Portsmouth’s 657 crew gained a fearsome reputation through the 1970’s and 80’s in the English football hooligan scene. Their activities were legendary and documented possibly like no other firm of the time. Personal firend of ours Eddie Crispin has been a face on the terraces for over thirty years representing Pompey home and away. He has contributed towards the numerous ‘657’ books that have been written and published. As well as featuring in Cass Pennant’s ‘Top Boys’ and the highly acclaimed ‘Northern Monkeys’ by William Routledge. Eddie was also interviewed for the TV programme ‘Britain’s Toughest Towns’ and helped with the making of the ‘Casuals’ documentary.
When did your life as a Portsmouth fan begin?
First game I went to was against Tranmere Rovers in the FA Cup third round, that would have been 1970. So I was 8 years old and I went with my dad and my mum’s brother, Uncle Bernard. Everybody in our family supported Portsmouth. If you were born in Pompey then there was only one team, you support your local team. I remember it was a Saturday three o’clock kick off and I was so excited I was up at 9 in the morning, saying “are we going in a minute” and everything like that. I lived on Laburnum Grove, North End at the time and we walked to the ground through the cemetery in Kingston and the park, then under the bridge. The first thing I remember about the ground was we went in the North Stand. I always remember the red cinder running track around the pitch, I was at the front in the North Stand and I was playing with the red sand that was on the running track. That always stuck in my mind. We lost 2-1 and they were shit as well.
Pompey skins at Halifax in 79’ and Bradford March 1980.
What was the first time you witnessed trouble at the match?
It would have been about 1972. I think it was when Millwall came down and there was a load of trouble in Goldsmith Avenue after the game. Also by the Talbot Pub it was kicking off a lot. I think around that time we had QPR and there was quite a lot of trouble at that game, I say I was around 10 or 11 at the time. The first time in the ground I saw trouble was against Swansea in the cup, I’m not sure of the season but they came down and came in the Fratton End. I can remember they had a big swan on a stick and Pompey chased them out the Fratton End. The swan got smashed on the Fratton End goal as they were chased across the pitch.
Fight between Pompey and Millwall at Goldsmith Avenue, April 1981.
What was your first involvement in trouble at a match?
Well, you start getting a bit brave around 13, 14 I suppose, and getting on the fringes of things. We went to Oxford I think in 76 or 77. Pompey always used to go in Oxford’s end. There was a bit of trouble and the police moved us out, but one of our lot stayed in the end and tried to run them out all on his own. I remember it because it was the same day as the Oxford-Cambridge boat race and everybody was singing “you can stick your fucking boat race up your arse”.
We can see Eddie in the bottom two pictures. The top picture is Oxford away in 1985.
What was the appeal of going to football?
The buzz, you would look forward to it all week and then Saturday would come. It would take up your whole day. Get up early, get out, see what was happening, and get up around the streets of the ground. Pompey had at the time a pub right outside the ground called ‘The Pompey’. I remember going in there when I was 14, obviously couldn’t get served but used to be in there to get the atmosphere. I had a couple of good mates from school as well who were bang into it, so we would go together.
Of all the opposing firms through the late 70’s and 80’s, who would you say was the most fearsome, organised and game?
Going back to even the early seventies when I first started going to football, Millwall were a team I always remember. We used to play them every season because we were both Second Division back then. They would always turn up with big numbers, and they always seemed massive big blokes to me as twelve thirteen years old kid. Also they are the nearest club to Waterloo Station in London, just up by London Bridge, up that area. For them to get to Waterloo from Bermondsey would take fifteen to twenty minutes. So after a game if we were kept in they would always get to Waterloo before Pompey. Also at various other times we would come across them.
Pompey coming out of Waterloo before Millwall, 1984 and May 1982.
One time we were coming back to Waterloo from a Millwall match. It was right at the end of the season and we had taken a good firm up there, as we always did. We got back to Waterloo after the match. As we came up from the underground Millwall were waiting on the station for us, they came charging across at us, both mobs have flown into each other and it was going off. The fighting moved out to the front of the station, just where the steps lead up the station entrance. Then two coach loads of police just pulled up and loads of coppers piled out and charged over to us all. We found out later that they had been on an anti IRA march in central London, they had been policing that for Bobby Sands, it was when the hunger strikes were on. So that would have been ’78 around that sort of time.
Another time, only maybe ten years ago, there is a pub just round the corner from Waterloo called the Windmill they turned up there. Pompey piled out the pub, kicked off. I remember some Millwall fella on the floor and someone throw a paving slab on top of him. When the police turned up they sort of picked him up with blood running down his face and said ‘right who’s done this to you?’ and he said back ‘fuck off I ain’t telling you, I would have done the same to them’, then the fella just walked off. They always seemed to have a sixth sense or something and would always know where you were going to be. Maybe spotters darted about sussing you coming through the station. They’ve always had good respect for Pompey and Pompey have had good respect for them. Always turned up and always up for it.
