So I live in a town called Broadstairs, which is right next to the seaside town of Margate
. Margate is famous for being a holiday resort, with its lovely beach and a fun park called Dreamland, which everyone would flock to on Bank holiday Mondays back in my youth.Over the years Margate has seen all sorts of cultures visit the seaside town. There’d be Londoners on weekend beanos who were out on the piss looking for trouble, with the locals entertaining them once they were all tanked up as the day went on. You’d also get invasions from the likes of the Mods, Rockers, Teds, Punks and of course the best till last, the Skinheads, who to me out of all of them had to be the most feared.
They really did look a nasty bunch of thugs with their shaved heads, boots and braces. Some of these Skinheads even had tattoos on their heads that would read something like ‘Made in England’. Marvellous, eh?One fine, glorious Bank Holiday Monday back in the late seventies, I was down good old Margate (probably trying to scam some money from the fruit machines in the arcades) when I looked out to sea and saw that the Old Bill had a mob of Skinheads lined up on the beach, waiting for a Black Maria to take them away to the cells for the day.
August Bank Holiday
I think it was the August Bank Holiday. The seafront and beach were absolutely heaving with people who probably hadn’t anticipated this invasion of evil baldies. This was quite early in the morning so there was going to be a hell of a lot more Skinheads and Punks arriving throughout the day.This particular group of Skins obviously got impatient and started the aggro off early. I suppose with the Skinheads it was a case of ‘It didn’t matter’ whose brains got bashed in and it seemed to me that there wasn’t any particular rival for the Skinheads, unlike the Mods and Rockers whose history goes back to the sixties.
Years later in the present day I was talking to this chappie as I was at work taxi driving one night. I was taking him down to Walmer in Kent and told him that I was writing a book about football, bands and some of my experiences with the invasions of different gangs coming down to Margate back in my youth.The X copper said that he remembered it well too and that he was a Sergeant at Margate police station all those years ago, back in the sixties.Mr Plod said it was “Absolute chaos!” He went on to tell me about the Mods setting fire to deck chairs on the beach and then the Rockers would make an assault on the beach from the other end of the seafront, in an attempt to attack the Mods.He said it was quite hair-raising stuff trying to keep law and order back then. I said “So, is that why you moved away from Margate and down to Walmer then?” and he just laughed.
My first experience with the Skinheads was a bit like the Sergeants with the Mods and Rockers. I overheard someone saying that “The Skinheads had just battered a load of punks in the amusement arcade down on the seafront.”My mate Ashley and I went to check it out. While we walked through the arcades playing the odd machine and looking for signs of the action, we noticed a mark of blood on the wall behind this fruit machine in the corner of the building. It must have been from the trouble earlier.This bloodstain was like someone had washed their hair in blood and then splattered their head against the wall behind the machine. My mate Ashley, who himself was a bit of a Skin just stood there looking at it in amazement but, to be honest, I was more interested in who their next victims were going to be, hopefully, it wouldn’t be us!Later that day we walked up to Dreamland, to the fun park area. Dreamland is like a great big empty car park nowadays, I hope the council eventfully gets the fun fair up and running again.
Not so Popular: Margate
No one comes to Margate anymore; it looks like it’s had the life sucked out of it. But back then as we got to Dreamland, there was another much bigger mob of Skinheads booting in the windows of a boozer called the Bar El Toro! Is that Spanish? Anyway, the windows caved in and all the Skinheads just fled as another Black Maria screeched to a halt at the scene. Weird!To this day I still don’t know who the Skinheads were after in that boozer but like I said previously, I didn’t think it mattered to the Skinheads who they done over, anyone would do. As everybody dispersed in different directions, there on the floor was a screaming Skinhead lying in a pool of blood, with a few loyal mates trying to help him out.
He must have caught his leg on the glass as he’d obviously been one at the front, kicking the windows in. This bloke had a great big gash on the back of his leg. As soon as the Old Bill got close the loyal ones hit the high road. There was only one place the injured Skin was going and that was to the hospital!Later that day, I don’t know how but I think a load of brave locals that seemed like soul boys, had mobbed up along the seafront. There was easily a couple of hundred by now. We watched from near the train station as the soul boy mob chased a by now, a depleted group of Skinheads (of which half had probably been nicked anyway) along the seafront.
Then would you Adam and Eve it, the very last skinhead on his toes hobbling for his life was the same bloke who gashed his leg open earlier. But 10 out of 10 for bravery! Well, not quite because he was still trying to run away but fair play to him, at least he came back. He must’ve been on glue or some other drugs, or even more likely the anesthetic hadn’t worn off (drugs! Nah, give him a chance, eh?), to come back with his injury.My mate and I were absolutely pissing ourselves laughing at the hobbling fool as he was trying to get away. Hopefully, he survived the day to tell the tale, or maybe the angry soul boy mob was in stitches like us and didn’t have the heart to kick him in. We’ll never know. We hoped he might have even been Knighted or got some sort of award for bravery from the Queen but I doubt it, bless him.
After that day me and my other mate, Mickey Boy Meaker, (you guessed it!) went and got a couple grade 2’s at the local barber’s and became Skinheads. After all, most of my mates were. I have to say I still remember that day. We came out of the barbers with our shaved heads and I felt such a buzz. I felt like I could take on the world and couldn’t wait till the next Bank Holiday to join the Skins that would invade Margate.I did have other mates at school who were already Skins back in the day, they were already into Oi music, especially my mate Clive, he seemed to be into it right from the off. Clive also loved West Ham and the Cockney Rejects but his favorite band was the Angelic Upstarts. I discovered those bands a bit later on. My favorite bands back then were bands like the Ruts, UK Subs and, of course, the Sex Pistols.
