We reproduce a recent interview with Phil Thornton by the German magazine & website, Sapeur – One Step Beyond. Who is Phil Thornton? In short, Phil is the author of the Casual Culture Bible published as CASUALS. Phil is also one of the founding members of Football Lads & Lasses Against Fascism.
His book is an enlightening cult classic, something special in the midst of random football books like „We are the toughest and best dressed Firm“. It refers to the subculture, which emerged independently and spontaneously and was based on the tradition of the working class.
Phil starts his book in the time of the Victorian street gangs and is full of interviews with contemporary witnesses involved in the late 1970s and early 1980s – the early days of the football casuals. The book is written from the perspective of an insider, while maintaining awareness of the overall picture. He had also incorporated the influences of music and club culture into his work, addressing the question of whether casuals are about clothes, fighting or both.
Also the cover is a masterpiece which shows a closed C.P. Company Goggle Jacket with a House Check scarf by Aquascutum. An iconic mix that should become the symbol of the Casual Culture.
But enough of the introductory words now. We would like to thank Phil once again. And many thanks to my blogsteady crewmate Andreas Zwingmann for translation.
There are batches of books, Nick Loves´ movies, labels and shops who are dedicated to the Casuals. You were witness with the beginning of the casual culture. What do you think about it?
If it’s done well, I’m all for it, however, too much of this stuff is pretty phoney. Take the original ‚The Firm‘ film – that was bad enough in 1988 or 89, when it was made and I ridiculed it in a skit for Boys Own but the Nick Love version, which I’ve not actually watched, looks very much like a cartoon version of casual. I thought Kevin Sampson’s ‚Awaydays book was a great depiction of that early scally scene on Merseyside with details like ‚plum mushies‘ which was a variation on the wedge that some lads sported, with a straight fringe shaped like a mushroom dyed a weird shade of purple. Imagine walking onto a terrace with that haircut surrounded by skinheads. It took bottle especially if you lived away from the main cities where everyone was still stuck in the 70s.
As for shops, It’s all become a bit predictable, the same labels everywhere, the same fabrics. I go from the ultra-hiker look of say Paramo kagool and Lowe Alpune waterproofs, to the retro scally look of tweed jacket, denim shirt, crew neck Marks & Spencers jumper, cords and Clarks shoes. You can get it away with it, if you have the confidence.
Do you think it could again develop something like the casual culture? Or has to be a fan culture always against the establishment?
I think casual was the last British youth cult of the 20th century and these days, there are no real youth cultures that will have as much impact again. The cultural circumstances will never be repeated and young people have to forge their own scenes and fashions not simply follow the trends handed down to them or copy something from a different era.
Let´s speak about your wardrobe, Phil. Which clothes you would never touch also if they could safe your life?
I’m not really sentimental about clothes. I’m clearing out my loft at the moment and found a bag with the long Henri Lloyd kagool I wear in the book – that is one of my favorite items as I found it in a crappy sports shop and paid about a tenner for it some time in the 90s. I’m not a collector so I only buy clothes to wear but I do keep hold of certain items, especially shoes, coats and hats and dig them out from time to time. I’m wearing a pair of Clarks I’ve had since the mid 90s and I still wear an R. Newbold jacket I’ve had since my daughter was a baby, she’s 22 now.
As we you have presumably you have a crammed closet but nothing to wear. So it should be easy to name us your favorite pieces?
I tend to wear permutations of the same theme – dressed down, so don’t have amassive amount of clothes. I’ve probably got more jackets and coats than anyone needs but have sold quite a few lately. My Paramo coats are treasured. I like my tweed jackets but I’m not really overly attached to any single item.
Which three pairs of trainers are for you essential?
I don’t wear trainers that often these days but my three most iconic would be :
– Adidas Jeans
– Nike Cortez
– Dunlop Green Flash for anti-fashion suss
Let´s talk about the brands, mate. Over the years a few brands disappeared and a few new came up. What was the biggest surprise and from which development you were maybe disappointed?
The Fjallraven thing came from nowhere. Me and my mate Ste Connor used to do DJ in Liverpool and our mates came from all over the country and even one lad who came from Holland, although he was from Liverpool. Half of them were wearing Fjallraven coats which had replaced their Barbour wax jackets. A lot of these new(ish) brands like Norse Projects, Albam, Engineered Garments etc are decent but a bit pricey and have become a uniform in themselves for upwardly mobile hipster scals. CP has really gone down hill and Id never buy anything from CP or SI now and I don‘t like Mastrum either. I don’t like these Barbour x Engineered Garments or Nigel Cabourn x Trespass type collaborations either. Just another way of pushing over priced swag to me.
In 2013 you decided to do a 10 years anniversary edition. The old cover art was updated by Peter O´Toole and a special tee by The Casual Connoisseur was designed. Why did you decide to bring it back and did you also change or add content?
It was 10 years since the original book and a lot had happened in the scene since so I think it deserved an update with contributions from the likes the casual Connoisseur twins, the Our Culture lads from Sweden and magazine publishers like the Proper lads and Umbrella.
I also did my own story which Peter refused to include as he’d have to re-print the entire book so I did that myself as ‚100% Pure Wool – woolyback or wools ios what the scousers used to call us!
Peter O’Toole was doing these great designs for CC at the time and I really liked his work although the publisher had his own ideas. I don’t want to keep revisiting it every 10 years but maybe in 2023 there’ll be a 20 year anniversary.
The internet makes the world a small place and there is a Casual Globalization now. What thinks an 80s Casual about it in general?
It’s good. I’m all for it. It was the internet that brought us all together in a way. We were all pretty isolated obsessives and it was a website called terrace retro run by a lad called John Foley from Liverpool that got us all together from all corners of Britain and Ireland. I like the democracy of the internet or at least how it was before all the marketing parasites and governments got hold of it. I still love print and fanzines and do my own booklets but not fashion based more about history and politics.
Phil, unfortunately we have to come to an end. What are you doing today and are you working on any new projects or is all said in your last book?
I set up my own community centre and work in a very deprived area of Runcorn and will be opening up a new space there very soon so I’m busy with that. I still write almost every day and have about ten different projects on the go. Here’s a link to some of my past and present blogs :
Many thanks for your time and patience, mate. You wrote a masterpiece of the casual culture and it was a heartfelt to chat and present you to our reader. The last words are yours…say ever what you want to say.
I am a member of Football Lads and Lasses Against Fascism (FLAF) and believe that we as football fans have a duty to reject the hateful message of the ultra right. They are the tools of the ruling class and always blame the wrong people when the going gets tough. We can all support our own teams and even countries – although I’m not a patriot myself – but we also need to protect our own communities and those less fortunate than ourselves. As The Who said‚ ‘We won’t get fooled again!’