Revealed: How undercover cops smashed Birmingham’s feared Zulu Warriors

He was the detective who led an undercover police team which smashed one of the country’s most feared football hooligan gangs – Birmingham’s Zulu Warriors.

The Blues thugs brought violence to the terraces of St Andrew’s and in towns and stadiums around the country in the 1980s, with bloody clashes on and off the pitch with rival fans and officers.

But the Zulus met their match after West Midlands Police targeted the group, whose criminal activities had strayed into drugs and organised shoplifting.

A crack team was assembled by a then Detective Sergeant Michael Layton and the groundbreaking Operation Red Card was launched in 1987.

It was one of the force’s first ever undercover investigations, which saw officers bravely infiltrating the hooligans over a period of months where they saw soccer violence at first-hand – and occasionally came within a whisper of being exposed.

By the end of the operation, which had involved the then high-tech use of covert video and photography, scores of Zulus had been arrested and brought before the courts – with many main players subsequently jailed.

It was the beginning of the end for the gang who had instilled fear in rivals with their fearsome chant: “’Zulu, Zulu, Zulu!”

police-officer-who-nailed-zulus

Mr Layton, awarded the Queen’s Police Medal for distinguished service, said: “They chanted ‘Zulu at the same time which was very chilling, especially when you knew the next thing they were going to do was charge at you with a bunch of weapons; Stanley knife, cosh, or anything really.

“Normally, when there was a confrontation that chant would be a precursor and it was designed to instil fear, without a shadow of a doubt.”

The full story of how police infiltrated the gang and brought many of them to justice is told in a new book called Hunting The Hooligans, the Inside Story of Operation Red Card.

It was written by Mr Layton, who retired from the police in 2011, and successful co-author Robert Endeacott.

The former officer tracked down members of his Red Card team for their own recollections of the investigation.

The result is a unique insight into the hooliganism menace of the 1980s, which had become a top priority for the Thatcher government.

Mr Layton said: “Most hooligan books are written by hooligans, but I wanted to tell the story from the police perspective.”

The individual Zulus are not named in the book, instead the genuine police operational nicknames are used including Green Hood, Milk Race and number one target – Francis.

Mr Layton said: “I didn’t want to glorify them – but people who read this will know who they are.

“I also didn’t want to vilify others who have gone on to lead decent lives.”.

The Zulus formed in the early 1980s, superseding an earlier Blues supporter gang called the Apex.

The Zulu name began to become more widely known after an infamous confrontation in 1982 with Manchester City fans at Maine Road.

And they stood apart from other notorious hooligan groups of the day, including West Ham’s Inter City Firm and the Chelsea Headhunters, for one reason – their ethnic make-up.

Mr Layton, who began his career in 1968 as a British Transport Police cadet, said: “The Zulu Warriors were pretty unique in the sense that they were multi-cultural, you did have that mix of white, black and Asian men very comfortably operating together as a well-defined group.

“In contrast, a lot of the other clubs, particularly in London, were extremely right wing, skinheads and predominantly white.

“That’s what made the Zulus stand out among the hooligan groups, an early diversity and ethnic mix which was pretty unique to that culture at the time.”

The Zulus fighting reputation was cemented by an incident where 25 of them took on far larger numbers of Portsmouth thugs in a street on the south coast.

The book says: “Legend has it that in true military style the Zulus stood, formed a line and proceeded to win the battle decisively, despite the heavy odds against them.

“The Zulu Warriors were hugely proud of their brief history and would identify some fixtures for ‘anniversary visits’ in order to celebrate past achievements; the Portsmouth 25 fight was high on their list of battle honours.”

But it was the Birmingham and Leeds riot on the last game of the season in 1985 that really brought the Zulus to national attention.

After scenes of appalling violence inside and outside the ground, more than 500 people were left injured and one teenage Leeds fan was dead.

Birmingham-Riots-in-May-1985

Ian Hambridge, aged just fifteen, was reportedly attending his first ever professional football match when he died when a wall collapsed on him.

The appalling tragedy and rioting led to a full public government inquiry led by Judge Oliver Popplewell, who described the Birmingham–Leeds game as more like the Battle of Agincourt than a football match’.

Yet there had been many precursors to that terrible day, including a visit by Blackburn Rovers to St Andrew’s earlier that season when the hooligans attacked police, rivals fans and British Transport police with little opposition.

Mr Layton writes in the book: “The Zulu Warriors ruled the place.

“They ruled the football ground, they ruled New Street Station, and they ruled Birmingham city centre. Unofficially of course.

“The authorities did not recognise the Zulu’s influence yet. For now it was a slow-burning matter. Before long it would ignite, indeed explode.

