EPISODE 44

THE NOT-SO-BEAUTIFUL GAME

THE NOT-SO-BEAUTIFUL GAME

Garry Rogers was enjoying the sunshine in Rimini, Italy, a sprawling beach resort on the Adriatic Sea. This wasn't a holiday, however. Garry was part of Greater Manchester Police's ground-breaking Omega Unit, working undercover among thousands of English football fans to prevent trouble during the 1990 World Cup. The problem wasn’t the game, it was the hooligans that used football as a cover to start deadly riots. Garry’s job was to take down the thugs from the inside, and that meant looking and acting like a troublemaker. So before Garry flew to Italy he shaved his head, bought an earring and prepared to live on his wits.
Read the transcript →

True Spies Episode 44: The Not-So-Beautiful Game 

NARRATOR: Welcome to True Spies. Week by week, mission by mission, you’ll hear the true stories behind the world’s greatest espionage operations. You’ll meet the people who navigate this secret world. What do they know? What are their skills? And what would you do in their position? This is True Spies.

GARRY ROGERS: I just stood against a wall because I didn’t know what direction things were being thrown at me from. And a lad stood next to me who I didn’t know and the next minute I heard him moan, and when I looked a rock had hit him in the face and he just went down to the floor.

NARRATOR: Episode 44: The Not-So-Beautiful Game 

GARRY ROGERS: When I was trained as an undercover officer, they didn't set up a riot like that and say: ‘This is what's going to happen to you.’ That was all new to me. I could have been the lad who got the brick in the face and that could have been the end of my career then.

NARRATOR: It’s the summer of 1990 in the Italian beach resort of Rimini, but Garry Rogers isn’t on holiday. He’s working undercover among thousands of English football fans, trying to prevent the trouble that often breaks out when England’s footballers play abroad. You may not follow football, but this story is about much more than a game. 

GARRY ROGERS: As a police officer, I should have been helping that guy and there was nothing I could do. It was madness. 

NARRATOR: The madness that in those days followed English football fans to international football tournaments. This was the biggest of them all, the World Cup. Italia 90. 

GARRY ROGERS: I was that concerned for my safety because there was tear gas being fired by the local Italian police, trying to obviously stop the English fans who were on the rampage. And you talk about having backup, I mean there was no backup for us that day because you could never ever plan for a riot like that. 

NARRATOR: In 1990 Garry Rogers was feeling his way into a new job. He’d been a police officer since the late 1970s, sometimes in uniform, more often not. He’d worked in surveillance, in plain clothes, on a motorbike, chasing bank robbers. Now he was after football hooligans. And the thinking then was that the only way to take football hooligans down was from the inside. Garry had to look like one and act like one. So before he flew to Italy he shaved his head.

GARRY ROGERS: I made the decision the night before I went to take all the hair off. And I never basically grew it back again since. To me, looking the part was half the battle. 

NARRATOR: Garry didn’t have to wait for long for confirmation that he made a convincing skinhead. 

GARRY ROGERS: And when I flew out to Italy, the amount of times I got stopped at airports and searched, as opposed to anyone who was coming through in a pinstripe suit... You were automatically stereotyped, which was good for me as a police officer because that was the effect I wanted to put out. So it proved that what I was doing was working. 

NARRATOR: Garry accessorized. He added earrings in both ears, a false tattoo, and a new surname.

GARRY ROGERS: You can't go in using your real name, so you have to come up with a false CV and a legend, as they call it. 

NARRATOR: So Garry Rogers, the police officer, became Garry McAlinden, the football fan. Macca for short. 

GARRY ROGERS: Garry McAlinden was basically just an out-and-out villain. I posed as a builder basically, so I had a builder's business. But that was just a bit more of a front. Because I would be doing things supposedly as well as the building, because I had a van with all the names of the builders’ works on the side, and that was a front for my villainous things that I was involved in supposedly.

NARRATOR: If you were a boy born in Manchester in the late 1950s football was hard to avoid. Then, as now, the only question was: United or City? 

GARRY ROGERS: I always supported, still do, Manchester United. 

