fifty skinheads appeared from nowhere, many of them wearing Chelsea and Rangers football scarves and covered in Loyalist and swastika tattoos. These psychos were obviously baying for blood – Mod blood, to be exact.

In the early 80s about thirty of us travelled from Belfast to Liverpool by boat. Then we caught the train down to London and headed straight for Carnaby Street. It felt like a religious pilgrimage and I was hypnotised by the sheer joy of just being there and drinking in the Mod culture it had given birth to.

Me in my mod days

But my excitement was to be short- lived. As we walked around the legendary area and drank in the super- cool atmosphere, suddenly we heard a massive roar and what sounded like a football stampede, then three terrified young Mods ran past us as if the devil was on their tails.

Belfast Mods 1985

I feature in the documentary , see if you can spot me ?

               Time stood still as we waited to see what had scared them and made them take such desperate flight. Then, from a side street, about fifty skinheads appeared from nowhere, many of them wearing Chelsea and Rangers football scarves and covered in Loyalist and swastika tattoos. These psychos were obviously baying for blood – Mod blood, to be exact.

               The moment they spotted us they stopped dead and some even grinned at the Mod bounty fate had delivered them. We were in some deep shit and I searched my mind frantically for a way out.

               There was only a few of us together at this stage and my heart leaped into my throat as I anticipated the beating I was about to receive. But if nothing else, I was used to brutal violence and two things came to my mind at once.

               The first was that I’d experienced many gang battles between Mods and skinheads in the backstreets of the Shankill and Ballysillan, and survived largely intact. But here we were vastly outnumbered, on foreign soil (so to speak), and these guys wanted to rip us apart, limb by limb, while savouring every moment of our agony and humiliation . 

               I glanced over at the leaders in the front row as they hurled insults and threats. My heart sunk when I noticed some of them had already pulled out weapons, including blades, and were preparing to attack us. This was our last chance. My survival instinct kicked in . I took a deep breath and played my hand.

               ‘Stay back,’ I said, as calmly as I could to the boys behind me. I was aware that some of our lot were Catholics and, if anything, were probably in far more danger than I was. I stepped forward and, looking for their ‘top boy’, I suggested they all slow down and tell me what the problem was.

The Difference Between Nazi’s and Skinheads | Needles And Pins

               You could have heard a pin drop as the fella in question looked me up and down as though I’d just insulted his mother. I could tell he was moments away from lunging at me and all hell kicking off.

               Then I heard a familiar accent calling out from the skinhead crowd.

               ‘Are youse from Belfast?’ said the voice.

               There was what seemed like a lifetime’s pause before I answered.

               ‘Feckin right,’ I said, ‘from the glorious Shankill Road!’

               Now I was praying I’d made a good call.

               ‘That right?’ he replied. ‘So who d’you know?’

               I wheeled off a few names of skinheads and assorted bad boys I knew and had grown up with on the Shankill and Glencairn and this satisfied them. We were safe, for now at least. It turned out the guy who spoke, Biff, had grown up in Glencairn, now lived and worked in London and was involved with other Loyalists living in the capital. His crew were a nasty bunch and I pitied those who had the misfortune to come across them, especially if you weren’t a WASP. If they had known some of the Mods present were Catholics, nothing would have stopped them kicking the shit out of me and the others and I silently thanked the gods for delivering us from evil.

               My second thought was about the Rangers scarves and the Loyalist/English Pride-style tattoos a good number of them were sporting. An idea started to take shape in my terrified brain. Rangers was the team of choice for much of the Protestant population of Northern Ireland and, along with Chelsea and Linfield, were inextricably woven into the core of our Loyalist culture. I hoped these baying skinheads, or some of them at least, would hold the same pride and love for Queen and country as me and I thought this might just save us.

Me on the cover of a Mod book ©Jay McFall

               With the situation defused, I told the others to look around a bit and I’d catch up with them later. I didn’t want the skins chatting with them, finding out some of them were Catholic and undoing all my capital work. They insisted I joined them for a pint or two in the Shakespeare’s Head pub nearby and it must have looked a bit weird: a sixties style Mod, wearing eye liner and a Beatles suit, drinking and laughing with a gang of psycho Nazi skinheads.

SkinheadS & Reggae

               But I had spent my life growing up among Loyalist killers and paramilitaries and nothing really fazed me anymore. I didn’t particularly like Biff and his crew but chatting with him over a few pints I realised there was much more to him than the stereotypical skinhead. His English girlfriend had just given birth to their first child and he was ‘trying to get on the straight and narrow’, – whatever that meant.

               After a few hours of drinking and snorting speed with Biff and the others I left them in the pub and return to the sanity of my Mod mates. I was to come across Biff and his crew later that weekend, when they and dozens of other skinheads and punks ambushed and attacked Mods coming into or out of the all- dayer in the Ilford Palais. Luckily, I was safely inside, stoned out of my mind and living the Mod dream and I didn’t concern myself with the antics of those fools, though I did have a chat with Biff while grabbing some fresh air and a fag outside.

               Safely back in Belfast, we started to plan other trips abroad, specifically to ‘The South’. Enemy territory.

You have been reading extracts from my number one best selling book A Belfast Child.

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The Story of Skinhead with Don Letts (BBC Documentary)


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