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24 September 2014
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Caroline
Caroline

Among the Zulus

By James Clarke
Caroline Gall, from Birmingham, has recently had her book 'Zulus: A Football Hooligan Gang' published. It has already sold several thousand copies...


The world of football hooliganism is not a natural home for young women, as Caroline Gall herself admits.

"There can be few less lady-like pursuits than kicking the crap out of each other after a football match on a Saturday afternoon," the journalist writes in the introduction to her new book.

Pitch invasion. A photo from the book
Pitch invasion - a photo from the book

But Caroline has spent the past year immersed in the world of one of England's most notorious football hooligan "firms" - Birmingham City's Zulu Warriors.

Football hooligans have been the subject of a number of books in recent years, but the Zulu Warriors were yet to be immortalised in print, despite their claim to be one of England's "top five firms".

So spotting a gap in the market Caroline, who comes from Birmingham, stepped in with "Zulus", which has been flying off the pre-Christmas shelves in the city's bookshops.

Caroline knew some of the figures on the edges of the Zulu scene through a previous job in a clothes shop where they came to buy the threads which were always a big part of fitting in as a Zulu.

She got them to put her in touch with two of the firm's biggest leaders - Cud and Wally - and spent the next 10 months interviewing them, and other characters they introduced her to, about two or three times a week.

"I was pretty freaked out," Caroline said, "I really didn't know what to expect at all.

"I'd heard about this guy Cud for years and I knew about his reputation and I thought 'what's he going to be like?'

"But actually he turned out to be quite different to what I thought, he was quite laid back, quite fair and reasoned, fairly sort of measured in what he said. He was just a normal guy who was quite honest and quite open."

Caroline Gall
Caroline Gall

Caroline says she had no intention of glamourising the Zulus and writes in her book's introduction: "There is no denying the football hooligan his place in the annals of British social history."

The fact the book has already sold several thousand copies since it was published in November suggests people agree and want to read about the Zulus and their exploits.

She says: "A lot of people are going to criticise me, they might think I'm making them into folk heroes. But I tried to be impartial and honest.

"None of the other books seem to admit when they have been turned over, it's a running thing that other gangs refused to admit when they've been beaten. But I impressed onto the lads that I had to be honest and they were in complete agreement."

The book features tales of stabbings, squirting ammonia into the faces of opposing fans, throwing security guards from the tops of escalators, trashing pubs and nightclubs, stealing mob-handed from shops, setting fire to refreshment stands in stadiums, countless fights with opposing "firms" and even deaths.

But the violence is sometimes mixed with a sense of honour - almost bizarrely so.

There is one tale of a group of Zulus hitting a visiting Chelsea fan in the eye with a stick with a nail on it. The gang ran away in panic, but waited around the corner for an ambulance to arrive because they "wanted to make sure the lad made it to hospital".

Caroline says: "It seems an odd situation but that's the logic they had and the reasoning was the same if they got arrested, you didn't make statements against other fans. There's a code of conduct that most lads in most firms respect."

The sense of violence prompted by honour is added to further by the Zulus' insistence that they were defending Birmingham - their city - from the invasion of opposing firms.

Caroline Gall
Caroline Gall

There are several incidents of hooligan activity away from football, both in Birmingham and elsewhere in the country. The Zulus went looking for Villa fans in different suburbs of the city, and some attended matches not involving Blues just because there were teams with a good "firm" there.

Others went along with the crowd to games but after a fight or a spree of thieving, came home without going to the match. The hooligans Caroline speaks to also admit that along with Millwall, Birmingham's hooligans are most likely to turn on the police.

Caroline admits she was shocked by some of the tales she was told but insists that when she met the Zulus they seemed like normal blokes.

One tells how he turned his back on violence for a while to go to games with his wife, visiting local beauty spots before and after away matches. And there are many tales of the Zulus taking great pride in their clothes, which over the years varied from Doc Martens and drainpipes to trendy casual sportswear to smart blazers and designer gear.

Caroline writes: "By day they were eminently respectable, law-abiding citizens; at the weekend they turned into hardcore soccer thugs."

And she says now: "They are from the city I live in and I like to think I've made some good friends and I've formed a relationship with them."

The book's mixed world of apparently decent guys turning into thugs when they fancy it is perhaps best summed up in the words of one of the Zulus, David George.

"Looking at our old pictures, you can see that there were no scary-looking people, just young, working class lads who were willing to stand up and be counted and defend themselves against people who wanted to cut them up or knock them out."

last updated: 15/12/05
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