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John Brewin profile picture  By John Brewin

Hooliganism in England: The enduring cultural legacy of football violence

Once a blight on English football, hooliganism has been all but eradicated at football grounds in the Premier League era. Yet a pop culture fascination with football violence endures.

It's September 2014 and West Ham United are holding a press launch for Club London, a corporate hospitality programme for the move into the Olympic Stadium in summer 2016. As is customary at such events, first-team players are wheeled out to speak to the media. New striker Enner Valencia, fresh from scoring against Liverpool in a 3-1 victory, has a huddle of reporters around him, and he gives his reasons for choosing to become a Hammer.

"I knew about West Ham mainly from watching films," he says through a translator. "And I know the supporters were very passionate."

"Which films?"

Two journalists ask the question at the same time. Valencia smiles, and the translator begins to look nervous. There is a pause.

"He means 'Green Street,'" the translator says eventually. The room erupts with laughter. A corporate junket has gone wildly off-message. "Green Street," or "Green Street Hooligans," to use its American release title, is a film about a West Ham hooligan, named after the street on which the club's current home Upton Park sits.

For a club trying to promote an image of an executive-friendly hub at the heart of London's business community, being associated with an ultra-violent cult movie is not helpful. Yet an Ecuadorian signed from Mexican football learned of West Ham through a film that tells a tale of extreme violence with tragic consequences.

Hooliganism is a dying problem in English football if you examine official figures. "Football stadia today are safe and welcoming places, offering good quality facilities to supporters," reads the English Football Association's summary of measures to prevent football violence. "There are no pitch perimeter fences. All stadia in the top two divisions, and many in the lower divisions, are all-seated. Supporter violence inside stadia is very rare. Some hooliganism does take place, but on a very limited scale and usually some way away from the stadium environment."

Yet the culture of hooliganism continues to resonate. Films, TV series, books and fashion: What was called "The English Disease" in the 1980s has developed into a cultural industry. Hooligan films have reached such saturation point that this year saw a spoof released. If "Airplane!" set out to mock the 1970s trend for disaster movies, "The Hooligan Factory" is its "hoolie-flick" equivalent.

An Amazon search for "hooligan" books generates more than 20 pages of results. Clubs such as Hibernian, Bolton, Portsmouth and Burnley compete for attention with the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United. Each club has a hardman, a hooligan, telling a lurid tale of battles with opposing fans and brushes with the law.

Meanwhile, a stroll through a football crowd on matchday or for an evening kick-off will find that the clothing style of the hooligan heyday continues to be worn. Old-school 1980s Adidas trainers, Stone Island jumpers and Burberry caps are very much in evidence.


TO LEARN WHY the evocative images of hooliganism persist in pop culture, it helps to first turn back the clock. Meet Hotshot, to use the name he has used since his schooldays. He was a Manchester United hooligan in the 1980s and 1990s, a "top boy" to use the term for a leading protagonist. Hotshot is in his 40s, and a published author. These days only an occasional visitor to Old Trafford, his written recollections of hooliganism's heyday have found an audience.

He attended his first United match against Coventry City in 1980. He tells ESPN FC of his path from Gorton, southeast Manchester, to terrace notoriety. "You're in school, and you have your gangs in different areas and you were all reds or blue," he says, referring to a heady mix of United and City fans. "It's what you were brought up with. I met a lot of my friends through fighting each other in different gangs from different areas, like Longsight and Droylsden.

"They were against us and we were against them, but when you went to United or City, you had to get on the 53 bus through Manchester. That's where we got to know each other. You had people from Bury and places like that, and I had a little firm [gang] and things escalated, and we all started meeting at the matches. We were all kids at the time, and we started going to away matches and getting together. When we all went, my young firm, we were the young lads, the new generation coming into the Red Army."

