When Chelsea Were Top Of The Hooligan League Table, Not Premier League

28th April 1973:  Bobby Charlton, Captain of Manchester United football club in action against (left) Ron Harris of Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. It is Charlton's last game and his team was defeted by Chelsea 1-0.  (Photo by Peter King/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Chelsea weren’t always the glamor club that they are today. In the late 70s and early 80s, they were the scourge of English football thanks to their hooligans who terrorized trains, city centres and stadiums around the country. They weren’t the only troublemakers, but they were often the most feared.

Searching through YouTube, I found a selection of videos that I wanted to share with you that discuss Chelsea hooligan incidents from 1983 after they went to Derby County’s Baseball Ground and tore up several hundred seats. It’s an interesting series of videos to watch for several different reasons. There are the ton of empty seats at Stamford Bridge. The interviews with Chelsea chairman Ken Bates and Derby chairman Mike Watterson (who, later on, left the club because of the hooligan problem). Also discussed on the videos are the expensive cost of tickets as well as why people were less interested in going to see games in the early 80s. Watterson also discusses the financial suicide demonstrated by many clubs by signing expensive players. I wonder what they would think nowadays.

The videos are definitely recommended viewing. But before you watch them, I must warn you that some of the videos contain very graphic content.

28 thoughts on “When Chelsea Were Top Of The Hooligan League Table, Not Premier League”

    1. There is only one chapter in that book on Chelsea, although it is a great read overall. That chapter focuses on Alan Garrison, who is one of the most interesting folks on planet earth, up to the present day.

      John King’s ‘Football Factory’, both the novel and subsequent movie, deal with Chelsea’s Headhunter firm in the 90’s — well after their naughtiest days. For anyone whose view on english hooliganism comes from the absolutely wretched ‘green street hooligans’, give this film a watch. It’s available on DVD in the states, and on region-free Blu Ray. Just got my copy from Amazon.co.uk. It’s a much grittier and realistic view of the inner workings of a firm and, most importantly, does not include a Hobbit…

      1. In a similar vein, if you can get your hands on a copy of Awaydays (book by Kevin Sampson) do it…it’s a really good read. Deals with a small firm that follows Tranmere Rovers in the 70’s. The movie is also a very well done adaptation of the book although it’s nearly impossible to find in the States because they don’t have a DVD in Region 1….but you can always do the naughty thing d/l a copy online.

  1. Another in a series of bash the double champions from the Gaffer. Last week it was we make the premier league boring this week lets rehash stuff from a half century ago. I can’t wait to see what the Gaffer will come up with next week. Gaffer you say you are a Swansea supporter which would explain why you try to come up with negative stuff to say every week about Chelsea. Supporters from ‘smallish’ clubs tend to do that as they have lots of time on their hands as matches from the lower leagues that they are in are not televised unlike Chelsea games that you can watch every week. Well, we are the top of the top league in the world, why not write an article about that!

    1. The gaffer’s still got a chip on his shoulder from the days when we used to rape and pillage Swansea ,and everywhere else.
      The Gaffer might even be my son.

    2. “smallish” clubs? That’s why so many hate fans like you. You’re not really fans, you’re just jerks. It’s one thing to support your team, it’s quite another to belittle others and use someone elses accomplishments as a pedestal for your own words. Not to mention, tons of media coverage (as documented above) show that this isn’t bull and that it was an actual problem. I think that there’s plenty of articles littered throughout the net, let alone this site over the last season that kiss the feet of the mighty Chelsea. Calm down.

  2. As a strong Chelsea supporter, I don’t see this or last week as much as bashing.. especially not this above. I think it’s rather interesting to see how much the culture can change both in a club, and by extension, in the Premier League. in the same way, the problems of the past are still problems today, it seems, lol. (Ticket prices, etc) Great post!

  3. Didn’t find these to be as insightful or interesting as the videos Gaffer posted yesterday on the English Football Violence at the 06 World Cup. A good read is “The Football Factory” by John King. Highly, highly recommend it if you’re interested in this topic.

