Sport can often inspire extreme emotions amongst its followers, whether it's football, rugby, baseball or any other team game. My wife has often told me about the fan rivalry that exists between supporters of American football and baseball but she was certainly shocked by the terrifying off-the pitch violence that surrounds English football. I started going to games in the late 60s as a child and by the time the 70s were in full swing, following your local team could be a dangerous occupation. Whether you were attending a home game or travelling to see your team, there were almost always several fights between rival fans, sometimes numbering up to one thousand people on each side with harrassed police officers trying to keep both sets apart, often using police dogs and horses. Making your own way to and from games could be particularly dodgy, but travelling as part of a large group could also attract unwanted attention which meant it was more and more difficult not to get drawn in. Thankfully, things have calmed down over the years, thanks to surveillance cameras, longer judicial sentences and banning orders on suspected gang ringleaders and members which require them to 'sign in' at their local police station on the day of the game and forbids them from entering a certain area between designated times. When the conflict was at its height, rival fans would use bricks, bottles, fists and boots to sort out their differences which were often carried down from father to son. Now, the rival gangs, smaller in numbers, use the Internet and mobile phones to arrange meetings, often miles away from stadiums, and although violent encounters have diminished in number, the ferocity is even worse with knives, baseball bats and machettes being used on occasion. Practically every football team in the country has a 'firm'; a term which describes a collection of violent followers who seek to establish a reputation for being the most feared in the country. Although many older members have 'retired', a new breed is coming through and giving cause for concern to the authorities. Films such as THE FIRM, ID and GREEN STREET have all got to grips with the subject of football violence but, for me, Nick Love's THE FOOTBALL FACTORY is the most successful at telling it like it really was.
THE FOOTBALL FACTORY
Danny Dyer, Billy Bright, Frank Harper, Neil Maskell, Roland Manookian, Jamie Foreman, Tarmar Hassan, Dudley Sutton, Anthony Denham, John Junkin
Boro's Frontline, Pompey's 657 crew, West Ham's Inter City Firm; just a few of the infamous gangs who established reputations as some of the most feared and active mobs in English football. Chelsea’s Headhunters and Millwall’s Bushwackers both played their part in the war on and off the terraces, and Nick Love’s film follows the build-up to an FA Cup tie between these fierce rivals.Based on John King’s excellent book, The Football Factory centres on a group of Chelsea fans, examining the comradeship and bitter feuds that exist between the ‘top boys’ and their troops. Here, the theory that football violence only attracts the disenfranchised is finally laid to rest, courtesy of solid characterisation. We have Tommy Johnson (Danny Dyer) – an average joe whose common decency is marred by his willingness to damage fellow human beings when match days come around.His best friend is Rod (Neil Maskell); another member of the firm, whose loyalty to the cause is threatened when love comes to town. No such conflict of interest for Bill Bright (Frank Harper) – a successful businessman who would pick a fight with himself in the absence of any willing/unwilling persons who find themselves within a 50 metre radius. Bright – a thoroughly nasty piece of work – resents the fact that Harris (Anthony Denham) is the leader of the firm, and sets out to terrorise Zeberdee (Roland Monookian); a younger member who seeks to rise up through the ranks and strengthen his bond with Harris. The older generation is also represented, with Dudley Sutton excelling in the role of Farrell – Tommy’s grandfather – a war veteran who is bound for Australia with his lifelong pal, each hoping to enjoy the time they have left.The Football Factory successfully explores the generation gap, taking in hopes, aspirations and the differing and changing attitudes of men who have literally gone to war, albeit for causes that lie poles apart. As an accurate depiction of football violence, Love’s film also scores highly. The opening assault on a pub full of Spurs fans; the violent revenge attack on a couple of Stoke supporters, en route to an appointment with the red half of Liverpool, and the shattering confrontation between Milwall and Chelsea, deep in ‘bandit country’. It’s all in there, together with ‘spotters’, ‘lookouts’, business transactions between rival thugs (a throwback to those clubbing nights when everyone mixed freely), and watch out for those famous Scouse blades! Granted, The Football Factory does tip its hat to Trainspotting in several areas, and Tommy’s fearful premonitions crop up a few times too many, but this should not detract too much from its overall effectiveness. Raw, violent, compassionate and often extremely funny, The Football Factory will appeal to all those who played (and still play) the game, whether they be old-timers who participated in those often brief 500 per side brawls in days gone by, or the current firms who use technology to organise smaller, more violent ‘offs’. In 2007, the problem still exists and, as this sort of thing has been present in our game for over 40 years, it's unlikely it will disappear anytime soon.