Cardiff City’s firm – the ‘Soul Crew’ – were seen as one of the most violent and notorious hooligan groups in English football.
The gang were well-known to police in south-east Wales and had a number of street clashes with other clubs throughout the 1980s and onwards. One particularly violent day in its history came at the end of the 1993/94 season, with the side on the cusp of relegation to the Third Division – now known as League Two.
Cardiff had hosted Bradford in a 1-1 draw in November earlier that season, where the opposition firm launched a surprise attack on the home side’s thugs, catching them off guard before disappearing out of sight.
And so by the time the final fixture of the season came around – an away trip to Bradford – Cardiff’s Soul Crew had meticulously planned an attack on their rival firm.
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The Bluebirds had already been officially relegated and the 2-0 defeat on May 7, 1994 no doubt played second-fiddle to the events off the pitch, where 110 diehard Cardiff supporters gathered from all over south Wales and descended on Bradford.
Having traditionally sought to make the last fixture of the season “a bit of an occasion”, former head hooligan Tony Rivers described how the Soul Crew booked two late coaches to West Yorkshire with a luxury holiday firm, under the pretence of attending a wedding reception in Halifax.
Writing in his book Soul Crew: The Inside Story of a Soccer Hooligan Gang, ‘Lakey’ Rivers recalled arriving with the “cream of the Soul Crew”, dressed in plain clothes.
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He said that upon arriving in Halifax, “another [Cardiff] City coach was there, most of them enjoying a good drink. We were there for something different: we had a score to settle”.
The mob then took a train to Bradford, where they were spotted by both local and Cardiff police. But arriving in heavy numbers, the Soul Crew simply marched past them and into the city centre.
They failed to find Bradford’s Ointment hooligan firm at the initially planned pub, but managed to find someone to lead them to the Market Tavern pub, where they were instead.
On the way there, Rivers was apparently told the Soul Crew were the “best crew” seen in the city since Sheffield United arrived in the early-1980s.
And they certainly lived up to the billing as it all kicked off with two bottles of Budweiser thrown at the travelling firm as they headed up a hill through the pedestrianised streets. At the top of the hill, the Cardiff support ran straight towards the 30 Ointment members, who “didn’t stand for a second”.
“One small lad came to the door of the pub on the left, saw us and ran back in,” Lakey recalled moments later. “Another came out and fired a flare gun which whizzed off harmlessly. We charged to the doors.”
The Soul Crew rushed the pub, smashing every window in sight before following the 50 or so Bradford hooligans down the stairs of the pub, where they were trying to flee.
Rivers added: “It was two minutes of utter chaos. Table and stools were used to annihilate the locals. Most of them got out the back door and some downstairs but a few were left cowering on the floor.”
The violence came to a halt when police arrived to round up Cardiff’s hooligans, herding them around the corner of a nearby street. Lakey even seemed to remember one officer from Cardiff, who knew the firm well, shaking his head a few times and having a grin to himself.
And it was at the start of the following season where a policeman directly admitted to being left impressed with the Soul Crew’s organisation and violence, giving them a “10 out of 10” rating.
Rivers said: “At the start of the next season, one of our boys was taken to one side on a train back for a London game by one of Cardiff’s many football coppers. This copper declared how genuinely impressed they were with what was done at Bradford.
“‘10 out of 10 for everything’ were his words. They obviously have their job to do but most police who work closely and regularly with soccer firms do, I feel, build up a certain amount of mutual respect.”
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