  4. That’s the problem I’ve always had with Mr.Cohen – The fact that he wanted to give his impressionable american audience his version of history – that Liverpool and its residents were somehow the centre of UK based hooliganism. That the likes of Chelsea, Leeds, and Millwall only had school boys for supporters. The documentary reminds us that hooliganism transcended both city and club.

  5. My knowledge of hooliganism during it’s height during the 70’s and 80’s is limited because, well, I wasn’t alive then but I haven’t seen anything here to make me think these were worse that the Manchester United or Tottenham fans described in “Among the Thugs” (one of my favorite books ever).

    I personally am glad that this type of thing has been brought mostly under control. I highlight the word mostly but no longer is soccer simply excuse for rioting and violence.

    1. Well, there’s plenty you don’t see on the videos, my friend. Each and every self-styled former hard man who’s put out a book on the subject has tried to paint his firm as top of the pile, and neither Man U or Spurs were anywhere near as feared as 10 or 20 other more relevant groups in the 80’s. By any objective measure, the mischief Chelsea (Headhunters), West Ham (ICF), Millwall (Bushwhackers), Cardiff (Soul Crew), Leeds (Service Crew) and even Birmingham (Zulus) got up to was in a whole different league to those you mention.

      1. What planet are you on ? Chelsea have never even been the top firm in London let alone England. They always were rated lower than spurs, west ham, Arsenal and millwall. But in the days before segregation during the early 70’s when it was anything goes, man U had by far the biggest and most feared firm (and i’m an everton fan by the way). anyone who won’t admit this is either too young to remember or full of crap.

  6. I’d also suggest Kings of the King’s Road: The Great Chelsea Team of the 60s and 70s by Clive Batty for a look at the last time Chelsea were the glamour club before the Huddle and Gullit resurrected Chelsea FC

    1. Don’t forget a Serious Case of the Blues about Chelsea in the 1980s. In the pictures it shows a program cover where they replaced the normal action shot with a message to not start trouble. Also it shows a picture of the then Chairman Ken Bates standing before a electrified fence he had installed at the Bridge, however the Greater London Council prevented him from turning it on. Also as far as Mr. Cohen I like his show with the exception of his deep hatred of Liverpool. I agree that the we were at fault at Heylsel but we had nothing to do with Hillsborough. Any one who is informed knows this. That is why Kelvin McKenzie lost his job at The Scum newspaper and why thier circulation is down 200,000 copies.

    1. Noticed that immediately. It seemed “soccer” and “football” were freely used interchangeably. The language police must have been off duty.

  7. Until a couple months ago, all I knew about the EPL were a few names like Man United and Rooney and the book Among the Thugs. I assumed that was still the state of English football and had forgotten the names of the teams the thugs in that book were fighting for. But I’ve read a number of books since then and gotten involved in FPL, watched a few games, and now I see things are different. My point is, I would guess the average American thinks the above is still the state of English football (if they know anything) when in fact hooliganism is under control and the game has started to go a bit corporate and middle class+ much like American football.

    1. whoops, thought i’d posted a couple of different films, still if there are loads on you tube if you really want to see how things have improved over here.
      Will it ever go away in England, probably not, but as loong as it happens away from the grounds and it happens between people who are looking for it then fine, I’m just happy that true football fans can take their families to games now without having to fear a bottle hitting them on the head.

  8. chelsea are overrated never come to birmingham and beat the zulu they or millwall or portsmouth came to handsworth they get shot in them rass

  9. One of the most underrated firms of the 70’s and 80’s were the ‘BOLTS’ Crew, and later the ‘MIGs’ of Luton Town – on their day they were certainly up there with the best of them. They may not have had the numbers of many of the big city firms but they had some tough guys from all ethnic backgrounds who would show up and fight. One of the original Bolts crew members I can remember getting a nasty hooligan reputation was an ex-para called ‘Badger’.

  10. Top Firm? Pah. They beat ‘Things’ up, not people! That’s just sad!!
    Witnessed on more than one occasion, the ICF clearing the Shed.
    Man for man the ICF were top firm!

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