20110826

Gregg hits the right note with tales of punk rock and football

Nick Hornby crafted such a brilliant piece of work with the groundbreaking Fever Pitch in 1992 that any subsequent attempts to write about football matches, social history and self-discovery in an autobiographical format were bound to suffer through comparison.

Yet Chelsea fan Al Gregg has made the idea work for him with The Wrong Outfit, a story of growing up in Britain in the 1970s written with two major reference points: football and punk rock.

Gregg has set out his tale as a novel but one which is strongly autobiographical, featuring a central character, Adam Nedman, who shares the author’s own passion for Chelsea Football Club and for the rebelliously coarse new musical genre that became the soundtrack of the era.

Born in the shadow of Stamford Bridge, into a Chelsea supporting family, Gregg was destined almost from birth to develop a strong bond with the club.  It was a time very different from now, of course.  After Gregg had witnessed the likes of Peter Osgood, Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris, David Webb and Peter Houseman in the flesh for the first time, the glamour of a second Wembley final in two years -- against Stoke for the 1972 League Cup -- proved only to be the losing prelude to 25 years of under-achievement and near-extinction.

Yet the troubles to come, and in particular the hooliganism that would blight the club’s name, made Chelsea in some ways the perfect fit for the angry and frustrated young men drawn into the punk explosion during its genesis years in West London.

Revisiting those days through a kind of chronological diary of Adam’s growing up, Gregg relives his own experiences and takes the reader into his world with a raw closeness.

Gregg told The Sports Bookshelf: “I wanted to tell an exciting rites of passage tale about the trials and tribulations of growing up in the UK in the 1970s, when both punk rock and football were to the fore and playing a massive part in my adolescence.

“Supporting Chelsea in the 1970s and 80s was seen by many as a thankless existence, due to the ever-present violence and complete lack of success on the pitch.

“But football, in particular, had a huge influence on my life and I felt it would be interesting to recount experience at football matches viewed through the eyes of a child, rather than the now almost-clichéd views of a football hooligan.”

Gregg wrote a short story about his first football match, between Chelsea and Huddersfield Town, and another about his first punk rock concert, as a 15-year-old, when he went to see The Clash.  It was these stories that gave him the impetus to write more.

“The book took a few more years to complete with the addition of the other crucial elements: the dysfunctional home life, a failed schooling, making friends and relationships with the wrong people and forming a punk band that couldn’t play.

“There are many autobiographical elements, but having a main character allowed me to have some distance from the events taking place, however personal and factual, and to comment through a separate voice.”

Football and punk might not seem to have much in common, but Chelsea’s proximity to King’s Road, still at the heart of fashion and pop culture, led to inevitable overlaps.

“I remember a time when I bumped into the Sex Pistols outside Westwood’s shop in the King’s Road after visiting Stamford Bridge in 1977 and witnessing a full-blown riot between punks and teds,” Gregg recalled.

“And there was a punk band called Chelsea who supported The Jam in a pre-season music event at Stamford Bridge, when I childishly wondered if some of the players might be punks.  Also, the very first punk single, ‘New Rose’ by The Damned, was advertised in the Chelsea programme.

“When I went to see The Clash in my first punk gig at the age of 15.  I looked at it as rather like going to a football match in that Joe Strummer and Mick Jones would become important musical heroes to go alongside my football ones.

“In some ways, going to a punk concert in the 1970s was like being on the football terraces in that there were the same elements of excitement, aggression, rawness and the passion of the music.

“I think it was Stamford Bridge’s coincidental proximity to the King’s Road, and the explosion of punk around it, that led me to become a musician in punk bands such as The Wall and afterwards to train as a professional actor and eventually to become a writer.”

The title of the book stems from the use of the word ‘outfit’ to identify the tribe a young person belonged to, be it a band, a group of football supporters or a childhood gang.

“I chose The Wrong Outfit as the title because there was widespread feeling among a whole generation that they didn’t really belong and they were repeatedly told by those in authority that they were always wrong,” Gregg said.

“The book’s cover, showing a child in pyjamas wearing a policeman’s helmet with his eyes blanked out, was taken when I was seven.”

Gregg turned to acting in the mid-80s after his band split and has appeared in Eastenders, Casualty, The Bill and Inspector Alleyn among other shows.  He continued to work in the music industry and combined his writing and musical skills when he co-wrote and composed the music for the play, Reality Chokes, which was performed at the Edinburgh Festival in 2009.

The Wrong Outfit has been well received by Chelsea supporters and by former stars of the punk era.  In the words of Dave Parsons, one of the founders in 1976 of the band Sham 69: “If you want to know what it was like to be a young punk rocker on the ground at the time you won’t find a better or sharper book than this.”

Follow this link to buy The Wrong Outfit direct from Amazon

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