NARRATOR:
They were famous even then. The Red Devils. And they were good. They won a lot of trophies in the 1960s and Old Trafford, their home ground, was packed on Saturday afternoons. Garry used to go too, but not that often. 

GARRY ROGERS:
My mom and dad didn't have that much money, so it wasn't feasible for me to be able to go to a lot of games all the time. But whenever I did have the money, I would go. 

NARRATOR: It didn’t, however, cost anything to go up to the Cliff, where Manchester United trained.

GARRY ROGERS: The main thing was you could stand outside. Sometimes they would let you in the big gates to stand and watch the players training. 

NARRATOR: If you’re a fan of English football - of a certain age - you’ll know who Bobby Charlton is. You’ll remember Nobby Stiles. But even if you’re not a fan, you’ve probably heard of the other great Manchester United player of that era, perhaps the first British footballer to acquire the status of a rock star. 

GARRY ROGERS: I always remember one specific time when Georgie Best was leaving after the training session and he was in his E-Type Jaguar - which is obviously an expensive motor - and he pulled up outside because he couldn't drive off because everyone was blocking his way, basically. So, he was forced to stop and his car, with everybody herded around the car, and I was sat on his bonnet and I won't tell you what he said to me but at least I can always say George Best spoke to me once. 

NARRATOR: But being a football fan could also bring trouble. Where allegiances are strong, rivalries are intense. You felt it when you went to the youth club. 

GARRY ROGERS: You could have your scarf on with the red and white and, you know, that could be a recipe then for somebody having a go at you. 

NARRATOR: You felt it even more when you went to a game. Football grounds in England in the early 1970s were hostile environments. Young men packed the terracing behind the goals; there was no seating, just wide concrete steps and wrought-iron crush barriers; there might not have been a roof. The toilets were, shall we say, basic and the chanting began long before the game did. Sometimes witty, but often abusive. Thousands of voices in unison hurling obscenity and threats at their opponents.

GARRY ROGERS: You could feel it building up and as the away fans would arrive they knew there was always a possibility [that] there was going to be trouble. And there were those that would come from opposing teams who came with that intention, basically. 

NARRATOR: There was a kind of uniform. Fans wore denim jackets, jeans that were a bit too short, and large boots. They tied scarves around their necks and around their wrists. And if they weren’t all looking for a fight, they were plenty who were. A new expression entered the language: football hooligan. Some clubs acquired a particular reputation. Manchester United was one of them.

GARRY ROGERS: The reputation United fans had for hooliganism during the 1970s was high, really, because when I used to go to their home games, I used to observe that and I would see little pockets of trouble outside the ground and more so after a match - especially if United lost. Those individuals or that group of people who were hooligans at the time in the 1970s would then go and actively seek out the opposing fans as they were obviously trying to leave the stadium, in their eyes, to get some sort of revenge for having lost the match. 

NARRATOR: By the time he was 16 Garry was a trainee, a police cadet as they were known. It ran in the family to some extent. His elder brother was in the police. He’d come home and tell stories and you sense that Garry was excited by that. His dad worked for a time as a police dog handler. And then there was a TV show. 

GARRY ROGERS: The Sweeney, it was called. 

NARRATOR: The Sweeney was based on the real-life Flying Squad, a branch of the Metropolitan Police in London which investigated robberies. The squad got its nickname from Cockney rhyming slang - Sweeney Todd, Flying Squad. The show featured two hard-bitten, plain clothes detectives. 

GARRY ROGERS: Excellent police officers, you would say, watching them. And they got results, should I say. The whole ethos of The Sweeney was hard-hitting and their personal lives were affected because being the sort of police officers they were and the life that led. They had to mix with villains. That's how they got informants. So they'd be regularly in pubs with informants who were, you know, tasty characters. The Sweeney, for me, was a fantastic program. 

NARRATOR: Was it The Sweeney that gave Garry the idea of working in plain clothes? The idea of working undercover one day? Perhaps it was. Garry started out in uniform, as everyone does. But in the early 1980s, he joined the Regional Crime Squad. 

