Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Avoiding the Political Ramifications of Oi!

Avoiding the Political Ramifications of Oi!
How the Business Championed the Underground.

The Business began their assault into the South London underground with the album Suburban Rebels in 1981.  This album introduced British youth to a sound that attempted to bring punk back to its street roots.  The Business were pivotal to putting a new, harsher approach to music, into the murky streets of London.  The continuance of the group has often been strained and their relationship with politics has linked them to various developments in the British youth movement known as Oi!.  The Business have remained outside of the political ramifications of Oi! and other Skinhead music for the majority of their career.  The continuous references to English football and West Ham United situate the Business in the hooligan culture and remove them from many politically charged discussions.  Through this outside stance and non wavering support of all things Lewisham, the Business gained an extreme amount of popularity for such a harsh underground musical group.  Political associations led to the downfall and corruption of the Oi! scene and the movement that the Business help found.  The Business have found a way to remain alongside these associations and have continued through the many cycles of the punk movement to become one of the most revered bands of the underground. 
            The importance of this group has often been overlooked because of their insistence to remain loyal to the scene that gave them their beginning.  The Business were following other groups that had brought a new sound into the underground.  Bands such as Sham 69, the U.K. Subs and the Angelic Upstarts all gave birth to the sound that would later be known as Oi! and The Business were simply asserting their trademark onto this music and scene.  The sound of the Business is based completely in anthemic song writing and sing along choruses are the key. The beginning bands, Sham 69 and others played an extremely harsh sounding music but left off most of the anthem feeling that the Business were known for. 
            The appeal of the Business also stems from their strong tie to football (soccer) and the hooligan subculture surrounding matches.  This link serves the band in many different ways, most importantly in their development outside of political leanings.  In England, the link between fans and the football teams is extremely passionate and the Business have developed a style of music that is completely supportive of this undercurrent.  The team that the Business support is generally West Ham United but they also, like almost every English man and woman support England.  For a thorough collection of songs based on this connection Hardcore Hooligans (2003) can not be bettered by any punk, Oi! or other type of band around.  It was this connection to football that led the Business to their greatest chart success and continues their popularity.
            On this album, although a collection or mostly previously released tracks, the Business assert their relationship to all things football.  From the opening track “Hardcore Hooligan” to the closing “No One Likes Us,” the band draws the listener into the world of the hooligan and challenges anyone to stand in their way.  The most popular track on the album has become a battle cry for English football supporters throughout the team’s games in Europe.  “England 5,  Germany 1” sings the praises of the 2001 victory over Germany in Munich in a World Cup Qualifying match that was the largest trouncing in the history of the two clubs.  While the chorus may sound juvenile, the anthem is there and almost forces the listener to sing along.  England 5, Germany 1. Michael Owen is number 1, England 5, Germany 1, Michael Owen is number 1.”  The other tracks on the album are significant as well but do not share the same resonance as this one.
            Hardcore Hooligans contains songs that describe the many facets of football and fully place the Business in the forefront of music to listen to while creating havoc.  From the cover art through the track listing, the attitude of the hooligan is expressed and furthered.  The track listing is as follows:
1. Hardcore Hooligan
2. Southgate (Euro 96)
3. Terrace Lost Its Soul
4. Saturday’s Heroes
5. Viva Bobby Moore
6. Maradonna
7. England 5, Germany 1
8. Guinness Boys
9. Handball
10. 3 Lions
11. Boys Are Out
12. No One Likes Us

