"You've got to be able to take a good hiding as well as dish it out. I've had my nose rearranged and I've been kicked in the face by Arsenal and Chelsea fans, stabbed in the back by Millwall fans but all I wanted to do was get back into the fray the next week and get my revenge."
Julian Gilbey's RISE OF THE FOOTSOLDIER charges through three decades of organised crime, beginning in the mid 70s as football related violence became part of life for many young (and not-so young)men. Carlton Leach was one of those involved, participating in open warfare as a member of West Ham United's hooligans. Eventually, football's armies of combatants would be streamlined into regiments known as 'firms' and West Ham's Inter City Firm would establish a reputation as being one of the most feared in the UK, leaving 'calling cards' on the bodies of victims. I first encountered West Ham as a 15 year old and learned some valuable lessons, emerging bruised but a lot wiser. In those days, it was difficult not to get involved, and Leach's own activities are recounted in this film through a series of incidents which will doubtless prompt nods of the head from many a viewer. Violent confrontations with Man Utd's Red Army, altercations filmed at Leyton Orient Football Club (the first ground I got thrown out of) and an extremely bloody (and realistic) tube train battle with Millwall's Treatment mob are shot with unflinching acurracy, taking this film above GREEN STREET and THE FOOTBALL FACTORY in the football violence stakes. Using hi-def, 16mm, 35mm and super 8, Gilbey captures these violent encounters with a keen eye, often matching those old 70s news footage to provide added realism. Leach eventually bowed out of football violence - due in part to police success in partially controlling these activities - but violence in a different form was beckoning. Soccer violence was often a soft drug, that could lead to the harder stuff and Leach did indeed progress, becoming a doorman at local clubs en route to the dangerous world of true organised crime.
Moving through the 80s Rave Scene - where football hostilities were temporarily shelved as rival gangs mingled to enjoy the fruits of clubland - RISE OF THE FOOTSOLDIER follows Leach into the security business. Here, streetwise doormen are involved to serve the interests of the general public, keeping a watchful eye on potential troublemakers. In reality, many bouncers used their status to distribute drugs amongst the punters and gleefully knocked seven bells out of those who stood in their way; particularly rivals seeking to cut themselves a larger slice of this lucrative cake.
Given the kind of things going down in the Essex clubs, this was almost a natural progression for wayward doormen, and art reflects life here in the most savage way imaginable. Vicious beatings, extreme (and I do mean extreme) torture and gangland slayings were the order of the day, and Gilbey's film rightly pulls no punches with regard to showing us exactly what these men were capable of.
First we had Leach's book, 'Muscle', and now we have a new film (forget the inferior ESSEX BOYS) which has been slated by many writers who accuse Gilbey of glamorising violence. My next post will take a look at the film itself.