GARRY ROGERS: I became a dedicated surveillance motorcyclist, a plain clothes motorcyclist. So we would get information, for example, that particular individuals were committing a particular crime - burglaries or armed robberies. And we would then set up an operation to follow those individuals, observe them discreetly so that they don't know they're being observed. And hopefully then by doing that, you would then obtain evidence with which you could later charge and get them convicted. 

NARRATOR: Garry had got a taste for the surreptitious and it was football that would provide him with a way into the real undercover stuff. 

GARRY ROGERS: In the 80s, English football was going through hell, really, wasn't it? 

NARRATOR: It really was. And by 1985 it had hit rock bottom. A couple of snapshots: 

A televised game between two middle-ranking English clubs, Luton Town and Millwall, which ended with running battles on the pitch; seats torn from their hinges and thrown at the police; golf balls; a knife thrown at a goalkeeper. ‘Nasty, vicious, and surreal,’ said one of the managers. 

A game in Birmingham and another running battle, this time with fans from Leeds; a collapsed wall, and a 15-year-old crushed to death in the rubble.

And then there was Heysel, an old, crumbling stadium in Brussels, and a night of total disaster. The champions of Italy, Juventus, were playing the champions of England, Liverpool. As the stadium began to fill, Liverpool fans mounted a charge across a section of terracing that had been kept deliberately empty to separate them from their Italian counterparts. As the Italians dispersed, a wall collapsed - again. This time there were 39 dead. 

There was one immediate response from the European football authorities. English clubs were banned from all their competitions and the British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, got involved. She spoke of her sense of shame and outrage, and she expressed the hope that the ‘sickening events’ in Brussels would ‘unite all decent people in helping to eradicate hooliganism’.

GARRY ROGERS: Maggie Thatcher led the way, I think. She wanted to introduce new legislation to give police more powers to deal with these so-called hooligans. 

NARRATOR: So she called in Garry’s former boss. 

GARRY ROGERS: Now, this guy was renowned. I worked with him on the Regional Crime Squad. And at that time, he was the only undercover officer in the area. So he went to see Maggie Thatcher and she wanted something done in relation to the hooligans. So he then set up the Omega department, basically to infiltrate hooligan sectors of certain clubs. 

NARRATOR: Garry had heard whispers about this new unit. This was right up his street so he knocked on H’s door. 

GARRY ROGERS:
This was a department which was very, very secretive. It wasn't advertised as other jobs would be in the force. So I had to have an interview with him and then go on the course, the deep undercover course. 

NARRATOR: The deep undercover course. That sounds intriguing, doesn’t it? 

GARRY ROGERS: You were tested to the hilt on that course. I'm not going to give certain things of it away, but you were tested both physically and mentally to your limits, because they wanted to observe how you were in real situations. So you would, for example, on the course be going to meet certain individuals - as it ran - who you at the time thought were real villains. And situations would arise which would put you in compromising situations. And what they were doing, on the course, was observing how you dealt with that. 

NARRATOR: Is this something you think you could do? Walk into a pub in, say, a rough part of Manchester, to meet someone you thought was a criminal and do a deal with them? Could you handle the pressure?

GARRY ROGERS: You're a police officer. You're pretending not to be a police officer and you're going to meet people who are villains who might then suss out who you are. So from the minute you step into that pub, you know, you're worried, I would say. 

NARRATOR: Garry remembers an occasion [when] one unfortunate trainee on his course made a cardinal error. When offered whatever it was by the alleged criminal he blew his cover with one short phrase. ‘Let me go and make some inquiries.’ 

GARRY ROGERS:
Now, that is something a police officer would say. ‘I'm going to go away, make some inquiries about that.’ 

NARRATOR: And that, in real life, would leave an undercover police officer in a very tricky position.

GARRY ROGERS: You don’t want to be coming out with sayings that police officers would use. You don’t want to have mannerisms that police officers would have. If you can't get out of that habit and not say those sort of things and not do things that police officers do, you're never, ever going to be an undercover police officer. 

