With World Cup 2022 now up and running, and with it all the hope and anticipation that goes with following England, Lower Block spoke to Lorne Brown about the book, his experiences watching the national side and taking pictures along the way.
“The first game of football I ever attended was in the late 1980s,” said Brighton & Hove Albion and England fan Brown.
“I went with my Godfather and his son, it was a friendly against Brentford. I don’t remember much of the game or the final score. I was more interested in watching the fans. That is how it started.
“I started going to games frequently after that. I liked the scene, the people, the clothes and the excitement surrounding it. Soon after, I started taking my camera out with me.”
He regards his pictures as a record of the changes that surround all aspects of the game.
“Looking back on them now,” he says, “I see the photos more as a document of my youth and a record of fans, friends and places I have been over the years. You can see for yourself how things have changed, clothes, the haircuts, the police, even the stadiums.
“Some of it looks very dated now but through the photos the memories are as fresh as the day they happened.”
The Mexico 86 World Cup features heavily in Brown’s archive of pictures with the England fans out there in force, followed by the Euros two years later, capped by all the drama of Italia 90.
After seeing Germany at Wembley in 1991, Brown followed England at major tournaments and qualifiers throughout the decade, and it was a World Cup qualifier in Amsterdam in 1993 that sticks firmly in the mind, bringing with it a 2-0 defeat, elimination and running battles between rival sets of supporters.
“England needed a result in Holland, otherwise their chances of qualification for the 1994 World Cup were slim,” he recalled.
“On the Tuesday evening thousands of fans had flooded into the Dam. Of course the inevitable occurred. It kicks off with the police, Dutch fans and local immigrants. It started early in the evening and continued late into the night.
“At about three in the morning I spoke to an American who had been watching the evening’s events. He was somewhat baffled; “All this for a football match?” I had no real reply to his comment.
“The next day continued in much the same vein. This time the action had shifted to Rotterdam. Shots were fired, and a crude home-made bomb was thrown at us. Outside the train station hundreds of English and Dutch fans clashed throughout the day.
“I decided it was time to leave. By luck I spotted someone I knew, we jumped in a cab and headed into Rotterdam to watch the game.
“We were welcomed with open arms into a small Dutch bar with only about 20 old men in it, watching the game. They paid for all our food and drink that evening.”
Despite run ins like these, Brown has generally revelled his away days.
“I enjoyed going to new cities, meeting similar people on my travels, trying new beers and the general atmosphere,” he said.
He found most locals on the whole friendly, but describes policing abroad as “heavy handed”.
“Scariest moment was probably having a gun pointed to my head in Holland by a local cop,” he said.
“Club rivalries were generally forgotten but still kicked off between some firms here and there.”
France 98 presented Brown with his first World Cup tournament in person, followed two years later by the Euros in Belgium and Holland.
That World Cup in France was a different experience for Brown. Without a hope of a ticket, he spent his time in local bars.
“The night before the game against Colombia I was in Lille. It was here we came under attack from locals and tear gas assaults by the police. All this made for a long and uncomfortable night.
“The following day in Lens was a complete waste of time, no tickets and hundreds of heavily armed police arresting anything that moved.
“Overcrowded trains were the highlight of that day. I went home the next day not too impressed by my trip to say the least.
“During the 2000 European Championships in Belgium and Holland, the new anti-hooligan laws were introduced by both the British and their European colleagues. “Despite these harsh measures, trouble erupted when England met Germany in Belgium. There were hundreds of arrests and many innocent fans were injured by over enthusiastic riot policeman.”
Brown’s collection of photographs and extracts on his experiences following England away are taken from the book he compiled together with Nick Harvey ‘A Casual Look: A Photodiary of Football Fans, 1980s to 2001‘.
If you enjoyed that, you may also like Pompey Casuals in pictures, where we speak to lifelong Pompey fan Jake Payne about the culture, lifestyle and fashions of Portsmouth fans in the 70s and 80s.