DVD Review: “Hooligans and Thugs: Soccer’s Most Violent Fan Fights” (2003)
As usual, let’s start with the verdict: your life will hardly be incomplete if you never see Hooligans and Thugs. It’s basically a series of spliced together clips of football violence—inside and outside stadiums—set to an irritating techno soundtrack, with no unifying thread other than occasional narration from Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols. So is there anything redeeming about this film?
For one thing, it’s hard to say what one might of some hooligan-related books and movies: this film doesn’t glorify fan violence. Just the opposite—it made me want to steer as clear of scenes involving hooliganism as possible, not only out of concern for my safety but also because there was nothing attractive or heroic about any of the scenes. Maybe I’m alone in this, but if you’re watching a bunch of drunk fat guys kick the crap out of each other and you discover yourself saying “That’s the life for me!” then I stand corrected. And I’d also suggest a long heart-to-heart with your analyst.
This isn’t to say that I join with the guy who wrote the voiceover for this film and posed the weary and vaguely sanctimonious question “We all watch this and ask ourselves one question—why?” I didn’t ask this because I think the answer’s obvious. If you have an id and have read any of the more thoughtful books on this topic (Buford’s Among the Thugs being the best, I think), you can’t help but understand the answer. The hooligan fights for the same reason that the alcoholic drinks or the druggie shoots up: it provides a high that allows you escape from the humdrum nature of your daily life. You don’t have to have any interest in antisocial behavior to get why others do it.
So if you get this point and you’re not particularly interested in the topic (and you haven’t sworn to watch every soccer movie in existence, like I have), is there anything to be learned from watching Hooligans and Thugs? Perhaps. There’s one scene where cops tear-gas a pub during Euro2000 where some English hooligans are rumored to be hanging out. But when people come streaming out of the bar, holding their faces and barfing from the gas, it’s not a gang of hools bum-rushing the cops, but just a bunch of fat, confused, drunk England supporters. The line is fine, but the lesson is clear: stay way the hell away from anything approaching a hooligan scene because police enforcement casts a wide and indiscriminate net (something of particular salience to anyone traveling to Germany this summer).
And like a lot of similarly themed productions, Hooligans and Thugs has an ambivalent attitude toward police enforcement. I’m not uncritically enthusiastic about police methods as a general matter, but it seems like in this case the no-tolerance approach makes sense. Also puzzling to me was the narrator’s observation that it’s objectionable when police possess apparent zeal for whacking rioting fans with clubs and otherwise using force during confrontations. There’s something mildly unsettling about a cop enjoying smashing hooligans, but at least this cop is directing his lust for violence toward solving rather than creating a social problem. And it’s hard to imagine what the alternative would be—a bunch of pacifist policemen who tried to negotiate with a drunken violent mob?
The best thing about this film is Steve Jones’ turn as the narrator. He addresses the viewers as “cunts” and “slags” and appears in a variety of crazy getups—a medieval knight, an English bobby, and (to introduce a section on violence in Latin America) a sombrero-wearing, enormous-moustache-sporting, serape-draped cholo. The absurdist comic relief works well against the monotonous violence of the main feature. And at the end, Jones (addressing us as he sits on the can) abjures any preachiness. “That’s the end,” he says, “Did you lot learn anything? I doubt it.” Sounds about right. Despite the lurid goriness of its subject matter, Hooligans and Thugs is, all things considered, kind of a snooze.