NARRATOR: Garry calls it de-policing; shedding those little habits, body language, patterns of speech that might give you away. He seems to have succeeded because in early 1990 he was invited to join Omega. The unit was already well-established. It had carried out operations against hooligans associated with two local football clubs: Manchester City and Bolton Wanderers. At the time Garry joined, attention was focused on supporters of the club that he himself had followed as a boy: Manchester United. And almost immediately there was a problem. 

GARRY ROGERS: Because I was going to be an undercover officer, they gave me all the information, all the intelligence that they’d got together to date. And I sat down to look at that because I needed to check that whoever these targets were and their associates were not known to me, or I wasn't known to them if you see what I'm saying. So as I worked through that intelligence, I then came across a guy who I went to school with who lived where I lived as a kid and went to the same school as me, the same primary school. 

NARRATOR: Put yourself in Garry’s shoes for a minute. You’ve worked hard to get a spot on this team. You’ve been through the deep cover course. You’re raring to go and now it looks after all that hard work that you can’t go undercover after all. It would be tempting to keep shtoom, wouldn’t it? Not admit that you’ve recognized this fellow. 

GARRY ROGERS: I could have kept my mouth shut and said nothing because, bear in mind, this is my first week in the department. 

NARRATOR: But he knew that if he didn’t put his hand up and admit to knowing this man, he would put not only himself but all [of] his colleagues in danger. 

GARRY ROGERS: So I had to declare that I knew this guy, and for that reason, I thought I'd fallen at the first hurdle, basically. 

NARRATOR: So clearly Garry couldn’t go undercover on this particular operation. But there was still a job for him in the unit. He began to work overtly, gathering evidence. Which often meant filming football fans as they gathered before a game. He remembers one incident that made the risks involved in this line of work frighteningly clear. His team had staked out one of the local pubs, The Gray Parrot. 

GARRY ROGERS: Yeah, The Gray Parrot in Hulme, which, which was a place the Man United faithful fans, the hooligan side, would congregate at, one of many pubs. But this was a particular one, The Gray Parrot. 

NARRATOR: It was a squat, square building from the 1960s surrounded by a lot of open space. A good place for a surveillance team. 

GARRY ROGERS: They would always meet in there, have a skinful first, and then make their way down into the city center in the hope of obviously coming across the opposing fans. 

NARRATOR: Two of Garry’s undercover colleagues were in the pub that day along with several hundred fans. 

GARRY ROGERS: And then the call went up that they were about to leave, and they all start en masse to leave the pub, even those outside then joined the group and they marched toward the city center altogether, like a military operation. 

NARRATOR: And then the whole crowd suddenly stopped. 

GARRY ROGERS: The cry that went up was that they had a couple of sweets with them. What they meant by ‘a couple of sweets’ was that they had two police officers and they pointed out the two undercover lads. 

NARRATOR: Somebody knew who these two undercover officers were. Remember Garry spotting that he’d been at school with one of the young men under surveillance? 

GARRY ROGERS: That could have been me stood there that day and that lad had recognized me. 

NARRATOR: You can probably imagine what happens when a mob of young men out looking for trouble discover two undercover cops in their midst. Everyone’s had a few drinks, their blood is up. Garry could only look on helplessly. There was nothing he could do to help his two colleagues. 

GARRY ROGERS: The group around them then moved back and they were isolated, just the pair of them. And that was when the cry went up to give them a good hiding, basically. And they were kicked. One had to go to a hospital, had stitches, and they were given a good kicking and then left. We don't know how they identified them, but from that day on, them two were out of that job. 

NARRATOR: A sobering moment you’d think. Garry had witnessed at first hand what was at stake. There was a song popular on the football terraces in those days about killing police officers. Why would you want to risk your life in a crowd of alcohol-fueled young men high on adrenaline and looking for a fight? Week after week? What would you make you carry on?

GARRY ROGERS: It made me question, as it would any sane person, is this for me? And, obviously history shows that I chose that it was. Being a young guy at the time, and you have this macho thing being in the police. So you're not going to go in and say: ‘I've just seen that and that's not for me’, because you'd be classed as a wimp. You know, because it's a rough, tough sort of setup in the police. And although that happened, it didn't put me off doing that job. 

