Football

The Football Fans Trying to Export British Hooliganism

For better or worse, unlike other countries the UK has a long history of "hoolie literature". These guys want to spread the joy.
November 21, 2017, 8:45am
man wearing a chelsea football hooligan t-shirt
A man in a T-shirt bearing the logo of Chelsea FC's firm, the Chelsea Headhunters. Photo: 67photo / Alamy Stock Photo

The British football hooligan memoir is very much its own literary genre. Not one particularly lauded by literary types, granted, but recognisable enough to have its own name among those who know about that sort of thing: "hoolie lit".

When various hooligan firms' "top boys" started putting pen to paper in the early-1990s, readers were understandably intrigued about what type of person would willingly subject themselves to bottles, bricks and boots for the sake of their local team. Since then, there have been a million-and-one documentaries, movies and newspaper exposés on football hooligans, and every British firm – from Chelsea's Headhunters to Oldham Athletic's Fine Young Casuals – has had a representative write a book detailing their various post-match rucks with other crews.

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The situation in Bulgaria, however, is a little different. Up until 1990, the country was under a strict communist regime, and culturally cut off from the rest of the world. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, interest in British terrace culture slowly began to develop, and the homegrown hooligan scene became increasingly prominent. There was no hoolie-lit to document these changes, though: the exploits of the local football thugs were told by journalists alone.

Gilly Black (left) and Tosh McIntosh at the launch of their book, 'JRF: Beyond the Hatred'. Photo: Sam Tahmassebi

Avid UK hoolie-lit fans, Tosh McIntosh and Gilly Black – who have have adopted British-sounding pseudonyms – believe this has led to a dearth of information about Bulgarian hooligans and football fan culture, which is something they're eager to change. The two Bulgarians have amassed a huge collection of British hooligan books over the years, and want to see the "hit 'n' tell" memoir take root in their home country. To do so, they've embarked on a mission to create Bulgarian-language versions of what they view as classics of the genre, and to write books chronicling the firms and faces of the Bulgarian scene.

Driven as much by their love of the UK as they are by their infatuation with football violence, Tosh and Gilly's crew – FC Lokomotiv Gorna Oryahovitsa's Jolly Roger firm – models itself on English hooligan firms, emulating their dress sense and style of support, as well as incorporating a Union Jack into its logo.

When I found out Tosh and Gilly were holding a book launch for their biography of the Jolly Roger firm, JRF: Beyond the Hatred, I decided to head down and find out more about their quest to export hoolie-lit to Bulgaria. Here’s what Tosh had to say.


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VICE: Can you start by saying a bit about your firm and how they came to be so heavily influenced by British hooligans?
Tosh: Back when the "ultra" subculture was dominant in Bulgaria, something different was happening among Gorna Oryahovitsa FC fans – some of them established a firm that followed the English model. While hooligan firms were common in England back then, in Bulgaria this style and way of life was just emerging. When we first founded our firm, we liked the ideology behind the British firms a lot. We adopted the "casual" [clothing] style, which is now associated with poseur behaviour, but then stood for honour and dignity.

We started wearing designer clothes – the likes of Burberry, Lacoste, Fred Perry, Adidas and plenty of others – to preserve the memory of the origins of it all, as this was the hooligan fashion in England in the 1970s and the 80s. These brands were difficult to find here. In most cases they were shipped from England. We also used to purchase lots of books in the hoolie genre. Nowadays, we have hundreds of them in our homes and, believe it or not, we’ve read them all plenty of times. The firm was called "Jolly Roger", after a song and album named Under Jolly Roger by the German heavy metal band Running Wild. Our logo is the skull and crossbones, and the classic version of it has the Union Jack flag with the Running Wild band logo on it.

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Is heavy metal popular among hooligans in Bulgaria?
We were really inspired by it back then, and music was closely connected to our movement. At the start of the 1990s, when the communist regime fell and rock ‘n’ roll music evolved into heavy metal, punk rock, hardcore, etc, the rock movement became bigger and bigger, and split into different subcultures, and they moved all as one to the terraces. It seems like less people on the terraces care about music nowadays, but, for us, extreme music was always a driving force and a huge part of it all.

What inspired you to go from reading hooligan books to attempting to popularise them in
Bulgaria?
It’s not a matter of what, it’s about who. One of the chapters in the book that we’re launching today, JRF: Beyond the Hatred, is dedicated to Pat "Fat Pat" Dolan [a well-known Chelsea hooligan], who had been our mate since 2001. He was a real inspiration, and told us: "Go on, do it! Why not?"

Tosh and guests at the book launch. Photo: Sam Tahmassebi

You’ve previously said you wanted to do these books to remedy the lack of public knowledge about Bulgarian hooligans.
Yes. The impressive sight of English football made us dream of being like them. Over the years we tried to get closer to our dream, but that was extremely difficult. We were buried in poverty and oblivion, and rarely had access to information through the papers or television. We spent years in darkness and were blind to the surrounding world. Living in isolation from the rest of the world, I guess we were also unfamiliar to others. To a certain degree, we started writing this book with the purpose of drawing up the curtain called communism that fell over our motherland and many other countries.

You’re looking to translate some British hooligan books into Bulgarian. Is there a big market for English hoolie lit there?
Along with JRF: Beyond the Hatred we've decided to undertake the task of translating two great books from English to Bulgarian: [Nick Lowles and Andy Nicholls'] Hooligans, volume one and two. We want to do this because the genre of hoolie literature is still missing from the book market in our country. We’ve contacted the authors and publisher for the copyrights. We know this will be long and difficult work, but we’d like this literature to be available for every football supporter in Bulgaria no matter whether he is a hooligan or an ordinary fan. So yes, I think there’s market for this kind of book here.

You’re also doing your own version of British hoolie books Top Boys and Terrace Legends, which are collections of interviews with high-ranking hooligans, featuring the "top boys" of Bulgarian firms. Can you say a bit about that?
Yes, that’s right. We decided to combine both concepts into one book: Top Face BG: Old School Terrace Legends. It’s going to be a book describing how it all started and its roots, with interviews with the old school boys, who will tell stories of how it used to be in the past and share their opinion of the modern times. The second part of the book is entirely dedicated to their interviews. So far, we’ve interviewed over 25 representatives of different firms from Bulgaria and abroad, including special guests from Millwall, Napoli, Lazio, etc.

We’re also planning to release a book called Dying Breed, which will be related to some old school terrace legends who are no longer with us, and another called Retro Loko, about our beloved club, Lokomotiv G.O. It’ll cover over 80 years of history, from the early-1930s up to the millennium.

This question isn’t really related to the books, but is something I’m curious about. I’ve heard that Gilly’s got a Master's degree in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering. Is it normal to get such well-educated hooligans in Bulgaria?
There was a stereotype of a poor, uneducated, rough and tough young men from working class backgrounds building up hatred inside themselves, but nowadays it’s very different. Today, we have lawyers, doctors etc who are still involved. There are better-educated people, although they come from working class families – for example, Gilly – and people from poorer backgrounds – for example, me. Imagine a doctor fighting with the mob on Saturday and saving somebody’s life on Monday, or a lawyer who needs to defend his pal in court, yet they fought side-by-side last night. Strange, isn’t it?

It is. Thanks, Tosh.