Street fighting is one of society's great levelers. No matter who you are, where you're from, how much money you spend on shampoo, which deity you do or don't believe in, picking a fight with a stranger for no real reason always makes you a huge dickhead.
However, that doesn't mean street fights don't happen. They happen a lot, on the street, in parks and nightclubs the world over. Go out in literally any major city on a Friday night, and chances are you'll see people scrapping, sometimes in that sloppy drunk way that ends with both parties bleeding a little bit and shouting a lot—sometimes in that genuinely worrying way that sees one person hospitalized and the other in a cell.
Alcohol is undoubtedly the most common reason that humans attack other humans for little to no reason at all. But what else is at play? Why do some people seemingly go out looking for a fight? And how does a particularly vicious attack affect you afterward? I spoke to a few people about their last street fights to find out.
VICE: Talk me through the last time you got in a fight.
Billie: I was fourteen or fifteen, and the hardest girl in town, a nineteen-year-old mom, started on me for looking at her. Classic Great Yarmouth.
Were you scared?
A bit. She was properly hard and had a rep.
What kind of rep?
For just doing in people randomly and that.
So how did it go down?
I was with my mate, and this girl, and a few of her equally scary mates are walking toward us, and I haven't got my glasses on, so I guess I'm squinting a bit. She comes bounding over, shouting at me, "What you looking at? Why the fuck you staring at me?" I try to leave, and she's like, "Nah, you're not leaving," then she swings at me, and I think one of her punches lands. I swing back a couple of times, but I'm this little fourteen-year-old, and she's a big girl, so I doubt it did much damage.
How did it affect you after?
I was a bit shook, but after a day or two, it was calm. It was my first fight, so I felt a bit weird, but it also gassed me up in a weird way. Like, I had a fight with this hard girl, and although I by no means came out on top, I didn't get myself kicked in either, so I had mixed emotions. I don't enjoy violence or confrontation much, though, so not too gassed.
What do you feel about fighting in general?
I guess sometimes it's necessary.
Like if some creep won't leave you alone, and he's getting really touchy, he's not gonna listen to your voice—you're gonna have to push him around. Some people only respond to violence, unfortunately.
Why do you think that girl wanted to fight you?
I think for her it was a status thing. If some girl's looking at her funny, and she's known as this hard nut, she can't show herself up. Asserting her dominance, proving herself—almost animalistic.
What happened the last time you got in a fight?
Pasquale: I'm from Archway, that roundabout in north London, and at a bar on this roundabout, there was a drum 'n' bass night every Friday. I was there with a load of people, and our mate Shawn had wandered off and come back. Shawn was pure trouble. He once survived a huge shock getting struck by a wire while he was train surfing. As it happens, when he wandered off, he'd wound up a group of very large eastern European men—about eight to ten of them. We didn't know this at the time, so it came as a surprise when they came running across the road and hopped the fence and just started punching us at random.
Shawn started knocking people out. I saw him get bottled, but I don't even think he noticed. My other friend, Will, who was also a bit of a warlord, was on crutches from a recent moped accident and started swinging his crutches. Everyone was swinging fists.
What about you?
I remember punching a guy and knocking him down, and, before I could even lift my championship belt, getting immediately punched to the floor, and before that guy could kick me when I was down, getting knocked by someone else.
How did you feel being in that mix?
It wasn't fear. Anger and adrenaline, but also weirdly fun.
What was the conclusion?
We fought them out of the roundabout, and it became a shouting match across the road. They flung a big Smirnoff bottle and hit my mate Mike in the eye and knocked him out. This restarted everything, but this time, it spread all around Archway. Will, on crutches, chased a few of them up Highgate Hill with his brothers. A few others and I chased some up the parallel Archway road, where police pulled up, jumped out, and took my mate and one of them to the floor. Mike came out of his daze concussed, with an eye closed up with glass fragments in it, and very angry. He got arrested while going for this dude. Ended up having to have surgery on his eye and went to jail for ABH [actual bodily harm].
How did it make you feel after?
I was proud that we held our own in our area, I guess. You've got that stupid local pride as a kid. But ultimately, pretty empty and worried about my mate.
Did it make you more or less inclined to fight in future?
There was definitely a gap in altercations, but there were a couple more, and more custodial sentences before we became adults and slowly separated from dudes like Shawn. I'll always defend myself if there's no other option, but as you grow out of certain scenes and people, these situations don't arise at all.
How would you deal with things these days?
I wonder how I would. No such incident has happened since that era, and London's a different place now mostly. Pride isn't such a thing as you become an adult. If anything, you take pride in walking away.
Talk me through the last time you had a scrap.
Jan: It was about two years ago. It was in the early hours of the morning, after a Friday or Saturday night out, purely fed by alcohol and the horrendous music of Café de Paris. After the club closed, about five friends and I headed out, merry and not looking for trouble. A random person came up and asked my friend if he'd had a good night, to which my friend said, "Yes, mate, thanks." He asked again: "Are you sure?" Then he kind of lightly slapped my friend's face and said, "Good, good—have a good one, bro," and then turned to walk away.
Did it seem like something was about to kick off?
I had a feeling something was gonna happen, yeah. He then turned around and told my friend to go fuck himself and called him a refugee, maybe due to his skin color being similar to mine—he was English born but Spanish blood. He then went to throw a punch after no provocation, and before I knew it, we were two versus about five guys that I didn't even know were there with this guy. We fought in a bit of a scrap for a few seconds until my other mates caught up, and it turned into a big brawl.
