“The Football Factory,“ by John King, 1998
This book was heralded as reviving the ‘proletarian novel’ in the U.K. This is not far off. King has painted a portrait of British football ‘hooligans’ who fight for their soccer teams in the streets like the teams play in the stadiums. It centers on pride in your neighborhood and class identity. It’s mostly white and male and not ashamed. It’s full of great English and cockney slang, with the most common expletive being ‘c#nt’ – a crude misogynist word referring to men and women who don’t measure up. It is infused by class hatred and class perceptions, coming down on journalists, careerists, guilty leftists, bankers and yuppies. A whole list of wankers. Oh, and the ‘old bill,’ which seems a really mild way to refer to thug coppers.
It is oddly also interspersed with other stories - of one of the mothers of the lads, who works in a laundromat. And another, an elderly veteran of World War II who liberated a concentration camp and married a Jewish woman, and kicks shit out of some Paki bashers. A journalist who wants to cover and denounce football fights to further her career. An erstwhile Trotskyist social worker who combines her paternalistic job with identity politics. A security guard who creates a war-mongering drone game for computers.
Tommy is a London boy from Chelsea, young and a fighter, who ‘tells it like it is.’ When he’s drunk on pints the book runs on stream-of consciousness’ writing, cascading on for paragraphs like a working-class Joyce. He looks down on the country bumpkins from rural football clubs in the north and midlands of England, who live in run-down shit towns like Liverpool and Birmingham. The book is peppered with the names of London tube stops covered by surveillance cameras. There transport and fighting take place, as one crew of mostly white niggers meet up with another for battle.
The ethnic, national and gender insults run long – but underneath the language there is character. The bangers hate people who mistreat women. They generally insult black people but then have some in their Chelsea gang like Black Paul. The Indians are wimps, but Tommy loves a ‘banger lassi’ and curry and he knows that the Indians will fight too. They visit Spain during the European cup finals following the British national team and bond with other Brit fans, their former enemies. In San Sebastian one guy, Vince, decides he just wants to travel away from all the English crap, even though he has no money. So even patriotism takes a dent. The book does show how the right is able to influence some working-class people, which also makes the book useful.
King himself is not the football fighter he portrays. You can tell he has left-wing political sympathies and this view infuses the book, in spite of the anti-political views of the street fighters and their ethnic and gender bashing. All these guys are working jobs and not on the dole, so they have money to travel to matches, hire coaches, drink lots of pissant beer, even calling an occasional taxi or two. Tommy works in a warehouse but the work is boring, so street-fighting and the adrenaline rush it brings is the antidote. At one point he gets so beaten up at the hands of Millwall football fans that he realizes he could die – which seems funny when you think about it. Ah, the ignorance of youth. Mostly these punch-ups and kick-downs only involve other groups of men like themselves – not civilians. What is most important is loyalty to the group and their joint identity – that is the highest calling. A specific micro-identity trumps a more general class outlook.
|Cockney Rejects in London having a drink-up|
These are the people that in the U.S. might be called white trash, trailer trash, rednecks or peckerwoods. These are the last ‘acceptable’ insults. As this book makes clear, demonizing working class people, even when they are white, is counter-productive and does no good. Liberal whites that do this are mostly middle-class clueless wonders, who have no interest in the class struggle. Black people that do this have justification. But ultimately making powerless working class whites a target doesn’t help anyone but the bosses. The rich really love that shit and they’ll pile on too. Divide and conquer. Divide and conquer. It sets up everyone for a fall.
This is a powerful book and should be read by anyone who wants to read about this slice of working-class reality. As one review pointed out, it is more true than all the sociology essays written about football ‘hooligans.’ That is one of the benefits of so-called ‘fiction’ that is ignored by those who only prefer non-fiction.
Other reviews on the English working class: “Chavs,” “The Outlaws – One Man’s Rise Through the Savage World of Renegade Bikers…,’ Orwell’s “Coming Up for Air,” and “All Art is Propaganda” and the film “Pride.”
And I bought it at Mayday Books!
February 8, 2016