NARRATOR: So Garry started mixing with football fans. He got to know a few of them. And they weren’t necessarily what you’d expect. 

GARRY ROGERS: A lot of these people held down proper jobs, so to speak, in the week. There was one guy who was involved in the Manchester United set-up as a hooligan who worked for Great Manchester Police in their training school. So in the week, he worked in the admin and at weekends he became identified as one of the hooligans with the United set-up. So, you actually question what caused him to be like that? 

NARRATOR: Then there was Tottenham Steve. 

GARRY ROGERS: And he was a postman at the time and he would utilize his job to… they used to send all the credit cards through the post then. He used to pinch all the credit cards. He was married with three kids. He'd left his wife and kids and his sole purpose was to support Tottenham. And I say support because he would come to the matches and during the match - his back to the match - and he would be talking to us and he'd be wanting to arrange to go and have a fight with whoever afterward. So when I say he was a fan of Tottenham, in my mind he was a moron because he couldn't give two hoots about Tottenham. He was there just to fight. He was just there to cause trouble. And he wasn't an isolated sort of person, there was lots like him in the groups. 

NARRATOR: Some of them went to Italy for the World Cup in the summer of 1990. The Italian authorities were very nervous. It would be the first time a team from England had played in Italy since the horror of Heysel. Remember, all English club teams had been banned from Europe as a result of that evening in Brussels. So instead of Rome or Milan, England’s three initial games were scheduled for Cagliari on the island of Sardinia. The Italian authorities were playing it safe. 

GARRY ROGERS: The England fans were basically incarcerated at Cagliari. They were put there because they hopefully could control them a lot better. But when you think there was 3,000, I think it was 3,200 police officers drafted in from the mainland to Sardinia, which gave them then a police force of 4,000. And they brought them in specifically because of the England fans who went to Sardinia. 

NARRATOR: Things got tense on match days. One writer who was there has described the stadium as an armed camp; hundreds of police with rifles and handguns and a pair of helicopters circling above. There was some trouble, but mostly the fans were good-natured. Most of them weren’t there to fight. Most of them were there to enjoy themselves. And that meant drinking beer.

GARRY ROGERS: I've got one picture where the banner says it all really. They were from Mansfield and Manchester, this group, and their banner read Beer Monsters. And it's a title they were obviously proud to have. 

NARRATOR: Garry’s job in Sardinia was to blend in, to make out as though he was a beer monster too. So he spent a lot of time in bars. And he had to perfect the art of appearing to drink a lot of beer without actually doing so. I wonder if they taught him how to do that on his deep undercover course?

GARRY ROGERS: Well, there would be a lot of beer purchased but not consumed, is what I can say. There'd be loads of glasses around. You could put a full one down, pick a half one up and come back again. You know, it creates an illusion that you've drunk half that beer, and then you could wander off again and pick up an empty one, and you've drunk it as far as they're concerned. For us to be credible and to keep your eye on the squirrel, so to speak, you had to do that. 

NARRATOR: The job was to spot potential trouble and nip it in the bud. No mobile phones of course in 1990, so Garry and his undercover colleagues - there were five of them in total - would always know where the nearest payphone was. 

GARRY ROGERS: We'd have to keep in contact regularly with the control room, which was via telephone, a particular phone number with a code name, so that once you rang in, give the code, they'd know it was us. The authorities, nobody knew who we were or where we were because H, who ran it, wouldn't allow that to happen. The only updates we ever got were from him when he would meet us at safe houses. 

NARRATOR: So Garry - Garry McAlinden remember, with the shaven head and the earrings - had to live on his wits. 

GARRY ROGERS: You're mixing with people who in your real life you wouldn't choose to mix with, the likes of Tottenham Steve... I needed him because I was getting information from him, but I wouldn't choose to knock about with him. And although I’ve just said what I’ve said, some of those people I would have chosen, if I was [the person] they thought I was, I’d have them as friends because they were all right.

NARRATOR: ‘If I’d been who they thought I was.’ That’s always the catch when you work undercover. You’re never yourself. You’re never what you seem to be. You’re not Garry Rogers. You’re Garry McAlinden with the shaven head. The ‘full Kojak’ he called it, a reference to another 1970s TV show, which starred Telly Savalas as a bald-headed, lollipop-sucking New York detective. 