“And eventually I would be given the responsibility of leading the firefight.”

The ‘tipping point’ for police was a brutal attack on off-duty officer Harry Doyle in Boogies nightclub on Saturday January 10 in 1987.

The venue was packed with Zulus and the officer, who was alone, was punched and knocked to the floor and then glassed in the face.

He survived but needed 32 stitches to his facial wounds.

Three people were subsequently arrested. Two of them were considered prominent in the Zulu hierarchy and one later received a substantial prison sentence for the attack.

The undercover team assembled by Mr Layton also faced danger on many occasions, including one chilling incident when they were outed in The Crown pub – the unofficial HQ of the Zulus.

 Birmingham-Leeds-1985

The covert cops had spent weeks building up their image as fellow hardcore Bluenoses, working on back stories and changing their appearances to blend in.

Mr Layton wrote: “Along with giving strict instructions to keep their alcohol consumption low, I had told the undercover men to swig their beer from bottles, as it is then difficult for others to see how much alcohol they are actually drinking.

“That evening I set up the first floor office as the Hill Street observations point again, with Mark and Liam, the two officers normally employed overtly as spotters.

“A wooden sign next to the entrance to The Crown advertised the pub’s nightly Happy Hour. The next hour certainly would not be one such time.

“As we, hidden, officers watched our six covert colleagues enter the pub separately in pairs – Colin and Adam, Don and Reece, and finally Alex and Danny – we then had to wait for what probably felt much longer than the actual duration.”

Alex recalled: “We were sat at one of the tables in the main room. I was with my partner and [target] Bruno and the other two undercovers were sitting at another table close by.

“The place was full and some of the older Birmingham element were there. It was like it was all orchestrated because the outside doors were kept deliberately closed while the two doormen came inside the room, and the bar staff stopped serving.

“The big, white-haired guy was called Kevin and he came over to us, pointed to the five of us one by one and said ‘You are Old Bill’ to each of us in turn. He took the lead throughout and we were surrounded by over a dozen of them.

“They started questioning us in a childish and amateurish way about how many supporters had gone to what match and what the chants were.

“We were feeling pretty vulnerable and I started to try and work out how I could throw a bar stool through the window to get attention outside.

“We stood up and fronted them and offered them outside. At least that way we would have been seen from the observations point over the road.

“Bruno chipped in and said, ‘They’re not Old Bill, we go everywhere together.’ To some extent he saved us a bit. They all started bickering amongst themselves and didn’t know who to believe. We stood our ground and it got to the point where they weren’t sure, so they got deflated.

“A lot left and I went straight to the bar for a drink. I tried to talk to the guy with the white hair but he was having none of it and he blanked me. He had obviously made his mind up.”

But despite the near misses the team eventually had enough evidence to make a series of dawn raids on their targets.

arrest-handcuffs

Dozens were brought to justice and many received prison sentences, including Francis who got 18 months, his ‘second lieutenant’ Green Hood, jailed for 15 months, while spectacle-wearing Milk Race – an electrician by trade – received 21 months.

Like Milk Race, many of the thugs came from good homes and respectable backgrounds, with most holding down full-time jobs.

So just why did they become hooligans?

Mr Layton said: “I think it was far more complicated than just desire to inflict pain on someone else. It was very much about belonging to a group and feeling part of something.

“There was almost a social aspect to it, they did a lot of drinking, travelling together. There was also a status issue that they did not find in normal society.

“A lot of them did have jobs, they were in the main not unintelligent people.

“But there was never any real evidence of contrition or remorse, although they were always upset at being caught.”

Mr Layton went on to enjoy a successful career. He returned to British Transport Police in 2004, initially as a Detective Superintendent (Director of Intelligence), and then in his last two years as the Operations Superintendent at Birmingham, where he continued with his passion for combating football violence, until finally retiring again in 2011.

Operation Red Card looms large in his proudest moments. And he is not alone.

“During research for the book I managed to trace former colleagues from the Special Operation Unit, many of whom I had not seen for more than 20 years,’’ he said.

“I was struck by their recall, but also their collective pride in a job well done.”

*Hunting The Hooligans, the Inside Story of Operation Red Card is published by Milo Books and will be available in bookshops from August 3.

THE BATTLE OF HILL STREET:

The FA Cup semi-final between Tottenham Hotspur and Watford was held at Villa Park on April 11, 1987 – a day when more bloody hooliganism scenes were witnessed in the city, despite Blues not being involved.

And, again, the problems were centred on The Crown pub, an unofficial HQ of the Zulus.