The songs, “Maradonna” and “Handball” are direct insults to the “Hand of God” incident that happened in the 1986 World Cup match between England and Argentina where Maradonna  scored the opening goal by using his hand.  The other songs are equally impassioned and show the dedication of the band to football and its supporters. 
            The beginnings of football in England demonstrate the impact of the working class on the game and the way it was played.  As the traditionally upper class players in Victorian England relinquished their dominance of the game in 1883 with a loss in the Cup Final to the Blackburn Olympics the game changed. “They (Blackburn) beat the Old Etonians in overtime, and returned home by train to the adulation of a huge crowd led by what the Old Etonians no doubt viewed as the epitome of that northern, Nonconformist, low-cultured working class life: a brass band” (Baker, 243-244).  The working class relationship with the sport increased exponentially from that point on with teams coming from religious institutions (Aston Villa, Bolton Wanderers, Birmingham City, Everton, Burnley, Wolverhampton), schools (Blackburn Rovers, Leicester City, Sunderland), and finally trade unions ( Stoke City, Manchester United, Arsenal, West Ham United). (Baker, 243)  These teams related to all of the people and had no limitations on attendance which led to a deep seated pride in the home side and resentment towards other teams. 
            While this culture began in response to Victorian oppression and as an escape from the ordinary day of work, it also became a way to gather and support one another outside of political affiliations.  This growing societal structure became one of the most significant developments that still continue through contemporary times.  The culture of football continues from these very beginnings.  “Along with the pubs and music halls, Saturday afternoon football games made possible a new sense of belonging, a ritualistic involvement in a larger group symbolized by colorful scarves, team songs, and folk heroes” (Baker, 248). It is this sense of ritual belonging that continues to drive the hooligan faction today and allows for the game of football to remain with these elements intact.
            The club that members of the Business support is West Ham United and their hooligan establishment known as the Inter City Firm.  West Ham formed in 1900 out of the Thames Ironworks company and continues today to play top level football fluctuating between the Premier League and the First Division.   The team was started, as most teams were, with the Victorian principle of camaraderie in the workplace and shifted to be driven by a board of directors.  The importance of the team, for this discussion, lies in their supporters and the hooligan faction.  The Inter City Firm (I.C.F.), alongside the Chelsea Headhunters, is one of the most notorious hooligan establishments in football history.  
            The concept of hooliganism is often discussed through a negative film and oftentimes should be.  However, it is a fact of football and one that developed early and has lasted until today.  As the playwright Arthur Hopcraft states, “What happens on the football field matters, not in the way food matters, but as poetry does to some people and alcohol does to others: it engages the personality” (212).  This engagement is often filled with a passion that translates to violence.  It is this violence that has created an image of hooliganism and perpetuated the headlines of attacks between rival firms.
            The stories of one “End” attacking another are prevalent throughout the society of football and especially in the press.  It becomes a badge of honor to have been through these attacks and/or fought off one.  The importance of clarification between fans being rowdy and unapologetic in their comments and stance and hooligan violence is extremely important.  For many football fans the chants and shouts at opposing fans is an every Saturday occurrence and does not equate to hooliganism, but as John Williams states in Football Hooliganism: Offenses, Arrests and Violence: A Critical Note, “The football hooligan phenomenon embraces both ritual and violent forms.  The latter is as integral an element of the phenomenon as the former” (111, emphasis his).  Because of these elements the hooligan faction takes on an almost mythic quality.
            The amount of violence that is attributed to the hooligan faction at matches increased with the media’s involvement.  By reporting on such violence during the 1966 World Cup, held in England, the press allowed for the myth of the hooligan was spread.  Clashes between firms grew and “taking an end” became something that was much more respected if the media reported on it.  For the outsider, the issue was one that could only be solved through police control and community support.  The fans and people supporting the game knew better and associated the rise with the media focus on England and the surrounding conditions of the working class.  In an attempt to define the reasons behind the existence of hooligans, Eric Dunning, Patrick Murphy and John Williams suggest that, “…the values which underlie hooligan behaviour at football matches and in match-related contexts are relatively persistent, deeply rooted and long standing features of communities of specific sections of the working class” (241).  These values contain elements of the definition of masculinity and aggression as well as cultural upbringing. 
            The working class ideals that underlie football hooliganism take shape in the outlets that are used to express them.  Through music, songs and chants, and clothing these ideals are espoused continuously at each game and throughout the society of football.  Firms have songs that revolve around events that have occurred in the past or as taunts to opposing clubs.  The songs drive the camaraderie and inhabit most of the firm’s beliefs.  Again, the statement on working class ideals is upheld in the camaraderie of the song and the multiple voices that are used in the chant. 
The Business play into these ideals and create songs that are based around events particular to England’s national team.  As mentioned in the songs about Maradonna and more specifically track number 2 on Hardcore Hooligans Southgate (Euro 96).”  This song takes the debacle of Gareth Southgate’s, now the manager of Middlesbrough, missed penalty shot in the 1996 European Cup semi final against Germany and discusses the anger and frustration that was shared between all English football fans.  The following lyrics are easily held up with any terrace chant.
Gareth Southgate stood on the spot
Couldn't believe the chance he got
He'd be a hero with one toe punt
But sent it at the keeper oh what a cunt

