Happy Birthday. The Ayatollah - 19 years today

Last updated : 15 September 2009 By Michael Morris
Eric The Red was the man who introduced it to the terraces and to the Cardiff City fans. Here's his story..

Welsh swimmer David Davies does the Ayatollah after winning Silver at the Beijing Olympics
On the night of Friday 14th September, 19 years ago, our favourite Welsh language psychobilly/punk band U Thant were playing a gig at Chapter Arts Centre. Rhys Boore, the U Thant singer was on top form, dressed in his pink lycra catsuit. I remember at one stage we raided a load of crates from the yard outside and wore them as shorts somehow. Rhys had recently started "doing the ayatollah" at gigs, after watching the extraordinary scenes from Iran where thousands of Iranians had created this amazing spectacle by banging their heads as a sign of grief. And we all did it that night too. After the gig, we jumped in the groups' tour van and drove round our mates' houses stealing furniture. If this sounds like a "Fanzine Writers" article, that's because it was 1990.

Early the following morning, we left for Lincoln, where City were playing an early season game. We weren't hooligans, we were just a bunch of lads who followed City everywhere. Our pockets were full of pastiche calling cards.... "You have just met The Gregarious Crew."

I think we travelled up in a fishmonger's van that morning. It stank, and we lay on bean bags in the back drinking cider.

The early nineties were a great time to watch football. Post-Hillsborough, there was a unity amongst fans, and hooliganism all but died out. It meant that we could drink and socialise freely in the City centres across the old 4th Division, without fear of trouble. I remember that we had a great time in Lincoln City Centre that morning and sang all the way to the game.

The game itself was awful, as most were. It was 0-0 I think, and about 150 City fans were watching from the open terrace in a bit of a stupor. Then from nowhere, a small police riot squad arrived, complete with helmets , visors and a small camera crew. Seizing on the absurdity of the situation, we started performing. Stripped to the waist, we started doing "the Ayatollah" for the cameras. I remember running around the terrace for most of the game, trying to get the rest of the City fans to join in. Some did, but most just called me a t**t.

These were the days of inflatable bananas at Man City, boing-boing at West Brom, and a general absurdist reaction to the horrors of Hillsborough and Heysel. Our little crew took to this atmosphere of surrealism with zeal. There were lots of stupid chants at the time, including "I'm Henry the 8th, I am", "Any Dream Will Do", (in tribute to City player Jason Donovan), and various routines involving stripping, hopping and disco dancing.

But it was the Ayatollah that caught on, thanks to some happy coincidences which caused big away support in the early nineties. There was the game at Hereford, where Rick Wright had told the English club that City fans would be boycotting the game. 4,000 turned up. I remember the whole traffic jam of City fans Ayatollahing through the windows of their cars, and for me that was the moment I knew it had caught on. There was an end of season Ayatollah fancy dress party at Peterborough where myself and another Ayatollah were encouraged by police to preach from the fences, and judge the great cross-terrace Ayatollah races. The Ayatollah was now firmly established.

It all stopped for me at a Welsh Cup semi final at the Vetch in about 1994/5 when I celebrated Chris Pike's winning goal with an Ayatollah performance at the front of the terrace. I was arrested and charged with incitement to riot. I was released after the football spotters told the regulars that I was no troublemaker and video evidence proved my innocence.

But that finished it for me. I had never been involved with the police before or since. I could sense that times were changing and there was a return to the bad old days where a nervous police force were clamping down on any form of exhibitionist behaviour. I haven't done the ayatollah for years now, but I still smile a bit to myself when I see it performed, and watch how it has grown and developed from the U Thant gigs. The best Ayatollah ever? Probably the home game against Man City in the FA Cup, 1994, when the TV cameras captured the Bob Bank in full head-slapping action.

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