Football is not just a passion for some fans, it is a livelihood. The brutal stories about the dark underbelly of the sport create enticing scandals for gossip journalists and broadcasters. Pick up a tabloid paper or magazine and it is almost guaranteed that there will be lurid, often shocking, tales of sex, money and violence.
The Football Factory tries to dismantle the football hooligan’s mentality and formulate reasons why supporters take their interests to extremes, being more than mere fans but obsessive idolisers who form violent brethrens in support of their favourite strips.
Tommy Johnson (Danny Dyer) is a disenfranchised twenty-something cockney who supports Chelsea. He is also a member of The Firm, a group of football hooligans who spend much of their time in pubs, clubs or each others’ houses. It is announced that Chelsea are to play Millwall and The Firm meticulously plan violent attacks on their fellow London soccer team.
Based on John King’s 1996 cult novel, The Football Factory is a fast-paced, often brutal story of the narrow-minded and twisted mentality of the so-called supporters, who look forward to the big fight rather that the big game. The film unpicks their manifesto, and offers insight into their perverse world and their reasons for bloodshed – their parents beat them, they live on council estates, England has too many immigrants etc. Such pathetic excuses for their way of life make their barbaric acts of cruelty even more deplorable.
If Martin Scorsese was to make a film about the same subject, The Football Factory would be in the same division; it is a tense, fast-paced and gripping 90 minutes with sharp and witty dialogue written by director Nick Love. It is full of Scorsese and Brian DePalma style techniques such as slow motion, extreme close ups, and a modern but eclectic soundtrack. Told in chapters that lead up to the big game (which include flashbacks and dream sequences), such a narrative could perhaps disrupt the viewer’s attention and its tenacity to grip, but instead it places the characters and their lives in clear perspective.
What makes the characters so revolting is their total lack of humanity and respect for life which inspires a few memorable scenes with a racist taxi-driver harbouring memories of “Old England” and the bullish Empire. The only shred of decency comes from Tommy’s war-veteran grandfather, Old Man Farrell (Dudley Sutton), but even he can’t persuade his grandson to grow up and abandon his fascist convictions. Some characters, including Tommy’s best friend Rod (Neil Maskell), are given opportunities to move on with their lives but refuse it, opting instead to stay in The Firm and “go d’arn the pub”.
Possibly the reason why The Football Factory is more hard-hitting than a Scorsese gangster film is that in the UK the Mafia and organised violence seem like fantasies that don’t actually exist. Yet football hooliganism hits a bad note and unfortunately it is a part of British society. As most journalists have pointed out, to release a film about football hooliganism in the year of a major European competition is tactless and stupid but The Football Factory speaks the truth and should not be discredited for a foolish marketing ploy.
The Football Factory is a shockingly realised story about football hooligans – brothers literally bonded by blood and their insatiable thrust for violence, drink, sex and football. The film shows that even the chance of redemption cannot alter their course in life. All in all, an intelligent and well-crafted British film.