Southgate’s Going Home, he’s Going
Southgate’s Going Home, he’s Going
Southgate’s Going Home – Oh No He’s Missed the Bus

Should he hit to the left
Should he hit to the right
Don't really matter coz he was shite
That's the way our luck goes
Couldn't see the ball coz of the size of his nose


If I score this it'll be a killer
Coz they won't let me at Aston Villa
Didn't take a run up for the kick
Even me mum thinks I'm a prick


Dance now wherever you may be                                                                                                                                                                                           But he missed that fuckin penalty                                                                                                                                                                            So we smashed up the town wherever we may be                                                                                                     Cause he missed that fuckin penalty”
-The Business (Hardcore Hooligan, 2003)

The way that Southgate is treated in the song continues the link between the Business and their football supporters and “A central practice in the re-constitution of manhood in football is the communal chanting in which fans participate.  Through these songs, male fans re-affirm and re-negotiate the partitally sub-concious idea of their masculinity” (King, 585).
The connection to working class ideals, most thoroughly with football, situates the band within the second assertion of the Skinhead movement.  This development, before its infiltration by the British Movement, functioned as a call out to the youth of the day.  The Business were influential in reflecting this back to the Skins through their music and non-political lyrics.  John Clarke discusses the way the first assertion of this movement represented the working class in The Skinheads & the Magical Recovery of Community in Hall and Jefferson’s Resistance through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain, “…the Skinhead style represents an attempt to re-create through the ‘mob’ the traditional working class community, as a substitution for the real decline of the latter” (99, emphasis his). The music surrounding this original movement was drastically different but the feeling of camaraderie and association continued into the early 1980s scene.
During the early 80s in England and elsewhere, political affiliations within the punk and hardcore underground were extremely prevalent.  The Business avoided these classifications through playing shows with every group and not espousing any overtly political stance, aside from the us verse them mentality of class positioning.  This became the significant difference in the way that the community viewed the Business.  The other groups that were playing a similar style, Sham 69, Angelic Upstarts, Skrewdriver, the Oppressed, often used the left or the right to further their popularity.  This use of political affiliations led fans to draw up sides and the bands were pushed into the representations of these politics.  The Business, however, stuck with the themes of the working class and football. 
The theme of football was also shared with other groups of the beginning scene, most notably the Cockney Rejects who also strongly supported West Ham and the ICF.   They even recorded a version of I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles in tribute to the team.  Because of these links violence was extremely common at Rejects’ and the Business gigs.  “A month after the release of Bubbles, a Reject’s gig at Birmingham’s Cedar Club ended in a riot that nearly finished the band.  200 plus skinheads showed up to settle a score from an incident at a previous Rejects’ gig and because of the West Ham links” (Marshall, 83).  This incident led to a good deal of bands within the scene attempting to stop the violence at gigs but it still occurred along political lines.  “Now and then Oi! gigs did go off along football lines (The Business and The Oppressed gig in Bridgend springs instantly to mind), but most of the time the trouble was averted by calling a truce for the night or by using security drawn from opposing hooligan factions” (Marshall, 113).  This violence would come to a head for the Business and the entire Oi! community in the summer of 1981.
The early 80s saw the largest success for the Oi! movement and this was led by the Business and other groups performing frequently regardless of who was in attendance.  Because of the links to the National Front and the British Movement that many followers shared, the bands associated with Oi! quickly began to be linked as well and this led to a shaved head meaning racist and Nazi.  A show at the Hambrough Tavern that had the Business, the Last Resort, and the 4-Skins playing was surrounded by a large group of local Asians and during the 4-Skins set the Southhall riot erupted in full.  By the next week the entire Oi! community was labeled as fascist and the media backlash has continued from there associating anything with a shaved head and boots to the militant right wing.  