Mr Layton said: “Before the match, supporters from both teams were drinking in the city centre, as were the Zulus even though Birmingham City were not playing that day.

“A large number of them gathered at The Crown, its proximity to the railway station enabling the gang’s spotters to keep watch for opposing gangs arriving by train and then to quickly tell the core leaders back at the pub.

“Inside The Crown we had two of Red Card’s covert officers, Alex and Danny.

“Our two undercovers had strict instructions to simply observe, to merge in to the crowd in The Crown and to stay in the background.

“Under no circumstances were they to engage in any criminal activity and if they felt there was trouble ahead then they should leave the premises and one of them put a baseball cap on his head as a signal to the police camera crew secretly situated in the first floor office opposite.”

With the crowds swelling and key Zulu targets among them, including one leading figure named Francis, it was clear trouble was brewing.

And indeed a fight was quickly arranged between intermediaries and Spurs fans who had set up base in the nearby Craven Arms.

Mr Layton said: “There was a real mix of people at The Crown before the game at Villa Park, and while we were confident that we had some of our core targets there from the main Zulu group, there were younger affiliated elements present too, some of them Junior Business Boys, as well as a few regulars and hardened drinkers from the pub. We could tell that a largescale

disturbance was brewing and we had a hell of a job just identifying known targets in amongst the numerous others participating or at least in attendance.

“We would eventually spot, film, photograph and identify nearly forty of our eventual targets in this one incident, including not just Zulu leaders but some of the Junior Business Boys too.”

“At 1.20 pm, a large number of Tottenham supporters, known as the ‘Yids’, their self-adopted nickname, were making their way from the Craven Arms towards New Street Station.

“When they reached Hill Street, many of the Birmingham crowd emerged from The Crown, chanting ‘Zulu’ and generally looking very agitated.

“On seeing the Tottenham contingent, they charged en masse towards them.”

The huge brawl took place in front of terrified passers-by.
police-cars

Mr Layton said: “Like many such mêlées, the whole thing was over in a couple of minutes.

“In thugs’ parlance it was ‘a good row’, with fighting involving over a hundred men at various spots in the area. “A ‘good row’ it may well have been but within that maelstrom, a fifteen-year-old from Battersea, London, was stabbed in the stomach, and it was a life-threatening wound.

“It was hard for me to imagine a boy still of school age travelling to a football match intending to fight but then again it was fair to question what such a lad was doing consorting with a mob involved in a pre-arranged fight.

“As was often the case with football gang warfare, some maniacs never knew when to stop. One or two went too far here and nearly ended a life in doing so, in this case a mere boy’s, all allegedly in the name of sports rivalry.

“Our main target, Francis, was actually spoken to by police officers on the ground but by this time he was acting out his role as an inquisitive member of the public wondering what all the fuss was about.”

He added: “Although it was not discussed at the debrief, nor indeed would I have tolerated any discussion, the question must have been on some people’s minds as to whether we could, or should, have stopped the fight taking place.

“It was my decision and in the final analysis there is no right or wrong in these situations.

“I might have had time to get police officers to stand outside The Crown in uniform, but would they have stopped a hundred people determined to fight or would they have simply moved them on to another street, which we were not covering, and therefore lose any chance of gathering visual evidence?

“One person was seriously injured, which was one too many, but how many people did we save from injury as a result of having the evidence to put some of these people away and to deter others?

“The evidence chain was coming together and we were confident it would prove to be of immense value in future court proceedings.”

New book reveals inside story of how undercover officers infiltrated Blues hooligan gang who brought terror to terraces in 1980s

Source: Revealed: How undercover cops smashed Birmingham’s feared Zulu Warriors – Birmingham Mail

Birmingham City’s Firm

Zulu Warriors badgeThe Birmingham Zulus are a football hooligan firm associated with English football club, Birmingham City. The Zulus first appeared in the late 1970s to early 1980s and the name came from a chant of “Zulu, Zulu” which was aimed at Manchester City fans in 1982.

The Zulus have many members from different ethnic backgrounds (in stark contrast to most other hooligan firms which emerged around the same time, were almost universally white, and contained followers of far-right organisations including the National Front), Their main rivals are the fans of fellow West Midlands club, Aston Villa F.C. and there have been a number violent clashes before, during and after the Birmingham derby between the two clubs. The Zulus maintain that they are defending their city from invading firms.

In May 1985 the Leeds United firm the Leeds service crew travelled to St Andrew’s for the final game of the season, fans clashed with police leaving 200 injured including 96 policemen and tragically a Leeds fan died. The violence started in the ground when Leeds fans ran out of their end and then the Zulus ran from the other side, Leeds fans ended jumping back into their own end leaving the Zulus fighting with police.