GARRY ROGERS: One of the bars where we used to go, the bar owner gave me a metal drinks tray, which had a big picture of Telly Savalas on it. That's how well received we were by the locals, which further down the line annoyed me when, on match days, some of the England fans, you know, did what they did because it's like throwing that hospitality back in their face. 

NARRATOR: After three games in Cagliari the England team had qualified for the next round. Quarantine on Sardinia was over. The whole circus moved to Rimini on the Adriatic coast. And Garry was suddenly at the center of a full-scale riot. 

GARRY ROGERS: I just stood against a wall because I didn’t know what direction things were being thrown at me from. And a lad stood next to me who I didn’t know and next minute I heard him moan, and when I looked a rock had hit him in the face and he just went down to the floor. 

NARRATOR: It had all happened so fast that Garry just found himself caught up in the middle of it. Italian fans had clashed with English fans. Chairs and bottles had been thrown and the riot police had waded in with batons and tear gas. Did memories of Heysel play a part? This was, after all, the first time English fans had set foot in Italy since that terrible event. Were the Italians out for revenge? The police as well as the fans? Garry felt very exposed. To the Italian police, he looked like any other English football fan. 

GARRY ROGERS: Eventually I ended up herded with the rest of them, lay flat down on my back on a garage forecourt, and they stood over us with the rifles. And if they saw you get up or they saw you trying to take pictures or whatever, they'd come and give you a good hiding or smash your camera. 

NARRATOR: But Garry couldn’t resist the temptation. He took a snap anyway. A policeman in a riot helmet checking his rifle, a tear gas canister jutting menacingly out of the barrel; in the background the balconies of what look like holiday apartments. 

GARRY ROGERS: I think once a police officer, always a police officer and I had the camera with me and I just took the picture - but obviously I took it in a way that they didn't see it. I mean, I've still got those pictures today. And you can see them stood over us with the rifles, with the tear gas on, and all helmeted up with the riot gear. 

NARRATOR: Garry spent a total of four weeks with the England fans that summer. He would see plenty more of them over the coming years. Faces became familiar. He established relationships. It all helped to build his cover story. Especially when things got ‘tasty’, as Garry likes to say. And it wasn’t always the English fans’ fault. 

GARRY ROGERS: There were occasions when just by being English fans they got labeled as troublemakers when it wasn't the case. 

NARRATOR: There was, for example, a night in Turkey. 

GARRY ROGERS: That trip to Izmir was when I was in a bar the night before the game and everything was going along nice. We were in there having a good time, basically no trouble at all. 

NARRATOR: And then there was the sound of glass smashing and the English fans in the bar realized that they were under attack. Tables and chairs were being thrown in through the windows from outside. 

GARRY ROGERS: So there was glass flying everywhere. And all anybody wanted to do was get outside for your own safety because, first, you thought it was a bomb had gone off and we all made our way outside only to be met by the local Turkish contingent who were stood looking at us and drawing their fingers across the throat in a throat-cutting image. And then the police arrived and they made their own mind up as to what had happened. 

NARRATOR: As we know, people who followed the England football team had a certain reputation. It probably wasn’t unusual for police forces overseas to draw conclusions when there was trouble. But on this occasion, Garry insists they weren’t doing anything wrong. They were just having a quiet drink. Well, okay, maybe not quiet. 

GARRY ROGERS: The English didn't do anything and all the English fans got arrested. =

NARRATOR: So did Garry and - like that night in Rimini, when he’d found himself lying on the forecourt of a petrol station surrounded by Italian riot police - there was nothing he could do. He couldn’t stick his hand up and say: ‘Hmm, excuse me. I’m actually a policeman. Could you let me go please?’ All those years building his image, the shaved head, the earrings, the carefully honed story about the dodgy building firm, all that would have been for nothing. So Garry had to take what was coming. 

GARRY ROGERS: We were all put on a bus and taken to the local prison and were kept there overnight. We had to spend the night in this caged cell, which held about 40 of us. And there was a hole in the floor in the corner, which was the toilet, and it stunk to high heaven. 