United's band of travelling support, the Red Army, was the largest of its kind in the 1970s, and Old Trafford was the first ground in England to install perimeter fences to keep fans from invading the field. During the 1974-75 season that a relegated United spent in the Second Division, the club's fans wreaked havoc across the country. A 1977 visit to Norwich saw the roof of a stand destroyed and parked cars thrown in a river. Hotshot became a member in the mid-1980s, following the motto that "to pay is to fail." United's firm did not pay for tickets to matches, trains, meals or planes -- "jibbing," to use the parlance. At one point, United's hooligan band was known as the ICJ, the "Inter-City Jibbers."

To be accepted, a young hooligan had to prove his abilities in fighting supporters of rival clubs. "The buzz about the kick off -- you were Man United, you weren't running anywhere or you weren't getting into the Red Army. We wasn't boozing, we'd be out before, ambushing other firms before the match started."

Big clubs did not always provide the toughest opponents. "You could go into big firms and there was nowt there for you," says Hotshot. "But you go into small towns, you would get a major kick-off in the middle of nowhere.

"Chelsea and West Ham were biggies," he says of better-known clubs. "You'd always get an ambush. City was a big kick-off for us. I'd say we always had to go to City. We always had to get there first. City had a good firm back then. I rated them. The Young Guvnors were one f---ing top firm.

"My firm growing up: a lot of my mates were in jail at the time. United's firm was folding after 1985, and the Young Guvnors came in and they were always in town. I couldn't go to town on my own then; I was always involved in a kick-off. I had to go into town with a firm. They were good at the time, but we managed, we sorted them out."


WHEN FOOTBALL VIOLENCE takes place these days, the kind that Hotshot recognises, it is almost exclusively away from stadia.

"Going into the grounds, the stewards are all jobsworths," Hotshot says. "Now, all the cameras and stuff, you can't even say f--- off, because you'd get thrown out."

November's international friendly match between Scotland and England was prefaced by a huge police operation to prevent opposing fans from arranging a "meet" in Glasgow. Known hooligans from either side of the border were prevented from travelling, while Strathclyde Police was given a ban from taking holiday while the English were in town. Just like players, fans from rival clubs form alliances when on international "duty."

Despite England fans provocatively singing anti-IRA chants at Parkhead, the home of Celtic, the cross-border operation proved successful. The match passed off with just 27 arrests, with an additional eight made following a hotel brawl. By contrast, the nations' previous Glasgow meeting between in 1999 saw 230 arrested.

Manchester United led the list of arrests at English matches announced in the UK government's Football-Related Arrests and Football Banning Order Figures Season 2013-14. That said, 112 arrests is the type of number that might be recorded on a single day in the 1970s and '80s, and even then, 65 of United's total last season were for "alcohol-related offences," not violence. The total number of arrests from the 92 league clubs came to 2,273, which amounts to roughly 0.01 percent of the 38 million-plus who attended matches. The tally for the 1988-89 season, by comparison, was 6,185 arrests. Ten years before that, when England played Scotland at Wembley, 349 arrests were made and a further 144 ejected.

Fans gather ahead of the Scotland vs. England in Glasgow in November, a match that went off with just 27 arrests, with an additional eight made following a hotel brawl.

The UK government began collating such statistics after the 1984-85 season, regarded as the darkest in national football history for a series of incidents that culminated in 39 fans being killed at the European Cup final when some Liverpool fans charged those of Italian champions Juventus and a wall at the Heysel Stadium collapsed. The worst domestic incident had been an FA Cup tie between Luton and Millwall in which visiting fans fought with police and home supporters. There were 81 people injured and 31 arrested that March evening.

In-stadium football violence exists only in the most isolated of incidents. Policing and closed-circuit television have seen to that. Two Premier League matches last season between Welsh rivals Cardiff and Swansea were trailed by the media with a knowing nod toward the prospect of violence. In previous days in the lower divisions, both clubs were known for hooligan activity, with Cardiff's Soul Crew the rivals of Swansea's Jack Army.

