The Football Factory

(Nick Love, UK, 2004)


British movies and novels conceived under the influence of Irvine Welsh (Trainspotting, 1995) paint a very strange and disquieting portrait of contemporary social malaise.

In The Football Factory, a gang of sports hooligans fight, swear, drink, urinate, muck about, and generally abuse enemies, friends and themselves.

In another, simpler era, such lads (such as the kind we see in Joseph Losey’s classic These are the Damned, 1964) would have been presented as sociopathic animals completely lacking in self-awareness. If storytellers wanted to give an optimistic twist to that tale, they might choose to lead such fallen characters through hell and back, to some fragile moment of redemption.

But Tommy (Danny Dyer), the wisecracking narrator of The Football Factory, bears some resemblance to the intellectually-inclined anti-hero of Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971). He brutalises and is brutalised. He knows it, and moreover can even spit out the familiar sociological analysis of his own sorry condition. But, in the face of all that, he simply does not care. He and his mates just hurl themselves into the fray, over and over.

This film is also indebted to the Trainspotting legacy in the way it plunges us directly, without a reflective pause, into the amoral thrills that these unlovely characters experience. Writer-director Nick Love, adapting a novel by John King, keeps the energy on a non-stop high via frenetic editing and speed-thrash music. It is only through the inexorable structure of the piece, the way in which the events of move and counter-move set off an escalating catastrophe, that we are finally led to a bleak realisation of where it is all heading.

Do not go to The Football Factory expecting to see a sports movie. It is more like a gangster film, plotting the step-by-step power-play between rival groups of barbarians. Like in Paul Morrissey‘s Mixed Blood (1985), this code of savage justice is dependent on factors of chance, error, and the incalculable madness of men way beyond rationality. The factory of the title is society itself, swiftly generating its own breakdown.

© Adrian Martin October 2004

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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