By playing music with a hard street edge and only writing songs based on working class ideals and football the Business appealed to all sides of the political spectrum.  This allowed them to play at any show and the only risk was the clash within the crowd between politics and firms.  “At the Hambrough, they went down as well as they ever had, belting out soon to be Oi! standards like Harry May and Suburban Rebels, the latter a song that saw Oi! poet Gary Johnson’s words set to music.  The Business’ brand of drunk rock should have been on tap at every pub in the country” (Marshall, 119).  With their debut album Suburban Rebels, they kicked their way into the underground and took the lead away from the Upstarts and Sham.  This album contains many songs that stand as Oi! classics and they reflect the band’s first stance within the underground.  The title track is an affront to the middle and upper class students who are rebelling and thinking they stand for working class ideals.  The LP consistently references the importance of remaining true to yourself and supporting your own family and community.
As the group continued to dominate the underground and the “second wave” of punk the association with the new Skinhead movement followed.  The original Skinhead movement of 1969 was a completely different assertion than the late 70s and 80s version.  This difference was based around the British Movement and the National Front influencing many people, not just Skinheads, into following their fascist philosophy.  Along with this the press loved to induce confrontation by including Skinheads in every story about football.  The similarities within the movement stem around working class ideals and football.  As Dougie Brimson, one of the most recognized writers on hooliganism states, “The skinhead’s involvement in, and influence on, soccer was major.  The unique style of dress captured the imagination of the tabloid newspapers which loved the idea of something different” (82). This led to a good deal of negative press but also developed the underground scene.
            The link with football hooligans and Skinheads played a role in aligning the Business with the right at times but that was quickly put down as the press’ lack of understanding and anyone, hooligan, skinhead or other realized the claim was false.  This came from the band’s support of West Ham and the ICF (Inter City Firm) which had links within the National Front and British Movement.  The issue here is that every firm had links to the right wing at this time and still more than likely do.  Bill Gardner, one of the leaders of the ICF was adamant that the politics were separate from the football.  Just because you support the ICF, the Headhunters, Doc’s Red Army or Blades does not make you a racist and “…Skinheads challenged British society to guarantee what was promised and expected as a minimum of social stability and recognition by, among other things, fighting racism” ( Malott, Carroll-Miranda, 4).  In fact, many supporters of the ICF fought for the left and attended Rock Against Racism concerts regularly. 
            The importance of supporting class based issues instead of politically motivated ones was and continues to play the most important role in the Business’ success.  They are significantly more commercialized because of it but the underground still supports them.  They even have songs in commercials for Guinness and the movie “Eurotrip” contains a song of theirs on the soundtrack.  It seems that the aspect of commercialism is irrelevant as long as the message remains the same.  The message of the band remains within the working class and with it, football. 
            The band was even broken up for a good length of time and reformed in an effort to support a football player on his death.  This led to the newer albums and a slightly different sound but the band held the same concept and force within the underground.  In an interview with Steve Whale, the guitarist for the Business, this history is briefly recounted. “The band split for several years, but then reformed in 1995 when they did a tribute to the football player ‘Bobby Moore’ who had died of cancer” (Punk & OI in the UK).  The importance of football to the band is easily seen throughout their existence and reformation.
            The issues surrounding football hooliganism and the violence associated with it are ongoing and need to be focused on further.  There are a myriad of sociological studies focused on this “issue” and they multiply as more and more stories appear in the press about the firms and the violence associated with them.  The constant assertion that it is a purely working class phenomenon is limited but continues and according to Gary Armstrong in his study of Sheffield United and the Blades entitled Football Hooligans: Knowing the Score, “…in their behaviour, dismissed as irrational and pathological, the football hooligan, an icon of working-class masculine mores, has become the contemporary enemy of rational recreation” (84).  However, the Business use their support for football, West Ham and working class ideals to make a loud proclamation within music and the underground world.  
            As the Business continue to proclaim underground ideals and support of English football they propel the music of Oi! into society without associations with the right wing and neo-Nazi movement.  Bands that have consistently punk based followings, especially Skinhead followings, are generally linked with the right but the Business avoid these political ramifications by playing music that shifts the focus away from overtly political statements.  They also stand away from the left by playing different shows with many different bands and having supporting acts from all political stances.  While bands like the Oppressed, championing the left, and Skrewdriver the right, force fans to support politics, the Business have not modified their stance and remain as one of the most popular Oi! bands in the world. 



