They called them the Cockney Reds. They came from London and the Home Counties to follow the biggest club in the country, and left chaos in their wake. Surrounded by hostile rivals, they ran the gauntlet each time they travelled, home or away. Yet for decades they have remained a mystery to friend and foe alike - until now.
Robert 'Banana Bob' Cleur was there from the beginning. Raised in South-west London, he was in trouble from childhood and ran with a violent biker gang - culminating in a trial for affray at the Old Bailey - before the terraces took over his life. Cleur saw United play when he was fifteen and was captivated by the excitement and menace of their vast following. The name 'Cockney Reds' stuck in the early seventies, by which time hundreds of youths from the South were following the team. Cleur emerged as their leader, working on building sites to fund his drinking and brawlers trips around the country, backed by a formidable army of fighters.
The Cockneys turned Euston Station into a regular warzone, infiltrated famous 'ends' like the North Bank at Highbury and the Shed at Chelsea, and arrived at other London grounds when their team was not playing, simply for the trouble. As the violence grew worse, with regular stabbings and the tragic death of a Spurs fan at underground station, Cleur saw the inside of jail cells in England, Spain and the Netherlands. By 1985 hooliganism had reached a peak and his gang was in the thick of it, engaging in an infamous clash with West Ham on a North Sea ferry, ransacking the town of St Albans during running battles with the police, and brawling with major rivals from Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester and London. Eventually the police ran a huge undercover operation to break up Uniteds mob. Cleur was one of several dozen dragged off in dawn arrests, but walked free when the conspiracy trial collapsed at court.
The nineties and the noughties were dominated by European travel and a series of misadventures in Porto, Turin, Rotterdam, Dortmund and other continental cities, as respectability eluded the wiser but still wild 'old school' heads. Cockney Reds is a candid account of a period of terrace history that will never be repeated, and of the camaraderie and chaos of a hooligan gang based on enemy turf.