Back in the 1970s I fancied myself as a political radical. Certain pop groups had a particular cachet about them for any self-respecting member of the Left; amongst them was The Jam, a group whose songs were often explicit in their politics.Songs by The Jam remain in my memory, one of them being Eton Rifles. I never fully understood the lyrics until Saturday.
The first two stanzas read,
Sup up your beer and collect your fags,
There’s a row going on down near Slough,
Get out your mat and pray to the West,
I’ll get out mine and pray for myself.
Thought you were smart when you took them on,
But you didn’t take a peep in their artillery room,
All that rugby puts hairs on your chest,
What chance have you got against a tie and a crest.
Hello-Hurrah – what a nice day – for the Eton Rifles,
Hello-Hurrah – I hope rain stops play – with the Eton Rifles.
and the song concludes,
We came out of it naturally the worst,
Beaten and bloody and I was sick down my shirt,
We were no match for their untamed wit,
Though some of the lads said they’ll be back next week.
Hello-Hurrah – there’s a price to pay – to the Eton Rifles,
Hello-Hurrah – I’d prefer the plague – to the Eton Rifles.
It was about working class youths confronting their much richer middle class counterparts, but why would they come out of it naturally the worst?Surely working class kids were tougher than those who had enjoyed a privileged and comfortable upbringing?
Travelling on the DART out of town on Saturday, there was a large group of male youths at our station. They were distinctive by their very short haircuts and hoodies and their accents. We walked down the platform to be in a different carriage, but they moved from carriage to carriage, being rowdy and placing stink bombs.There was much muttering, but as far as I could see they did nothing that was actually illegal. They were 15-16 years of age, mostly with a gaunt emaciated look, but a couple were plump, running to obese.
The DART train pulled into Blackrock station and a mixed group of youths of similar age boarded the train.The boys were again 15-16 years old; they wore rugby sweatshirts, were six feet tall and had hairstyles ruffled in the right places.They were just as noisy, but the accents were completely different.
This should be interesting, I thought. I turned and looked down the carriage to where the working class boys had been, every single one of them had disappeared. They were clearly in no mood to take on the rugby players.
For the first time it sank on, disadvantage wasn’t just social and economic, it wasn’t just marked by accent and dress; it was something tangibly physical. No matter what bravado they might have shown, no matter how loud the working class boys might have been able to shout, they would undoubtedly have come off the worst against the boys at Blackrock station.
Funny what things you learn on the DART.