi successful and somewhere along the journey you had pockets of casuals breaking off from the larger groups to try and sneak into the other firms carriage to have it with each other. From that day I was cool with regards to the Utility. I certainly didn’t meet up with them every week like the more regular members of the crew based in Dundee but whenever I would come across them before or after United matches it was hard not to move with the crowd in search of a bit of Saturday naughtiness.
How were those first years of Acid House in Scotland? And how was you involved in it?
The early years of Acid House in the United Kingdom were a revolution in the sense that Britain hadn’t quite seen something of that equivalence before. I think the last real rebellion from the youth of Britain prior to Acid House had been punk but those two musical sub cultures could not have been more different. While punk remained underground Acid House morphed into the monster that it is today in the way that it plays such an important part of pop culture. How I became involved in the scene. Like with a lot of cases it tends to be not what you know but who you know. I became friends with a local DJ (DJ Chink) who was already involved in this new scene that had been quietly emerging away from the usual environments of pubs and clubs. If it wasn’t for him the early days of Acid House could have easily slipped under my radar. As you’ll know. There was no internet, message boards, or social media back then. This was all built on simple word of mouth and understandably those already involved were cagey about who they spread the word to in an attempt to keep the wrong type of people out. Once I became integrated with the scene it wasn’t long before I started to DJ and then organise and promote my own house night in Fife which was called “Puls8”.
Between the mid and late 80’s, the impact that Acid House and the Rave scene had in England is well-known. Many believe it was an important part in reducing the violence in football together with other factors such as Thatcherism or the tragedy of Heysel, Hillsborough and the Kenilworth Road riot at Luton. What impact did all this have on the Scottish firms?
The story of Acid House “curing” the United Kingdom of it’s “hooligan problem” has somewhat been overplayed and years later has been tweaked to suit certain people’s narratives as they look back all misty eyed over how Ecstasy arrived and before you knew it you had Millwall and West Ham sharing a dance floor with no hint of trouble between the two of them. While there *was* instances where rival firms did set aside their differences for one night, hooligans are hooligans after all! The best example I can give of this is that here in Scotland when the rave scene was starting to make its appearance the Hibs Capital City Service firm attacked the Fife club “The Kronk” in an almost military like organised ambush. This was due to the club being a known haunt of the Dunfermline casual firm and bitter rivalry that existed between both hooligans. It really was a vicious attack and one that was the antithesis of the peace and love vibe that Acid House projected. You may well have a point with the extra issues that you listed that may have impacted on football hooligan culture. The Luton – Millwall match certainly made headlines for all the wrong reasons but even that was small beer in relation to the famous pitched battle between Rangers and Celtic at Hampden Park five years before. With regards to Thatcher if you’ll excuse my language was nothing other than a bastard. She hated Scotland before soccer casuals and she hated Scotland during the golden era of casual culture. Scotland felt the same about her. She was guest at the 1988 Scottish cup final between Celtic and Dundee United and when on the pitch meeting the players before kick off in a rare display of solidarity from opposition fans the whole crowd of 74,000 raised a red card to her in protest over her trialling a Tory policy (the poll tax) solely on Scotland before the rest of the uk. For me the one single incident that impacted on the firms up and down the country was undoubtedly Hillsborough where 96 Liverpool fans went to the match and didn’t come home again. The new laws introduced as a result of the tragedy brought in compulsory all seater stadia at the top level and by pushing out terracing it immediately put a stop to trouble inside the stadiums.
Let’s talk about your book Ninety and its main character Meet Zico, a 16 year old member of the Dundee Utility in the 90’s in the middle of Acid House. What similarity is there between this character and you?
Since Ninety was released that is a question that I have been asked many times! Considering some of the content and situations that Zico ends up in it has completely freaked me out for some people to have just assumed that the story is *all* true and that I was merely documenting a period of time in my life from years back. This, of course is not the reality of it, thankfully! The book is a, what I would describe as, a combination of fiction and actual events that took place during those days and it’s down to the reader to figure out which is which. I liked the idea of a kid attracted by the glamour and status of “being a casual” only to become embroiled in a world that he has no idea of the bad side that lies there waiting on him. While Zico is not based on me I was able to draw from my own experiences within terrace and rave culture and take that and put it all into the head of a sixteen year old who, as teenagers do, thinks he knows it all but actually knows nothing. The similarities between the teenage me and Zico are definitely there but I feel the beauty of this is that for a certain age of reader who buy the book I could just as easily have been writing about them. This is something I’ve had a lot of positive feedback from ex casuals and ravers that have read it by this point.
What was the reason you decided to write Ninety?