Massive firm of Pompey at Millwall, February 1983.
Millwall for Pompey in Waterloo, May 1982.
There was a fella called ‘Fooksie’ who used to run special trains to away games. We had Millwall away, I think that was ’78 or ’79 on Boxing Day and he took a special up there. It must have been a good 1200 on this train. When we got to Millwall, it was at the old Cold Blow Lane. I remember there was only one entrance into the ground so you was in the road outside, you paid at the turnstile and then you walked at the back of their stand to get into your section. Pompey were going through the turnstiles and we just hanging about outside and then all of a sudden a big mob of Millwall come from under this bridge and started steaming into everyone. I remember Fooksie, who was probably around fifteen years older than us, grabbing people from going through the turnstile and shouting “don’t fucking go in there, they’re here”. When we got in the ground, the bases of the flood lights were imbedded in a big concrete base and we stood there. I remember Millwall was always a well-dressed mob. For some reason I always remember some geezer coming in, he had a hooded sweatshirt on with a baker boy cap on and he walked past saying “I’m smokin’ Joe Frazier”. I’ve always remembered that as he came through the alleyway.
We played them once on a Sunday morning, I think it was a 11.30am kick off and we all got the earliest train out of Pompey we could. We got to London Bridge by 9.00am and Millwall had only just plotted up sitting having a coffee or beer, reading their papers or something waiting for Pompey to turn up. We came through too early for them as they weren’t expecting us at that early time. So it kicked off as always but I remember years later ‘Jacko’ one their top boys saying to me that at the time they were filling Jif bottles with ammonia ready for us, but we caught them short as we came out the tunnel and steamed into them.
Millwall pitch invasion against Pompey, May 1982.
Millwall, a deserving reputation?
Definitely. West Ham in the day were proper, they had a brilliant firm. Some legendary names have come from them, like Bill Gardenier, Andy Swallow, Cass [Pennant], people like that and to be fair, they are all gentlemen. Chelsea had a good firm, but we only had a few run in’s them, nothing major.
Birmingham were really organised. They knew exactly where to go. They got off the coaches by the Air Balloon pub and walked through to the Robert Peel pub, which were two very big Pompey pubs at the time. They had a lot of black geezers and we hadn’t really seen many blacks in Pompey back then, so it was a bit of an eye opener to us. The only other time we see a lot of blacks down here was when we played Arsenal in a pre-season friendly when they had just signed Charlie Nicolas. I remember Denton of Arsenal being right at the front, he was a massive big black geezer and we had never seen anything like that before. Sounds strange to say that but it was the case back then.
Pompey going to Leeds in 1983 and steaming some Leeds who got on at Wakefield.
Easter Saturday 1984. Charlton away with the usual row with Millwall at Waterloo and London Bridge.
The biggest surprise was Lincoln City. We played a game at Lincoln when I was about 17, 18. We went in furniture vans back then with the rolled shutters at the back. I can’t remember where it was but we stopped in a town before we got to Lincoln. They had a bingo hall there and there was this car with its boot open with two trays of sandwiches, obviously for the bingo hall. So we helped ourselves to the two trays and ate them on the rest of our way. We were driving through the town centre in Lincoln and this fella walked by. One of our lot gave him the wanker sign. With that the traffic lights turned red. He went inside a pub and then the whole pub turned out and it was Lincoln’s proper firm that they had, Lincoln Transit Elite I think they were called. They had a geezer with them I remember at the time, he had a black Fred Perry on and gloves. Apparently he was one of Man United’s top boys but he was from Lincoln. Anyway we are in the van and Malc who used to drive us said: “are you going to get out the van? It’s going to get smashed up”. So we’ve all got out the van and start having it with them in the road. There was another Pompey geezer in a motor behind us and he was trying to run them over while it was kicking off. The lights changed and we were all trying to have it with them while jumping in the back of the van at the same time. I would say for the size of them and the numbers they were really game.
Removal van to derby with match day cosh, May 1984.
What were the most memorable encounters?
I think it was 79, Huddersfield away. Huddersfield and Pompey used to play each other every season then, both teams were the same standard. Their end was called the Cow Shed but it was on the side and we went in and run the whole lot out before the game. That one always stuck in my mind. Then Coventry in the late 90’s early 2000.
Pompey – Huddersfield, February 1980. Pompey on the pitch at Huddersfield in 1985.
Who were Pompey’s biggest rivals?
Millwall you could say were a rival due to the amount of run in’s we had with them. They would always turn up here and we would there and it always would go off. You had little clubs that weren’t so formidable but you would always know it would go off. You see we didn’t play the scummers [Southampton] that often back then when I was younger. But when we did Pompey just absolutely smashed them. They were never ever a match for Pompey, never. Even to this day they’re not, I think they think they’ve got a little firm going on now. They’ve never shown here and Pompey have always taken it to them and had a result against them.