Hardcore Hooligan (2003)
Harry May (2002)
No Mercy For You (2001)
The Complete Singles Collection (2001)
Oi, It's Our Business: The Best Of The Business (2001)
Mob Mentality (2000)
Live (1999)
The Best Of The Business: 28 Classic Oi Anthems... (1998)
The Truth, The Whole Truth And Nothing But... (1997)
Loud, Proud And Oi! (1996)
Keep The Faith(1994)
Welcome To The Real World (1988)
Singalong A Business
Blue Stereo Music
Death II Dance
Harry May: The Singles Collection
Saturday's Heroes (1985)
Suburban Rebels (1981)
Under the influence ([2003])


Punch Drunk 4
UK/DK: The Soundtrack To The Film (Soundtrack) (Score)
Oi! The Resurrection
World Still Won't Listen: Tribute To The Smiths
100% British Punk (Box Set)
United Kingdom Of Punk 3: The Hardcore Years
Oi! This Is England (Box Set)
Burning Ambitions: A History Of Punk (Box Set)
Punk, Proud & Nasty
Lords Of Oi! (Box Set)
100% British Oi! Oi!
Give 'Em The Boot
Burning Ambition: History Of Punk Vol. 2
Anarchy From The UK, Volume One
Oi! Greatest Hits Vol. 1
Punk City Rockers (Box Set)
Kill Your Radio
Voice Of The Streets
Eurotrip soundtrack
Trouble on the Terraces

Works Cited

Armstrong, Gary. Football Hooligans: Knowing the Score. Oxford: Berg, 1998.

Baker, William J. The Making of a Working-Class Football Culture in Victorian England.  Journal of Social History, Vol 13. No. 2 (Winter, 1979) pp. 241-251.

Brimson, Dougie.  March of the Hooligans: Soccer’s Bloody Fraternity. New York: Virgin Books, 2007.

Clarke, John. The Skinheads & the Magical Recovery of Community.  Resistance through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain . ed. Stuart Hall and Tony Jefferson. Routledge, 1993.

Dunning, Eric, Patrick Murphy, John Williams.  Spectator Violence at Football Matches: Towards a Sociological Explanation. The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 37, No. 2 (Jun 1986) pp. 221-244.

King, Anthony.  The Postmodernity of Football Hooliganism.  The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 48. No. 4 (Dec, 1997) pp. 576-593.

Korr, Charles P. West Ham United Football Club and the Beginnings of Professional Football in East London, 1895-1914.  Journal of Contemporary History, Vol 13. No. 2 Special Issue: Workers’ Culture. (Apr. 1978). pp. 211-232.

Malott, Curry, Joseph Carroll-Miranda. Punkore Scenes as
Revolutionary Street
.  Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies. Vol. 1 No. 2 (October 2003).
Marshall, George. Spirit of ’69: A Skinhead Bible. Scotland: S.T. Publishing, 1991.

Pollard, Rebecca. Interview with Steve Whale, Punk & Oi in the UK 11/03/01.  Access date 12/06/2007 http://www.punkoiuk.com/interviews/businessint.htm

Williams, John.  Football Hooliganism: Offenses, Arrests and Violence: A Critical Note.  British Journal of Law and Society, Vol. 7. No. 1 ( Summer, 1980). pp. 104-111.


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