Exclusive: Robert Cleur’s Gripping “Cockney Reds: The Story of Manchester United’s Southern Army” Set for Release

Dean Perretta: What are the main perceptions and cultural divides between the die-hard local Mancunian Reds and, of course, the Cockney Reds from London and the Home Counties, particularly in the Stretford End at Old Trafford during the very height of the hostility and chaos on match days at United?

Robert Cleur: To me, the North of England and particularly a large city like Manchester seems more working class. Whilst I would not say the Home Counties is all middle class, it is different. The Cockney Reds – and we are spread over a wide area and not just inner London or the East End – always seemed more affluent, more smartly dressed in the modern fashions, and with more readies. Despite this, there was no great animosity between Mancs and Cockneys. We mixed well together at Old Trafford. Of course, good mates often fall out and we did with them. At times I did feel that some Mancs were jealous of our reputation, largely because of what we did in the warzone at Euston before and after matches, with so many travelling fans meeting up there. The Cockney Reds had great respect for the Mancs and we mixed with them quite happily in the Stretford End, although we were often spread around Old Trafford. My little firm more often, back in the violent 70s and 80s heyday, went in the United Road terrace.

Dean Perretta: With that being said, you watched United for the first-ever time at Old Trafford aged 15 and have collectively witnessed various infamous episodes of intense violence, such as tragic deaths, battles with the police, ransackings in St. Albans and brawls with Liverpool fans to name just a few.  If any, what was the most fearful moment which you experienced as the influential leader of the widely feared Cockney Reds?

Robert Cleur: In fact, it was at Highbury that I saw United for the first time, when 15. Largely due to the cost of travel, it was the 1967/68 season, when I was 17, before I went to Old Trafford.

I never have had any feeling of fear when confronting opposition fans, then or now. Maybe I have used discretion and backed off on occasion, such as when my mate Snowy and me were cornered by eighty opposition fans on a train.

There were, however, two instances when I was fearful of a possible outcome. One was when falsely arrested in Valencia in 1982 for attacking a copper and then spent four months in a Spanish jail, not really knowing what was to happen to me.

Second, I took my nine-year-old daughter to Old Trafford in 1997. On the train back, a mad United fan started an argument in our carriage. He walked up and down the aisle, threatened two Cockney Reds and said something like, ‘Do you two want to go home in a box?’. He was wielding a knife, and had been known in the past to dip this in some sort of poisonous substance. I was protective towards my daughter, fearing for her safety and that of the other passengers, although she took it in her stride and seemed unconcerned. Amid screams from all around us, this guy knifed a Cockney Red called Wayne in the leg. Fear was etched on faces all around me, so I jumped up and, with the other two guys, grabbed the man, removed his knife and threw it out of the window. Wayne did recover and there was no poison, but it was the most frightening experience I have faced.

Dean Perretta: The Cockney Reds often turned Euston Station into a regular warzone. Can you recollect the first warzone at Euston Station and the profound effect this still has on you to this day?

Dean Perretta

Dean Perretta is a 2x SEA Award-winning creative, Broadcast Journalist, Reporter, Courtside Analyst for BBC televised London Lions and Executive Producer who currently contributes to FOX Sports Radio, FourFourTwo Magazine and Muscle & Fitness Magazine.