Angry football hooligans
The Football Factory
Paperback, $13.95, 262 pgs.
They're loud, obnoxious, drunk and violent. No, they're not engineering Frosh; they're those bad-boys-of-the-pitch, England's infamous soccer hooligans. In his first novel, The Football Factory, John King gives a gripping insider's view of this violent, macho culture.
Following a band of rabid Chelsea supporters as they punch, kick and claw their way through some of England's toughest slums, the novel is also interwoven with poignant vignettes of British life. In its entirety,The Football Factory paints a depressing portrait of urban alienation in the 1990s.
Tom Johnson, the book's main character, was created to be an angry young man in the worthy tradition of Alan Sillitoe and John Braine. Like Arthur Seaton, from Sillitoe's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Tom is a young, working-class city dweller fighting a one-man war against a repressive society. For Tom and his friends in West London, Chelsea soccer matches merely provide the opportunity to vent their pent-up rage against the elite establishment of England which tries to marginalize them. The actual score on the field is secondary; for Tom, the real fun of going to a game is in finding a fan of the opposing team and stomping him like Mr. Bean at a Motorhead concert. He takes troublemaking very seriously and he's good at it.
The language of Tom and his friends is rendered with brutal honesty their liberal use of sexual and racial slurs would make Mark Fuhrman blush and this effectively captures the bitterness of urban youth in post-Thatcher Britain, as they find themselves relegated to dead-end jobs or permanent unemployment. The reader soon realizes the violence of the soccer hooligan is a symptom of a profound alienation from society; a brief rush of adrenaline in an otherwise monotonous inner-city existence.
If anything, The Football Factory is a dystopian nightmare as frightening as 1984 or Brave New World. The strong hand of authority is everpresent here, whether in the form of the police who herd Tom and his friends like cattle to and from the games, or the security cameras which watch their every move. Technology has alienated people from one another, as seen in a security guard who watches surveillance monitors by day and bombs Baghdad on his computer by night. Jaded and polarized, the once confident angry young men have been reduced to little more than fighting rats in a cage. For all the entertaining adventures of its antihero Tom, The Football Factory is above all a sombre warning: the Brave New World has arrived, and we live in it.