Newport away 1983. Before the game looking for the Welsh.
Pompey at Cambridge in February 1984.
Pompey in the main stand at Cardiff in 1983.
What was your favourite clothing back in the day?
Too many to mention really. I really like soul music, so I liked the bib and braces, granddad shirt and bowling shoes look in the late 70’s early 80’s. The first time I saw the casual look was around 1980 at Blackpool away. A Pompey lad called Richard Spencer, everyone called him Frank Spencer. He had a green Peter Storm cagoule with light Lois jeans and a pair of Stan Smith. I used to like Farah slacks with a Pringle sweater and Clarks suede boots or Pods on. Everything moved so quickly back then, on a week to week basis. I always remember Bournemouth in ’83 where our lot just descended in numbers on menswear and sports shops in the town. Looted the shelves, especially a Benetton shop. But now in general I always like a nice pair of jeans, trainers and jacket. I had a nice blue, Man City colour blue, suede jacket that I used to like wearing for years. Stone Island didn’t really appear till the late 80’s and yeah when it came in it was good, but now anyone wears it. We call it Clone Island now and some lads I know will take the button badge off the arm at matches.
Pompey at Bournemouth in February 1983. Menswear stores like Austin Reed lost some stock.
What was the best dressed firm you came up against?
I’ve done some things with Cass Pennant in the past and he’s always said Pompey was the best dressed firm he’d ever seen in the early eighties, the most colourful and gamest firm they’d ever met. For some unknown reason there was hundreds of photos of Pompey especially the 70’s and 80’s time. Wasn’t like it was one of us always carried a camera. Facebook and that Twitter are full of Pompey photos. The Casuals DVD that I did with Cass is nearly all Pompey photos. That many photos that a picture book of the 657 has been published. Arsenal was always a well-dressed firm, West Ham as well. Fashion changed so quick back then, but Liverpool were always at the forefront of everything.
Pompey at Man City in 1984.
Did the Acid House/Rave scene explosion in youth culture effect football hooliganism in the late 80’s?
It was terrible really, I never went or have been to a rave. My kids were young back then, numbers dwindled at football terribly really. It’s up to people what they do and a lot really got into that. Car loads used to drive up to London from Pompey for raves. It was a big thing down here and a lot of the boys made a lot of money out of it.
Where do you consider that the 657 rated amongst all the firms?
Top 5, definitely, any book you read in this country will say the same.
What are the other four?
Millwall, West Ham, Birmingham. You see everyone thinks of Chelsea being up there up. Every team had a firm and you could come unstuck at silly little places if you weren’t on your toes properly. That’s three London clubs I’ve named. We never played Man Utd and teams like that really, so I couldn’t really rate them. Bristol City always had a good organised firm. The thing about Portsmouth is that it’s an island with an island mentality. When we did the Brexit the other week and Britain voted out of Europe, I said we should have one for Portsmouth and vote Portsmouth out of England cause we are an island. It’s very insular here and a hard city to live in.
Pompey at Chelsea in 1983.
Pompey at Bristol city, 1980. Pompey outside Bristol temple meads in 1982, this is the mob that ran Bristol out of there end.
Have Pompey always been well represented following England?
Yeah always, a lot of the Premiership clubs don’t go now, where they are in the Champions League and stuff. Not so much at championship matches but in the qualifying games it’s more lower league teams that go and follow England. Even down to some non-league teams. You always get a good show from Pompey. Usually 20-25 at every England game.
How do you feel about the modern game of football?
Terrible, I could sit here now and tell you the Leeds United side that won the Championship in the 70’s. I couldn’t tell you Man City’s team from last week. In fact, I could name you every team that played in the early 70’s because they only used 12-15 players in a season. You would know Leeds, Man Utd and Liverpool, all teams in the as it was called back then, Division 1. I still call it Division 1, 2, 3 and 4. So as far as I’m concerned Pompey are still in Division 4. These days, these teams just buy success and a load of foreigners playing in England. They don’t give a shit about the badge or anything. Definitely think it’s for the worse these days. Sky have taken over the game, you get a game on Friday night, a game on Sunday, a game on Monday, a game whenever they want to put one on. All teams should play at 3 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. Also how can coming fourth in the league be more important than winning the FA Cup? You are winning something, aren’t you? Finishing fourth you are nobody. I used to like the European Cup, when it was the champions of your country that went in. Liverpool won it in 2005, they weren’t champions of England. Man Utd have won it when they have been runners up in England. I call it the ‘Champions, runners up and any of your mates who feel like a kick around’ League.
*Interview originally appeared on the blog of our Spanish friends Izquierdacasual*