You Can't Take Carlisle From the BoyHair Apparent
Amongst the many positive responses I received to the obituary written for Mick Mitchell was an e-mail that picked me up on one point. Describing a photograph of the teenage Mick, standing in the Warwick goalmouth in 1976 I commented that with his lengthy sheets of black hair he looked a, 'typical seventies football fan.' A sometime mate of Mick's pointed out the dangers of sporting such long 'prog rock' locks around Carlisle at the time.
In other words, this correspondent reminded me of the different gangs, defined partly by their hair styles, around in the Border City in the seventies. It did get me thinking, firstly about the sometimes bizarre Cumbrian take that I remember on gangs on the period, and secondly on how all of that rapid changing of fashion has become something of the past amongst the current Blue Army.
I'd still stand - just about - behind my claim about the picture of Mick. Throughout the seventies there was long hair in evidence at Brunton Park and I certainly recall seeing a range of cuts - in both hair and jeans - throughout the period. We tended to pull very few hippies with full-on beards and massive manes, but pretty much everything else was on show.
In fact, if unfettered seventies hair had been such an invitation to a beating back then I probably wouldn't be alive to write this. Back in the 'legends' era I sported a blonde mop somewhere between Robert Plant and Art Garfunkel and chanced this thatch amongst the visiting supporters in the Scratching Shed on occasion. Even the West Ham fans left me well alone, so don't believe everything you read about seventies soccer supporting being a suicide mission.
I watched the top flight from every end of Brunton Park, and can confirm that the Waterworks and Paddock probably held the greatest variety of haircuts. That variety, and the largely male nature of the seventies footy fan strike me as the major differences from today. Well that and the league position, but let's not go down that avenue right now, eh?
Carlisle definitely pulled their own little collection of skinheads, for whom the Warwick was the only place, and I do recall seeing the odd offshoot of the skinhead crowd. The one thing I recall most clearly is that you could read about these groups in the papers and find details of the codes they followed. So - for example - a short-lived follow on from the skinheads were the suedeheads. The Wikipedia records:
'Suedeheads generally wore brogues, loafers or basketweave Norwegians instead of the heavy boots associated with skinheads. Suedeheads started wearing suits (especially in check patterns such as Prince of Wales and dogtooth), as well as other dressy outfits, as everyday wear instead of just at dancehalls at night. Crombie-style overcoats and sheepskin coats became more common amongst suedeheads. The shirts favoured by suedeheads often had large button-down collars. The most common shirt style was a large windowpane check pattern worn under a tank top'
And it's at this point that I'm struggling to recall the whole thing taking off in Cumbria. As I remember it, we often had people joining these groups, telling you they were suedeheads, anarchist punks or whatever, but often not going the whole way. If there were full-blown members of some of the shorter lived cults at Carlisle United, I don't remember seeing them in large numbers.
I do remember getting the odd reminder that the supposed codes adopted by such groups weren't always rigid. The amount of, 'what are you buying that s*** for?' conversations I had over the years when it came to my love of reggae singles suggested to me I was one of the few people in and around Wigton who gave a toss. I bought them - often - because John Peel played them and they sounded great to me. As a rule I had to order them, the reggae stuff that didn't make the charts was seldom in stock in Carlisle, even in the Pink Panther.
The odd thing was that some of those accusing me of buying 'that s***' had been skins - supposed lovers of Ska - but around Wigton they tended to favour harder rock bands, Slade and Family both enjoying a fair following. It is certainly different now. You don't need to identify yourself with a haircut and expensive garb when you can find your friends on Facebook. The years of struggle and pain at BP have also had an impact, the hardcore fans in the darkest days were a genuine assortment of those - like me - who simply couldn't help themselves and a smattering of the terminally hopeful and the curious.
So, I'm guessing we've seen the last of the obvious football tribes, defined by codes, cuts and clothes. But - if you recall those days - I'd love to hear from you. Firstly, because my own memories are limited, and secondly because I would love some insider stories from former skins, suedeheads or others in the forthcoming Blue Army book. Speaking of which:
Neil Nixon is editing a book of stories written by supporters of Carlisle United, all profits will go to the Football in the Community scheme at Carlisle United. Your contribution is welcome. For details of how to get involved go to www.neilnixon.com and click on the books page.