This article was originally published by VICE Sports Germany
Lebemann ("Bon Vivant") is a casual from Switzerland. By the Urban Dictionary definition, that makes him "a football hooligan dressed in certain types of [fashion] brands." For a dust up, Lebemann would only wear clothes from Stone Island, Lacoste, and a few other chosen labels. In his first column, he explains how he came to embrace this way of life.
In the eyes of the public, football fans – in particular those who don't shy away from a brawl – are seen as illiterate, unemployed drunks.
First off, thanks for the compliment. To a certain extent I can see why people think this way; that breed of fan does remain all too present in the sport. Don't get me wrong, I am not against anti-social behaviour – in fact, I demand it. But there is nothing more epic than invading an unfamiliar city and seeing the faces of the people when they are unable to understand the hustle of these young, neatly dressed guys who are under the severe influence of alcohol. None of the passers-by would ever get in mind that this bawling bunch is going to a football game. And this is what it is all about: arseholes, but arseholes with style.
This approach to life doesn't come from nowhere. When I was a kid, my grandfather took me to games. He was a sturdy man with hands like buckets and always well dressed. As a working-class bloke who wore boiler suits all week, for him the weekend was a chance to spruce himself up. I can still hear him saying: "You should be impeccable for football and for church at all times." And, since football serves as a kind of substitute religion for many, his quote makes perfect sense.
Even at school I was the first to wear a shirt below the sweater. I already had a flair for fashion, even if the aforementioned outfit made me look like a business management student. Jeans paired with white Lacoste shoes made of sailcloth, a blue sweater and white shirt (not tucked into the trousers) looked quite impressive. This was the time when I started to go to games regularly, and without the company of adults. Instead of minding what happened down there on the field, I preferred the hustle on the terraces. There were cowls, men in jerseys, skinheads, and a small heap who stood out with their outfits. Silk blouson jackets by Best Company or Chevignon were pretty hot then, combined with polos by Fred Perry or Lacoste. The mixes were mostly colourful and didn't have anything to do with the requirements to wear team gear that today's ultras adhere to.
I quickly realised what kind of blokes they were and was fascinated by their culture, but up to this point I'd had no point of contact with them. Then, when I was 16, I went on a language-training programme to London. This would prove a questionable advantage in light of my later actions.
My Exchange Year at Millwall
There I was, in a foreign city and without any social connections except my host family. As it turned out, my host father was a Millwall fan and a bit dodgy. I'd never seen him go after regular work, yet there didn't seem to be any money troubles for the family. As he knew that I liked football, he used to take me to home matches at The Den. Stepping into that notorious stadium was electric. The atmosphere was hostile for anyone who wasn't a Lions fan. There was a strong stench of stale beer in the air and your shoes stuck to the floor. All in all, it was heaven on earth.
Weeks and months went by. Through my regular attendance at The Den I became familiar with other youngsters my age and started going to the games with these lads. I noticed quickly that London was different in terms of fashion. The look was very British: coats and cardigans with Stone Island logos dominated the fanatics I saw.
On the following Monday I skipped classes to traipse through some shops. This being a time before smartphones, you really had to dig for the treasures – not an easy endeavour in a metropolis like London. Somehow I still managed to put together a look with a black Stone Island hooded jacket, a white-navy striped sweater from Lacoste, dark blue Levi's 501 jeans and a pair of good old white Reebok Classics. Now, I looked like all the other guys next to me at the stadium: dead hard!
All good things must come to an end, whether it's that affair with the girl from the office who gave the best blowjobs or an exchange year in London. I could write a whole book with the stories I witnessed there; maybe they'll be retold one day.
Of all the impressions I gathered there, the British casual was what resonated with me the most. Therefore, from then on I spent a significant percentage of my monthly income on these known labels.
However, I could tell that this kind of fascination for neat looks didn't push through back home yet. The ultras still wore their black-block uniforms of windbreaker, sweatpants and bumbag. The situation I encountered really sucked – welcome home.
So I did my own thing. At first, they laughed at me. The mob was unfamiliar with this kind of well-groomed appearance at that time.
The Inevitable Question: Why?
Naturally, the whole casual thing made a fairly good impression on the ladies. Trust me, I speak from experience. At best you'd first get some on a Saturday afternoon and, a few hours and a few lines later, you'd be telling wannabe-middle-class girls bullshit stories at the wine bar.
However, every light has its shadow and with the years some coats were torn to bits, sunglasses got lost in Italian taxis, or shirts landed in the bin because the blood didn't come off.
But it's not only the clothing. It's also about the concerts you go to together, chasing through the city or internet after new coats and shoes. It's the whole culture behind it. The meetings with like-minded people in the moments you don't talk with your fists and just have a good time beyond the violence. For example, when people who skull each other on matchday sit at a table at a wedding in Genoa, drinking and laughing together, then I ask myself: who are the real anti-socials in this hypocritical society of ours?