I’d been writing for various fashion and culture websites such as Sabotage Times and Zani and also for the infamous Donnelly brothers from Manchester for their various clothing label blogs. Writing articles can be frustrating at times however. You put a lot of yourself into delivering an article for not very much in return, if at all. Even so I’d never planned to write a novel. It just kind of happened. I’d been watching one of my favourite films, Quadrophenia. The film that follows the life of Jimmy the Mod as his own life begins to spiral out of control while being part of a scene that he had always wanted to be. That left me thinking of something I could work with in an updated sense but still involving gangs of some sort. With me witnessing first hand the impact that Acid House as an underground musical movement had on Scotland I felt that I could combine both cultures into the Ninety storyline. Terrace and rave culture are two things that are in the fabric of British youth and have been for decades now and I felt that there would be enough of a demographic for me to attract in terms of readership. In truth though I wasn’t even sure if anyone would actually buy it so to have seen the love online from people who have bought it has been unbelievable. The fact that the iconic emoji front cover was then turned into a t shirt and has proved really popular was most definitely something I didn’t see coming either!
This is a story about football, violence, music, drugs and, of course, love. How would you define Lisa’s role in this story?
Lisa’s role? She is the classic example of why some men need a woman to keep them from going completely off the rails in life. I know it’s cheesy but love does change everything for some people and by Zico falling for Lisa it’s what starts to make him question what he’s doing with his life and whether he’s going down the right path knowing that it’s only a matter of time before he ends up taking one beating too much or ends up in jail. Not that by falling in love life gets any easier for Zico, of course!
Do you think that in the mid-80s there was a difference when it came to dressing between Scottish and English casuals?
Any difference in dressing between English and Scottish hooligans would have been minimal. In Scotland the firms liked to dress every bit as much as the English casuals did. We, like as has been spoken about many times from the English perspective, had regular matches across Europe in the (at the time) three UEFA tournaments so had the occasional trips abroad where we were given the opportunity to stock up on trainers and clothes. Admittedly we did have a little catching up to do with the English mobs. Scotland’s not that big a country so it wasn’t like we had hundreds of top quality designer clothes shops to choose from but once we became knowledgable about things we were side by side with England when it came to the gear that we wore.
Who were the first DJs to make those young Scots, fans of the acid / rave scene, dance? What clubs would you say were the most successful at that time in Scotland?
Remembering them for some obvious reasons is quite the challenge but yeah there is so many stand out moments in the history of the whole Scottish Acid House and rave scene. The Slam boys from Glasgow were instrumental to so many of them. They brought us Atlantis at the Sub Club which coincided with the year that Glasgow had been awarded with the status of European capital of a Culture which gave them a 5am license which was pretty much unheard of in the country.
They also laid on “Slam in the Park” which ended being the precursor to what became the institution that was the “Slam Tent” which was found at T in the park, Scotland’s biggest music festival each summer. Slam in the park was the first of its kind in terms of being a legal open air house party inside a tent in a country park near Glasgow which boasted a life PA from 808 State alongside Jon Dasilva from The Hacienda and Alex Paterson from The Orb.
Moving away from Slam there was Pure at The Venue in Edinburgh which became a piece of Edinburgh clubbing legend that would have some of the biggest Techno DJ’s in the world playing there like Jeff Mills and Ritchie Hawtin alongside weekly residents Twitch and Brainstorm. Once you went to Pure you were never quite the same again having sampled it. A truly magnificent experience inside such a compact sweatbox of a club. Pure, like the Sub Club & Atlantis was one of those places that attracted clubbers from far and wide. Such was the impact of Pure on myself I dedicated a chapter to it in Ninety where the main characters visit it near the start of their Acid House adventures. It really would have been sacrilegious of me to not have paid homage to such a groundbreaking club such was the impact it had on me personally. I know I wasn’t alone in that respect.
Closer to home and in Fife where I’m based, a doff of a cap has to be paid towards The Kronk which even today is spoken about in hushed tones from the older generation who had the unadulterated joy of experiencing it. The Kronk was not a place that had to rely on big name DJ’s each week. Benny D, Timmsy And Lel were enough for a committed and loyal crowd who would sell out the place every single week. You hear about how hard it is to get into Berghain in Berlin these days and this was similar to The Kronk. Getting in each week was never a guarantee no matter how many weeks you’d consecutively visited it. You’d have the security walk up and down the long list of clubbers waiting to get in and see people at random told that it wasn’t going to be their night and told to go home but the week after they’d be back to try their luck again.
Even as things began to move overground with the large scale “raves” there was still some memorable events until things began to reach saturation point, especially once the mainstream media had gotten hold of what was going on. The best example of this was Technodrome which took place on a shooting ground in Ayrshire. This, when the house scene was still very much a secret subculture only known and appreciated by a minority yet with a crowd of near on 20 thousand present it was a signal of how the scene was progressing. Buses had come from all over Britain to it such was its significance of how that particular night was viewed by those in the know. With mainly London based DJ’s like Carl Cox, Dave Angel, Fabio, Grooverider and Andy Carroll from the legendary Quadrant Park in Liverpool along with PA’s from N. Joi & Shades of Rhythm it was the first large gathering the country had seen and generally to this day still viewed as the most important not to mention the best.
