Former Bristol football hooligan embarks on literary career
DAVID CLENSY meets the former Bristol football hooligan who left behind his skinhead bovver-boy days for a promising literary career.
THE dark days of 1970s football hooliganism may be long gone – the era when tribal pitched battles between fans were as much an expected part of a Saturday afternoon as the match itself. But even 40 years on, it's impossible not to knock on the door of a self-confessed football hooligan without a slight sense of trepidation.
I half expect Chris Brown to open the door of his comfortable suburban Downend home complete with trademark skinhead haircut, maybe a pair of punk braces and almost certainly wearing a pair of bovver-boy boots.
But of course, the days of Chris' teenage rebellion are long gone and are sincerely, if only partially, regretted – "you'd normally end up fighting willing opponents," he tells me. "But some innocent people got hurt, and I regret that enormously."
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In fact, the man that opens the door is an image of middle-aged, middle class respectability. Yes, he still has closely cropped hair, but only in the way many men in their 50s have their hair cropped these days in order to disguise the receding hairline.
These days the 56-year-old father- of-two is less likely to be riled by my sporting allegiances, and more by the fact I called him middle class in the last paragraph – he clings passionately to his working class Henbury council estate upbringing.
"I am the world's worst working class inverted snob," he laughs.
"I'm one of these people who is proud of having come from a council estate background and achieved what I have achieved."
He has plenty to be proud about. Chris has enjoyed a successful 40-year career in the printing industry, as a director with city centre design and blue chip publishing company, Unigraph, and now works as a freelance consultant.
Far from an early retirement, Chris wanted to free up more of his time to focus on his writing career.
When he published the first half of his autobiography, Bovver, in 2001, he admits many of those who knew him only as a businessman were shocked by his dark past.
"I think a lot of people were surprised to find out I'd been a hooligan," he says.
"My company did a lot of in-house magazine work for the big financial services companies in the city, and it was a little embarrassing when I went to a meeting there and they were all reading a newspaper article about my football hooliganism days.
"But I think people understand you can do some stupid things as a teenager, you can act without much logic when you're 16, and then you can grow up into a decent member of society."
Which is where Chris' new book, Guilty Tiger, comes into the conversation – following the autobiographical Bovver and its sequel, Booted and Suited, the new book is Chris' first dalliance with novel writing.
"The story is about a pair of 1970s football hooligans – one who has grown up and gone on to a successful career, and the other who has been more slow to move on from those dark days.
"There is a freedom I enjoyed about writing a novel, because I suddenly wasn't confined by my own experiences, though of course, you base most things you write on your own experiences, even when you're writing fiction.
"I actually did meet up with an old friend a while back, who used to be involved with football hooliganism, like me, and who had gone on to an incredibly successful career with the police – he had actually ended up working for the Serious Organised Crime Agency.
"When I asked how he'd managed to keep his own criminal past quiet, he said it hadn't stopped him getting into the force, because he'd been a juvenile at the time, and once he was in, he simply went through the files and ripped up his own criminal records – these were the days before computers, when everything was still handwritten on paper documents.
"That gave me the idea for this story – how one of the ex-hooligans had changed his life by joining the police and essentially deleted his own criminal record. Then I decided to make him a woman, and suddenly I also had a love story on my hands."
Chris may have left the terraces behind after getting married in 1982 to Carole, but he never left behind his passion for Bristol Rovers.
"I'm still a big football fan, though now if I see hooliganism on the television, I'm as appalled as anyone else by it – I look and wonder how I ever could have been involved in that sort of thing.
"But at the time, it didn't seem that wrong. It was like a big game. It was fun to get into fights. It was a tremendous adrenaline rush."
But these days he reserves his ire for the Premiership.
"Not the teams themselves," he says. "But the mentality of the Premiership – you'll find that most fans of teams in the lower divisions would love to see the Premiership destroyed."
In his new novel, that's exactly what his protagonists hope to achieve – the reunited ex-hooligans, working together to bring down the Premiership by uncovering an endemic drugs scandal.
"It would be lovely wouldn't it?" Chris smiles. "No wonder I enjoyed writing the book so much."