Guest Post: Meaner than Philly Fans
Philadelphia is regarded as having the meanest sports fans in America. They've reportedly booed Santa Claus, yet cheered an athlete's career-ending neck injury. One man was even accused of deliberately vomiting on a spectator. Defenders would dispute the facts in these incidents or claim them as the actions of a few which are not indicative of the city's fan-base in general. Fair or not, it is their reputation to the rest of the country.
Still, not even Philly fans have ever tossed a smoke grenade into a bar populated with a rival team's fans to flush them out into a savage fisticuffs powered ambush. This happens in the first few minutes of the movie The Football Factory (2004), a portrayal of English soccer hooligans. The vast difference in what constitutes extreme behavior in soccer overseas from American sports becomes apparent very quickly.
For the characters in the film, traveling to various soccer venues and assaulting any followers of opposing teams along the way is the essence of true fan support.
There isn't a lot of screen time for people that you can root for. The group of hooligans that are featured (referred to as a "firm", as I learned in the end-credits) are unsavory even apart from their fan related brawling. A few are petty thieves. One, Billy, is a drug dealer.
Tommy, the lead, chooses hooliganism simply because he can't bear the thought of settling down to a normal suburban humdrum existence. Anyone who has had a hobby will find it difficult to sympathize with someone who is unable to come up with a cure for boredom that doesn't involve participating in mindless acts of violence. Though he begins to doubt his actions, I never got the impression that it was from any moral reservations or that he had an ounce of empathy for his victims.
Even the women lose much of their likability through their willful association with the guys.
The flip side is that if you go into the viewing hoping for villains to root against, you have a smorgasbord to choose from. One of the first scenes has Tommy experiencing a vision of his behavior ending badly for him. Others run afoul of the law and fellow criminals. Hooliganism isn't the surest path to success.
It seems that the main appeal the fighting holds for them is getting amped up on the adrenaline high of battle. All the ugliness is to feed their desire for cheap thrills.
Some of them claim to be following in England's fighting tradition. They like to think of themselves as soldiers, but even Tommy's WWII veteran grandfather states that he fought against people like them in the war.
The most striking feature of "The Football Factory" isn't the mayhem, but rather how little they actually watch, play or even discuss soccer. There is one scene of youth soccer with the kids of Billy and a rival firm leader, but it isn't long before it degenerates into a fight between the two men. Their passion for the game pales next to their passion for brawling.
The movie struck me as a hybrid of A Clockwork Orange (1971)and The Basketball Diaries (1995). If you can stomach those films' characters, you should give this one a shot. Or, if you've always been itching to see a Landon Donovan lookalike thugging it up in scenes of rumbles and home burglary, it has you covered as well. There has to be a market for that somewhere.