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:: The Football Factory

An adaptation of John King’s 1996 novel, this is not a film about football. The most obvious description is of a kind of Fight Club for soccer hooligans.

Like David Fincher’s masterpiece, this is a film that easily lends itself to discussions of post-modern masculinity in the developed world. Of men who can only find what they feel to be lacking in their lives through intense friendships and violence; about violence between consenting adults, not as a necessity but chosen as an alternative to the banality of modern life.

While the film does lend itself to these things, it makes its own statements on them fairly obvious. It doesn’t quite achieve its apparent goal of being a kind of Trainspotting for soccer hooligans, but it does do a good job of depicting the men involved in The Firm and their intense relationships with each other, and makes clear why they make the choice to become a hooligan, what they get out of it – and what it costs them.

Football itself does not appear in the film at all. The focus is instead restricted to half a dozen members of The Firm, a highly organised group of hooligans who support the Chelsea club –their main concern related to the team Chelsea plays – and which rival Firm this will pit them against. For the most part the members are not simply career criminals, most have ‘straight’ lives as well – their Firm activity is just a part of their life.

Within the Firm, there are numerous tensions between and within the generations, which range from late teens to forties and fifties. The men mostly bond through opposition to others, not through any inherent unity, and when there are no riots in the offing, Firm members keep themselves entertained with cruel pranks on one another. Frank Harper (Lock, Stock, Bend it like Beckham) developmentally stunted mid-ranking Firm member Billy Bright, is particularly keen on such antics.

Danny Dyer (Human Traffic, Mean Machine) plays the main character, aimless twentysomething Tommy Johnson. In between his confident narration, Tommy is starting to worry a bit about the direction his life is taking. The subplot about his prophetic dreams doesn’t quite work, but Dyer turns in a good performance.

Providing a contrast to the carefree violence of the Firm members, Dudley Sutton, playing Danny’s grandfather. A veteran of the Second World War, he has an equally close relationship with his best mate, but a very different take on violence. He doesn’t judge Tommy, but he does fear for him. Dudley and his mate plan to leave the UK to live out their remaining years in Australia, symbolising the loss of a different, perhaps more civilised time in British life.

Women are basically irrelevant to the world of these men – they choose their ‘mates’ over wives and girlfriends. It’s a film about male relationships, and a search for something real and meaningful – in the case of most characters in this film, this is found by membership of a tribe; getting together to drink, get high - and try to kick the f**k out of an opposing tribe every now and then.

The Football Factory does not reach the heights of similarly themed Fight Club and Trainspotting. It does explore a lot of interesting ideas, has some good performances and a decent soundtrack. It definitely has moments of merit – but ultimately is a good film, rather than an outstanding one.