Large scale events followed, and in spades like Rezerection, Maelstrom Fantazia but they never came close to hitting the heights that Technodrome provided. Special mention also has to go to the Streetrave boys from the West who always tried to give the paying customer that little bit of a different experience. Most notably their Hogmanay event “Eurodance” which took place inside an international airport in Prestwick. To this day I still will never know how they managed to pull it off but yet there we were inside an airport that would have otherwise been closed for a few days due to the time of year. Everyone dancing on top of airline check-in desks etc. A truly surreal yet unforgettable experience.
Do you think that the acid house and rave scene would have existed without the existence of ecstasy and other designer drugs?
Acid House could not have existed without Ecstasy and Ecstasy could not have existed without Acid House. The scene has changed over the years and in a lot of ways for the worse. At some of the parties I was at last year you had half of the crowd completely out of it on Ketamine unable to even really dance. The fact remains though that thirty years later on from the summer of love that brought Acid House to the UK kids are still combining electronic music with Class A drugs and I guess that if the marriage between house music and drugs was going to reach the point of divorce it would’ve happened long ago. House music and drugs are going to be joined together at the hip until the end of time.
So you have any plans for any other books coming out?
I am currently nearing the end of the first draft of Ninety Six which picks up the story six years later and is based a lot closer to you in La Coruna than it is Scotland. So as not to give away any potential spoilers when it comes to those who have yet to read Ninety I will leave things at that for now! Ninety Six is due April / May this year.
I’m going to mention a few names of Scottish firms and I would like you to give me your opinion on them.
Aberdeen Soccer Casuals – The originals I guess although I would put everything I own on that fact being disputed! They always had good numbers and dressed well. Were pretty arrogant in the dealings that I personally had with them over the years but they earned the right I suppose. There was an extra special rivalry between the ASC and Dundee Utility due to a combination of geography and the fact that Dundee United and Aberdeen were rivals on the pitch especially with both sides breaking the footballing dominance of Glasgow’s “Old Firm.”
Celtic Soccer Crew & Rangers Inter City Firm – As you’d expect both of these teams enjoyed a good turn out on a Saturday and being from Glasgow which can be a tough city to grow up in, weren’t exactly shy when it came to the fighting side of things. In what is only my opinion I feel that both of those firms would have gotten a lot more attention and respect were it not for the fact that both Rangers and Celtic fans (scarfers) in general had a reputation for getting drunk and causing trouble. That Scottish Cup Final Game of Thrones battle of the bastards style riot I spoke of? That wasn’t between casuals you know!
Saturday Service – The Motherwell boys were one of the firms that appeared on the Scottish casual scene. They stole my trainers once. They’re not on my Christmas card list put it that way!
Airdrie Section B – Due to generally being in different leagues over the years Dundee United and Airdrie rarely crossed paths in a sporting or fighting sense. We did draw them away in the cup in the nineties which was a day that saw a lot of trouble outside the ground before and after.
Capital City Service – Alongside Aberdeen the Hibs crew were the ones that you always had to watch out for. Away trips to Easter Road complete with having to cross the infamous “bridge of doom” were the type of away matches where you needed to have eyes three hundred and sixty degree rotational eyes! Brad Welsh who was one of the top boys for Hibs CCS provided one of the quotes for the inside cover of Ninety. A really good guy but not someone that you really wanted to cross back in those days.
Capital Soccer Firm – A firm that whether they saw it that way or not, was put in the shade by their Edinburgh neighbours in the CCS. That aside the CSF were still a firm that could pull decent numbers and would make life difficult for you when visiting Tynescastle.
Kirkcaldy Soccer Casuals – The KSC barely registered on the map of Scottish hooligans. With Raith Rovers being their football team that pretty much ruled out the Kirkcaldy firm coming up against any kind of quality opposition. I’d have been surprised if your average ASC or CCS hooligan had even heard of the KSC. The ironic part in all of this being that back in those days I actually lived in Kirkcaldy and getting from A to B at times or even just trying to do a bit of shopping without ending up in trouble was a bit of a challenge.
Love Street Division – The LSD were a small firm of a small team, St Mirren but on their day could still put together a decent sized team who were game and make life difficult for anyone coming to Paisley for the day.
Finally, what clothing brands are never missing in your wardrobe?
I know this is as predictable as it comes but Cp Company, Ma Strum and Stone Island are never going to not be in my wardrobe. Even when I’m a pensioner and really should know better! I’ve also got a lot of love for Transalpino and the t shirts they put out there.