Once the scourge of the terraces, football hooliganism is making a comeback - at the cinema. In 2005 we'll see Elijah Wood as a West Ham yob in The Yank, but first we have The Football Factory, a grim and earthy look at soccer's underbelly based on John King's cult 1996 novel. Danny Dyer plays a young hoodlum who has dedicated his life to "thieving, f***ing and fighting". And that just about sums up Nick Love's forceful but ultimately self-defeating wallow in the worst excesses of male working-class culture.
Set in an urban wasteland of grotty pubs, rundown housing estates and building sites, Love's shoestring-budgeted movie is as far removed from the glamour of Premiership football as it is possible to imagine. Indeed, besides a few TV snippets and an FA Cup draw, the "beautiful game" is nowhere to be seen in his episodic and profanity-strewn drama.
"OBSCENE VIOLENCE, GRUESOME SENTIMENTALITY"
Narrated Trainspotting-style by Dyer's cocky twentysomething Tommy Johnson, The Football Factory instead focuses on the fierce tribal loyalties which set Frank Harper's west London crew on a collision course with a rival mob from Millwall. For Tommy, life is a non-stop orgy of lager, drugs and brutality, with no room for work, family or relationships. Until, that is, a series of harrowing nightmares make him wonder if he's got what it takes to be part of "The Firm".
Love expertly captures the self-doubt and insecurity that lies beneath his characters' swaggering bravado, while the fight scenes have a visceral intensity that reeks of authenticity. The writer-director should also be commended for assembling such a persuasive ensemble of mean-looking, shaven-headed gorillas. Alas, no amount of style or veracity can excuse the obscene glamorising of senseless violence, while the avuncular presence of Tommy's grandfather (Dudley Sutton) introduces a gruesome streak of sentimentality that's just as unpalatable.
The Football Factory is released in UK cinemas on Friday 14th May 2004.