Despite the popularity of football, there are few films that looks at the game. Over the years, however, the few that did became instant classics, like ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ and ‘The Cup’. Their success lies as much in the skills of the filmmakers themselves rather than the actual subject itself. The film that did try to portray modern football in all its glory, ‘Goal!’, was a commercial success, but its shallowness meant that only those who are actually into football gets to connect with the film. There are a few more films that touches on the subject (‘Maradona by Kusturica’ and ‘Zidane’), but these would fall more towards the categories of creative non-fiction, rather than fiction itself.
Judging by the title, you might think that ‘The Football Factory’ would be such a film to satiate such an emptiness. After all, half of the people you meet almost certainly has more than just a passing interest in the game. They may not all understand the offside rule, but they would certainly know or have at least heard of Cristiano Ronaldo (if ever a film is made of his life, I would fast forward to this summer’s non-transfer to Real Madrid 🙂 ). Given such a film, then, it is interesting to note that ‘The Football Factory’ doesn’t actually look at football, but the people that drives it: its fans.
I use the word fans politely here. Yes, they are football supporters in a sense, but taking the fanaticism to a whole other level, we can say that this film looks at the hooligan aspect of the English football culture. It’s not as common these days as before, (and certainly pales in comparison to the hooligans in Italy and Spain). Nevertheless, it remains an interesting P.O.V. through which to watch the film: we don’t actually see much football going on. If you had picked this up in the hope of catching a glimpse of Frank Lampard or David Beckham, then drop it like it’s hot. The story, based on the novel of the same name, follows the fortunes of the Headhunters, a group of Chelsea supporters. More specifically, we follow the fortunes of Tommy Johnston (Danny Dyer), one of the members of the group. He wouldn’t strike you as a hooligan when you consider that he’s close to his family, has a decent job and is relatively intelligent. He serves as the foil to Billy Bright (Frank Harper), about as racist and as right-wing as someone is about likely to get. He is a part of the older generation, but goes around with as much energy and anger as the next young man when it comes to football. He’s also not entirely happy about his position in the group, having to be subservient to it’s leader, Guv’nor Harris (Anthony Denham) when he believes that it is his time to lead, rather than to still serve. Zeberdee (Roland Manookian) bears the brunt of his anger, a young man who often speaks before he thinks. His best friend, Rod (Neil Maskell) also has a role here, but risks being left out for the punishable crime of…love.
Their rivalry with the Bushwhackers (a group supporting Millwall) drives the film on. Led by Fred (Tamer Hassan), it is the one relationship that is most striking through the film. Friendly during the weekdays, the weekend brings out the animal in them and jacks up their rivalry and animosity to the hilt. One could say that it is the very definition of a love-hate relationship, with extra emphasis on the word ‘hate’. When both Chelsea and Millwall were drawn together in the FA Cup, the anticipation reaches fever pitch. It doesn’t help that Tommy somehow managed to injured an anonymous man…who turned out to be Fred’s brother. Tommy is not completely detached from non-hooligan life: he also maintains close relations to his grandfather, Bill (Dudley Sutton). He is also a member of the older generation and a war veteran, but is horrifed to see the degeneration of the youth of the day. He spends his life dreaming of better days, and of migrating to Australia with his friend, Albert (John Junkin).
On the face of it, it is a clear examination into the hooligan issue in football. “I just thought it was a very under represented culture phenomenon,” said the director Nick Love. “It’s the kind of thing that has gone on in England since the 70s.” However, going deeper into the issue, I see notions of family and brotherhood also playing a role here. The relations between the men are, at times, closer than to their own kin. It is incredibly tribal, and to see the relationships develop and mature over a certain period was quite satisfying to a certain extent. It also asks the question of whether hooliganism and violence should be celebrated and encouraged: Tommy constantly have dreams of a dead kid who talks with him. During such moments, he asks himself whether this is something that he should be doing.
The idea nationhood are also explored at; in a scene-stealing cameo, the taxi driver’s (Jamie Foreman) constant tirade against the foreigners (and Bill’s visible disgust against it) can, in a way, sum up the show as a whole: us vs them. With such a perspective, the script (written in four days!) reflects the realism and the energy very well. How? Well, consider this monologue from Tommy: “Are you gonna sit in some poxy office with a cunt for a boss telling you what to do as you count your pennies trying to make ends meet in a country that’s sinking into strikes and wars and at the end of the day you go home to your cosy little flat in ‘nowheresville’ and pull your IKEA curtains shut to hide from the big bad world and pretend it’s not happening? Or are you gonna stand up and be counted, make a difference and feel the rush? Just for once say “f*ck it”. I’m coiled up like a spring and I’m ready to burst and wanking ain’t doing it anymore.”
Allied with a very fast-cutting, dynamic visual style (you feel like you’re watching a music video in some parts), the films comes off looking and feeling incredibly energetic. Even the violent scenes seems, dare I say it…cool. That leads to one of the controversies of the film: is it promoting hooliganism and violence? Personally, I won’t be drawn into beating someone up just to make my day merely because of the film (and I very much doubt whether many would either). However, I can see how it can be construed as such. “I need violence to make me feel I’m still alive. I know what I’d rather do, mate,” said Tommy. “Tottenham away. Love it!”
As a film, it is an interesting exploration of an area that is rarely looked at when it comes to football movies. At times, however, you do feel that the violence and the constant foul-mouth language gets a bit much. It bores me after a while, even if it was realistic. Would it have been better without it, though? I think not, but, much like an over-zealous Wayne Rooney, the film keeps on moving very quickly, without much breaks in between, and it can be a bit of an overkill. If you’ve more than a passing interest in football, or if you’re an anthropologist looking to examine hooliganism (and the idea of brotherhoods and outsiders as a whole), then perhaps you’ll get more than a bit of kick out of this movie.
If not, then you might want to stay away.
Totally unrelated, but Fikri is so happy that ‘The Wrestler’ is getting much praise at Venice. Go, Aronofsky!