Sunday, August 9, 2009

Surviving Chelsea

From Bill Buford's (highly recommended) Among the Thugs, describing Stamford Bridge stadium, home of the Chelsea Football Club:

I entered the grounds and was frisked – my comb, because it had long teeth, was confiscated – and emerged from the turnstile to find people everywhere, on the steps, sitting atop fences on posts, suspended from bits of architecture. There was a narrow human alley, and I joined the mob pushing its way through for a place from which to watch the match.

Except that there was no place. There was a movable crush. It was impossible, once inside, to change my mind – to decide that I didn’t want to see the game after all, that I wanted to go home – because I couldn’t move left or right, let alone turn around and walk back the way I came. There was only one direction: forward. For some reason, there was an advantage, an advantage worth defending, in being one step ahead of wherever it was that you happened to be. And that was where everybody was trying to go.

There was a range of tactics for achieving this. The most common was the simple squeeze: by lifting your crushed arm from between the two bodies that had wedged you in place and slipping it in front and by then twisting yourself in such a way that your body, obeying natural principles, actually followed your arm, you could inch towards that mysterious spot just ahead of you. The simple squeeze was popular – I assume that most people had learned the technique trying to buy a drink in London pubs – and everybody did it, until interrupted by the shove.

The principles of the shove was this: somebody, somewhere behind you, frustrated at not getting to this mysterious spot just one step ahead, would give up and throw his weight into the person in front of him; then, amid cries of “fuckin’ bastard,” everybody tumbled forward. Nobody fell if ony because each person was pressed so tightly against the one in front who was in turn pressed so tightly against the one in front of him that no one, apparently, was in any real danger. But I wondered about the person at the very front and was convinced that somebody must be feeling very frightened at the increasingly likely prospect of being vcrushed against a wall – for eventually there must be a wall. And it must have been this fear, felt by the panicked, slowly suffocating one at the front whose ribs were buckling painfully, which contributed to the counter shove, an effort of animal strength that seemed to occur shortly after you had abandoned the simple squeeze and, being unable to stop yourself from tumbling uncontrollably forwards, had resigned yourself to the authority of the shove, when suddenly, inexplicably, there was the counter shove and you were traveling uncontrollably backwards.

The movement never ceased.

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