In October 1987, police arrested 36 suspected Birmingham City hooligans in an undercover operation in which they uncovered knives, coshes and diaries and photo albums boasting of violent attacks on police officers and supporters of rival clubs.

In May 1989, 20 Birmingham fans were arrested and five police officers injured when fans invaded the pitch at a match against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. It took seven mounted police officers to clear hundreds of Birmingham fans off the pitch. The referee took the players off the pitch for 26 minutes as ‘baton wielding’ police failed to separate rival fans in one stand.

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Following disturbances before and after a match in April 1999 between Birmingham City and Wolverhampton Wanderers the Zulus were the focus of a successful police operation against them, Operation Red Card. In February 2001, nine football fans were charged (seven with public order offences, one with drug possession and one with criminal damage) after Birmingham City and Cardiff City fans clashed in Cardiff before the Worthington Cup final between Birmingham City and Liverpool F.C. on Saturday 24 February.Sixteen people were arrested as fights broke out in Cardiff, with one person assaulted and nine people were taken to hospital with minor injuries. St. Mary’s Street in Cardiff city centre was closed for two hours and the Philharmonic pub smashed up as rival fans rioted. Three other pubs close by were also forced to close. The local police raised fears that Cardiff City hooligans would seek confrontations with the Zulus, and that the two firms had been using the Internet to arrange fights.

During the play-off semi-final at Millwall in May 2002, violence erupted after the game. Sergeant Russell Lamb of the Metropolitan Police Service, a veteran of the May Day and Poll Tax riots, described this as the worst violence he had ever experienced.

Fifteen people were arrested in October 2002 in a series of dawn raids in connection with serious disorders committed in the Rocky Lane area of Aston before the game between Aston Villa and Birmingham City in September 2002.

Fourteen Birmingham hooligans received banning orders in 2006 following violent clashes on 27 March 2004 in North London. In February 2006 police were attacked as fighting broke out in Stoke-on-Trent after an FA Cup match between Stoke City and Birmingham City. The trouble in the Britannia Stadium started when a group of about 200 Birmingham fans tore down fencing separating them from Stoke fans. As fans left the ground, the police faced what a senior police officer described as “extreme violence” from both Birmingham and Stoke fans. In November 2006 a planned launch of the book Villains about the various Aston Villa hooligan firms, which included details of clashes with the Zulus, which was due to be held at Sensations Club in the Balsall Heath area of Birmingham, had to be cancelled due to threats that members of The Zulus would turn up and cause trouble at the event. The Zulus were said to have taken exception to the launch of the book and the presence of rivals on what they considered “their territory”.

In September 2007 five Birmingham hooligans were jailed for up to eight months and one given a suspended sentence for their part in violence at a match in which a steward lost the sight in one eye. The previous month, Birmingham City fans had started ripping up seats in the away end and throwing them as well as coins and a lump of concrete during a match against Cardiff City at Ninian Park in Cardiff. One missile hit a steward in the face causing him to lose the sight in his left eye. In a statement to the court, the steward said, “They paid no regard to the terrified men, women and children around them.” Other stewards were also hit and families with children fled the ground as the violence broke out. One Birmingham City fan was struck on the head with a £2 coin. He said, “The behaviour of our fans was appalling.”

They are known to clash in particular with Millwall, Stoke City, Aston Villa, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Cardiff City and West Ham.

Recently there has been some animosity between Birmingham Fans and Manchester United Fans, where Sir Alex Ferguson described St Andrews as the most intimidating place he has taken his Man United team. This rivalry was first formed in 1982 when playing away at Man city, when the Birmingham hooligans ran into their firm know the Guvnors, so the Birmingham firm Apex (the name before the Zulus) formed a line and though outnumbered went toe to toe with them, when a Blues fan shouted Zulu the name stuck from there on.

1st December 2010 Aston Villa arrived at St Andrew’s for the League Cup Quarter Final Birmingham beat their rivals for the first time since March 2005 after the match Birmingham fans invaded the pitch to confront the Villa fans missiles were thrown followed by flares in the end 14 people were injured.

In popular culture

The Zulus have also seen offshoot gangs created such as the Brew Crew and the Junior Business Boys. They have featured in the 2005 film Green Street. The match shown in the film is supposedly between West Ham United F.C. and Birmingham City with a fight after the match between the Zulus and the Green Street Elite (GSE), the name used in the film for the Inter City Firm (ICF). The Zulus were also featured in a minor role in the 1988 film, The Firm. The Zulus have also been featured in the documentary series The Real Football Factories on Bravo.