NARRATOR: Tough if you’re a football fan banged up for nothing more than having a drink or two. Tougher still if you’re banged up for doing your job and you’ve got to take it on the chin. 

GARRY ROGERS: They are who they are and don't have to worry about that. We are who we are, pretending to be somebody else - and you had to keep that up, even though you were tired, drained, and in that situation - but, hopefully, in the knowledge that at some point your welfare team was going to make arrangements to get you out. 

NARRATOR: But there was an upside to the situation. It further strengthened the bond between Garry McAlinden and his colleagues and the fans that they’d infiltrated. 

GARRY ROGERS: There were people there with us in that bar, who after that event we went on to meet further down the line. And that incident at that bar became an excellent talking point because we were there. They were there. They knew that we were there. So that improved our credibility 100 percent. 

NARRATOR: So what did all this achieve, I hear you asking? Did mixing with the fans really enable the police to spot impending trouble and stop it from happening? 

GARRY ROGERS: So there were spontaneous events where you came across them by chance. But then there were other things where they pre-planned them and they would know where they were going to be and they would go and give a certain signal and be off. 

NARRATOR: During the European Championship in Sweden in 1992 the authorities made a significant effort to provide facilities for the visiting fans. 

GARRY ROGERS: The Swedish authorities in Malmö, in the square, put up the tents with the beer tents, etc, and entertainment for the England fans. They did everything they could in their power to appease them. And this particular day, we found out by being with the England fans - so-called fans - that they were going to put two lads up on the on the beer tent and start bouncing as if it was a trampoline and [that’s] what the signal was going to be when the authorities went to get them down. That was [what] the signal would be to kick off and cause a mass riot. 

NARRATOR: But Garry and his colleagues were able to put a spoke in the wheel by relaying intelligence back to their control room that trouble was about to start. 

GARRY ROGERS: They decided to leave them up there, so they didn't go and get them down. They just let them keep bouncing up and down on top of the beer tent. And you could see the frustration, and they couldn't understand why nobody was reacting to it. So nothing happened that day because it took away the so-called signal that they wanted. 

NARRATOR: Garry spent five years as an undercover officer. He moved on from football and spent a lot of time investigating organized crime gangs in Manchester and beyond. Dangerous work. Garry has no regrets. 

GARRY ROGERS: It was something that I relished, loved it, and I wouldn't have had it any other way. 

NARRATOR: Garry eventually left the police in 2005, 30 years since he’d joined as a 16-year-old cadet. He still lives in the area where he once worked undercover and, even today, he says he’s on his guard. 

GARRY ROGERS: I'm still very, you know, restricted on where I go and what I do and that's a price I have to pay. But as I said to you, it's a choice I've made. And I'm always, always wary about where I go. I'm always looking. 

NARRATOR: And there’s one place you’ll never find him nowadays: Old Trafford; or any other football ground. 

GARRY ROGERS: I watch it on the telly. I'm always a keen observer there. But I would never, ever dream of going to a football match at all now - not at all. In some ways, doing what I did as an undercover police officer on the football ruined it for me. 

NARRATOR: I’m Vanessa Kirby. Join us next week for another brush with True Spies. We all have valuable spy skills, and our experts are here to help you discover yours.Get an authentic assessment of your spy skills, created by a former head of training at British intelligence now at SPYSCAPE.com.

Guest Bio

Garry Rogers was a working-class teenager from Manchester, England when he developed a taste for undercover police work. He gained the trust of armed robbers, drug dealers and a murderer, gathering evidence to take them off the streets. After five years of covert operations, Garry found himself among a new breed of violent criminal: football hooligans, 'fans' of the sport who lived for the fights that inevitably erupted between opposing teams. Some of the troublemakers lived just minutes from his family home, so Garry had to keep a low profile to ensure his cover wasn’t blown. From London to Turkey, Sweden and Sardinia, he infiltrated the most notorious gangs as part of England’s ground-breaking Omega Unit.

Listen on Youtube
No items found.
No items found.