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Thursday, 2 May, 2002, 19:26 GMT 20:26 UK
Making a new start
Darren Wells
Darren Wells is a known hooligan who used to be involved with the extreme far-right group Combat 18. He was associated with the notorious Chelsea Headhunters in the 1980s and was among the hundreds of England fans deported from Belgium during Euro 2000.

He was present at the Oldham riot last year - with other Combat 18 activists and football hooligans. Wells had been working as an informer for the anti-fascist magazine, Searchlight, for the past two years. At the end of last year, he went to start a new life abroad - where Hooligans interviewed him.

An upbringing in the comparative safety of Hertfordshire is hardly the background you would expect from a football hooligan.

But Wells was first taken to Chelsea Football Club as a youngster, by an uncle who was supposed to be babysitting him at home.

As he grew up, fighting at football matches became a part of life, and something he witnessed week in, week out.


You'd come out the ground and there'd be fighting, literally outside the ground

Darren Wells
Although he was too young to be involved in any violence, the atmosphere created by the trouble gave him a thrill, a feeling he would carry throughout his 'career' as a hooligan.

In fact, it only took a few years for Wells to move from being a teenager on the outside to getting involved in the world of football violence.

"When I moved up into London I was about 17," he said, "You get the sense of the danger of it all, even though I wasn't really part of it.

"In those days you'd come out the ground and there'd be fighting, literally outside the ground, so you didn't even have to be part of the mob, you could just be part of the crowd exiting the ground and it would just be going off."

In the 'firm'

Gradually, and primarily because of his constant presence on the fringes of trouble, Wells' face became known amongst the local Chelsea hooligans.


I could immerse myself in it and take out my frustrations

Darren Wells
He went on to become part of the notorious Chelsea Headhunters - one of the 'firms' which constantly battled their way through the 1970s and the 1980s with the likes of the ICF (West Ham) and the Salford Reds (Manchester United).

For Wells, fighting was a way to vent his frustration with his home life.

He said: "With me it was just escapism because I was living in a bad situation with my step-dad. I couldn't really stand up to him. So when I went to Chelsea it was just like I was escaping from it.

"I could immerse myself in it and take out my frustrations. If there was a fight outside the ground, just get rid of some anger in that."

But it is not that way for everyone: "Some people are in it just for the notoriety of it, some people just love the fighting. It means different things to different people really."

Combat 18

He became involved in far-right activities in 1994 through Chelsea hooliganism - beginning an association with the extreme neo-nazi group Combat 18.

Throughout the 1990s, Combat 18 was associated with acts of terrorism and violence, including arson attacks. It was originally set up to act as "security" for British National Party meetings.

Wells became a senior figure in the group, but became increasingly disillusioned after 1999 when a friend was killed in an internal feud. " I knew I would either end up dead or be in prison for the rest of my life. I also began to realise the stupidity of what I was involved in".

Two years ago, Wells began working secretly for the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight as an informer.

While working with them, he travelled with far-right hooligans to Euro 2000 - where he was deported.

Oldham riots
A scene from the Oldham riots
He was also present at the Oldham riot last year - with other Combat 18 activists and football hooligans. They had travelled from around the country in an attempt to provoke violent retaliation from the town's Asian community.

Wells had hoped his information would help keep the two sides apart.

Fresh start

At the end of last year, he went abroad to start a new life. Wells said: "I still believe some of the things I used to believe in, but I now realise that you can't go around hurting innocent people."

Looking back, he claims that the biggest thrill in hooliganism is achieved not during the fight, but before.

"It was the build up, just the crescendo just before it all went off, you know, just that feeling of butterflies in your stomach," he said.

Despite this mentality, Darren has witnessed some horrific incidences of football violence, including stabbings, glassings and people being thrown from bridges.


How do you just stop being a hooligan - I don't think you can

Darren Wells
But again, he maintains that even the sense of fear gave him a buzz.

And it is precisely this joy of being terrified that makes it so difficult to opt out of the spiral of violence.

This is also why Darren pours scorn on the notion of the reformed hooligan, and believes you are a hooligan for life.

"How do you just stop being a hooligan," he said, "I don't think you can. I don't think hooliganism is something that people just fly in and out of.

"'Strange as it sounds - I think it is really in your blood, I think it's just like people who can't stop smoking, people who can't stop the drinking or doing drugs."

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