It was at this time when I first got into playing the guitar. Who’d have thought that years later I’d be playing guitar for the Anti-Nowhere League and the Last Resort, alongside all those famous Punk and Oi bands at different festivals around the world?The next August Bank Holiday Monday came around and, armed with my with my new look of cropped hair, braces, and oxblood Doc Martins headed off to Margate. The only thing that was wrong was that a few of my older sister’s girlfriends said: “Isn’t he cute with his new haircut.”
It did my head in a bit, I felt like I could hear the drone of spitfire engines like in the Battle of Britain when they come crashing to the ground, it’s called being shot down in flames… “Fantastic!” I thought to myself, I’m supposed to look hard, mean and menacing not cute.The other worrying thing that also played on my mind was the fact that my mate Mickey Boy Meaker conveniently couldn’t come to Margate that day. I think he must’ve told his mum where he was going and she wasn’t having any of it.
Then just to add fuel to the fire, when we got off the train and headed for the seafront there wasn’t one bloody Skinhead in sight. ‘Outstanding!’ I thought to myself. This is when I discovered the word paranoia (without the drugs, I was a good boy then) and I felt like the whole of Margate was looking at me as if I was scum, granny’s ‘n’ all.To look back at it now, donkey’s years later and think, I’m not bloody surprised you thick idiot, the amount of chaos and damage the Skins had caused the last time they came down to Margate, it’s hardly surprising is it? What did you expect; a street party or bloody carnival as you got off the train?
We made our way to the seafront where we eventually found a small group of Skinheads, mostly younger ones but nothing like the mob who were down the Bank Holiday before.Bearing in mind the Skinheads could have gone to Brighton or even Southend or somewhere like that. We started chatting to a small crowd of Skinheads that were having a few cans of lager by the clock tower.They said that they heard that all the Skinheads were meeting in Ramsgate this time and that they were heading for the train station. So Ashley and I made our way to the train station to venture off to Ramsgate.
There were a lot more Skinheads already on the platform and I could sense that there was going to be trouble. Some of them were really pissed up and getting quite loud. The train pulled in and on we piled, about eighty Skinheads all in all.On the journey to Ramsgate seats, headrests, bog rolls, you name it, everything was going out of the windows. In those days, the window used to open right up and you could open the door while you were moving along.I’m surprised the guard and ticket collector didn’t join the bits and pieces that were getting slung out of the train but at least no one set fire to the train like they did at football. And as for the guards and ticket collectors, I bet they were probably hiding somewhere anyway.
One day a teenager was leaning out of the window of the train, I specifically remember this because my mates and I were on the train coming back to Broadstairs. About a mile from Broadstairs station the train had stopped, someone had pulled the emergency chain that stops the train.This poor teenager had leaned out the window and smashed his head on the tunnel entrance as the train went through. He didn’t survive his head injuries. What a waste. Nowadays the trains have completely changed and people can’t open the windows or doors anymore while the train’s moving.
We arrived at Ramsgate station and I was really surprised that the Old Bill wasn’t there to greet us, obviously because of the damage the Skins had done on the train, I thought they’d be there for sure.Maybe because people didn’t have mobile phones back then and there was no way of letting the police know what was going on, well not on the train anyway. We got to Ramsgate seafront and made our way to the Pleasurama amusement arcade.
The Pleasurama was a bit like a smaller version of Dreamland without the big rides. I always remember that smoke smell from the Bumper Cars and the Shooting Ducks. Shooting Ducks was fun but you only used to win a poxy teddy bear (I wanted a car). I think the smell on the Bumper Cars was from the sparks at the top of that pole on the back of the cars or the smoke from the guns.
Things started to get a bit fiery as the afternoon wore on, there’d been other smaller groups of Skinheads down the seafront getting drunk, and suddenly a massive mob formed. Everyone was chanting “Skinheads Skinheads” and then everyone started running. This really threw me as I couldn’t see for the life of me why we were running.Then out of the blue everyone was singing, like the football chant “You’re gonna get your fuckin’ ‘eds kicked in” – you know the one. Again I was baffled; there was no one there, only a couple of blokes fishing, surely they weren’t going to do them. Luckily they didn’t.The Old Bill had arrived in their droves by now and had obviously done their homework. They’d blocked either end of the seafront, so the only way to escape was in the sea. I don’t think anyone fancied that.
Run for it!
A few of us started to leg it to the steps that went up the cliff. Obviously, we knew the steps were there because we were locals and I’d nearly fallen off the cliffs around that area before when a few mates and I had climbed up them.Unfortunately, the police knew the area too; they were already at the top of the cliff with dogs and meat wagons to take us away. Marvelous! “You’re nicked!”I don’t know how many of the other Skins escaped, I should imagine some did. If they’d split up and stayed around the arcades they probably wouldn’t have got nicked. We tried to leg it and did get nicked. Oh dear, how was I going to explain this one to my Dad?!
Down to Margate cop shop was the order of the day, down to Fort Hill Police station where the police were going to read us our rights and the riot act.Luckily this time it was just the riot act and then the usual scenario (according to the other Skinheads) was that we were going to be locked up for the rest of the dayNow you could imagine, the police had a bit of a problem because there was far too many of us to fit in the cells and there just wouldn’t be enough room. So they locked us in this big courtyard, like one big happy family. We could hear shouting coming from the proper cells, these must have been the real naughty boys!!
Hours past and we eventually got let out, but not all at once. Looking back I was quite grateful we didn’t get taken to court. I think they thought we were just kids and they just wanted us off the street, because no one got hurt (only the train) at the end of the day.Bank Holidays seemed to change after those Skinhead days. The next pair of invaders to invade our Margate was the revival of the Mods and Rockers, just like in Quadrophenia. I wonder if anyone ever shot those targets on their backs??!!
Picture from the Underworld with The Last Resort