Where there any police or bouncers about?
The bouncers at the door didn't get involved for a while—I could just vaguely hear them shouting that the police were on the way. I didn't take any severe damage, but one of my friends got kicked in the head while he was on the floor. Then the bouncers got involved relatively calmly, and just held us until the police arrived. My mate called the police racist cunts and ended up in Charing Cross police station while we all went home.
How has it affected you since?
I think I'm more scared of street fights now, to be honest. I've been involved in similar situations where someone seems to be looking for a fight, but I try to walk away and have managed to just apologize, even if I don't think I'm wrong.
Do you think people fight because they don't have a proper release for their negative energy?
Potentially, but I think some people gain a lot of courage when they're drunk and maybe want to show off to friends or girls. In this case, I don't know, because none of us said anything to provoke the fight—but maybe he had a point to prove. Maybe he'd had a bad day, or maybe alcohol does that to him every time he goes out.
Do you think the UK has a problem with fighting in general?
One hundred percent. I'm abroad at the moment, and some of the behavior is shocking—drunken English people causing trouble. But that also goes for the Aussies and Kiwis. The locals drink too, but seem to have a lot more fun at the end of the night and go home merry. I feel like, in our culture, if the night doesn't end with taking a girl home or finding drugs, fights seem to be the last resort for some people.
What happened in your last street fight?
Becky: I was about seventeen, I think—the first year of college. It was summer, so a group of us was in the park, drinking and getting stoned. There was another group, from a different local college, so it was instant bad vibes.
How did it all go down?
There was this one chick being bare loud and drunk and rowdy—I think we were slyly creasing at her from where we were sitting. Fast-forward a few hours, and the two groups start to mingle, so it's almost like one big circle, but this girl is in the middle, wasted, and seeking attention. She starts to try it with a few of us. Then she starts swiping at the boys. I think I said something like, "Fucking sort yourself out," and she just shot up, ran over to me, spat in my face, and pushed me. So I shoved her back, and then she punched me in the mouth—my lip split open and was bleeding like crazy.
What did you do?
I guess I saw red, because I don't really remember what happened from then until my friend Jack was pulling me off her. I vaguely recall punching her, but no real details. I think I broke her nose, because I remember they called the ambulance, and we had to leave. Everyone seemed impressed, like, "Wahey, go Becky, you broke some chick's nose!" But I was just embarrassed.
Did you ever see her again?
I think I only saw her once, which was lucky, seeing as we went to that same park every day after college. I was really scared to see her, though.
She wasn't scary, but maybe I felt like her mates were scary, or she had some scary crew. Girls are terrifying sometimes.
Tell me about it. Did you change in any way afterward?
Emotionally, I was pretty shaken up immediately after. The fact this weird thing had got hold of me and made me fuck up some girl's face, and I didn't really remember it happening. It was kind of internally terrifying. Plus I fancied one of the guys in my group, so it was super humiliating to have done that in front of him. I was scary enough to boys at the time as it was.
What about long-term?
I think, when I was younger, I used to get a kick out of being around fights, getting a bit rowdy, and trying to prove myself. But after that, I knew I could maybe hold my own, but I didn't want to go mental again and lose my head.
Do you think girls and guys get in fights for different reasons, or is it all the same?
I think a lot of men have experienced a lot more fighting growing up, either intentionally or not. The ability to hold their own and defend themselves is maybe more entwined with their identity as masculine men, whereas I felt completely unfeminine and embarrassed about getting into a fight. I'm not a girly girl, and definitely can be mouthy, but it did feel at odds with the sexual female thing I was trying to give off in front of the guy I liked.
Did you end up getting with the guy?
Tell me about the last fight you had.
Rupert: I was in Aldeburgh, in Suffolk. My friend got in a little altercation with quite a small guy, and I stepped in and asked the guy to leave it out. He hit me, so I retaliated. Little did I know, he had six friends waiting around the corner. They circled me and started kicking me in the face and ribs. One was in Timberlands and caught me square in mouth, knocking a tooth clean out, root and all.
Not ideal, is it?
Did the police get involved?
The police were called, and they knew of the gang that did it. They often used this small guy, Mikey, to start fights, and they'd hide and come in and beat the shit out of whoever they chose. They were local. The police couldn't press charges as he said I hit him first. I got no compensation and ended up with a removable tooth.
How much did the new tooth cost?
My denture was £800—about $1,200.
How did you feel during the fight?
I remember he nutted me first, and I sort of leapt at that opportunity to retaliate. I was winning at first, so it was great, I guess. But I vividly remember being really scared when all his friends were around me kicking me, and when the tooth came out, it was quite traumatic. It's really bad when you lose something you know you can never get back.
Did it dent your confidence at all?
I wouldn't say so, but it definitely changed my outlook on fighting. I am now of the view that there is always a way of talking yourself out of a situation, even if that's just by saying sorry, even if it's not your fault, or just walking away. Obviously situations happen that you can't control—friends get into fights and you have to get involved. But in that situation I just try to defuse it, like try talking sense to my friend, so the fight doesn't kick off.
If you had any advice for yourself back then, what would it be?
This situation really upset my mom and dad, so it would be to think about how your actions can affect the people you love and who love you.
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