Heavy-duty policing, in which away fans were "bubbled" in official coaches brought in convoy with a police escort, helped keep the peace: Not a single arrest was made at either fixture.

"The good behaviour of the fans, the stewarding at Cardiff City Football Club and effective policing all combined to create an enjoyable evening for everyone," said match commander superintendent Tony Smith after the first of the matches at Cardiff in November 2013.

Beyond tense matches like those, there is now significant pressure from fans' groups toward reducing policing at matches, and a call for police attitudes to change toward supporters who, aside from a minuscule fraction, are actually rather well behaved.

After all, penalties for football-related violence are now draconian, carrying sentences that run into years rather than months. Even drunkenness at a ground can lead to a lengthy ban from attending matches.

Hotshot eventually received a three-year ban, and says it almost killed his love for football.

"Them banning orders were worse than a sentence because you're banned for three years," he says. "Your life's just gone, then. You can't go to the match, even if you just wanted to go for a booze up. You can't go to anyone's city. You get seen, you get nicked. It's a pain in the arse for you when you want to go to the match. It ruins everything.

"I wasn't even interested when it was over. I lost it. I didn't want to go back. I didn't even want to go and watch United. ... You fight for them, you'd die for them and all of a sudden you can't go."

Police and matchday stewards are allowed by UK authorities to take strongarm approaches to fans' behaviour in and around stadia. It is a policy that has been questioned by fans' activist groups who want matchday attendees to be treated with greater respect. Large groups of supporters in a city square will often find themselves being filmed by police cameramen.

"Football fans are the last group in society that can be demonised without anybody questioning it," Amanda Jacks, caseworker for the Football Supporters' Federation tells ESPN FC.

The current UK government believes the continuing decline in arrest figures and incidences of football-related trouble vindicates its strategy. "The large majority of football supporters are law abiding individuals," Damian Green, the-then Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, told the House of Commons in February 2014.

"Although levels of football disorder have been significantly reduced, and orchestrated football violence marginalised, the risk of spontaneous alcohol-fuelled incidents, especially at high-risk and high-tension matches, remains. A range of football-specific legislation complements public order legislation which enables police to prevent and respond to incidents of violence and disorder.

"Police football intelligence officers share information with one another, clubs and other authorities involved in the security and safety planning to minimise the risk of disorder. Football banning orders are the highly effective cornerstone of our preventative strategy."

Millwall supporters fought one another during the 2013 FA Cup semifinal against Wigan at Wembley.

Jacks takes a different perspective. "The narrative that English fans are hooligans also suits an element of the media," she says. "At least four times a season I will deal with incidents involving football fans and police that if they involved protesters, would be on the front page of the Guardian. Because it happens with football fans, it goes against the narrative that all fans are hooligans. It's almost as if people don't want to see the other side of it."

Jacks argues that the continuing prevalence of what she calls "hoolieporn," that raft of films, books and TV series that dramatize and fantasise, does little to help English fans at home, and especially on the Continent.

"It creates a stigma abroad. Arsenal travelled to [Brussels club] Anderlecht, and the Belgian police made it very clear that ticketless fans could not travel and anyone without a ticket would be arrested, and that's because they believe English fans represent trouble and hooliganism."


IN MARCH 1989, Nottingham Forest travelled to Old Trafford and beat Manchester United in an FA Cup quarterfinal. United had an equaliser disallowed when referee Brian Hill said a Brian McClair shot had not crossed the line. Off the pitch, United and Forest fans struck up a vicious rivalry.

"They sang Munich songs all the way through, didn't they?" says Hotshot, accusing Forest fans of chants that mocked the 1958 Munich Air Disaster. "It wasn't just the firm that was angry, the whole of Old Trafford was. Then the cops made the mistake of letting everyone out at the same time. It went ballistic, big time. It was all the barmies [non-hooligans], as well. The police couldn't do f--- all. ... That's how we got to start hating them.

The following year, United travelled to Forest's City Ground for another FA Cup tie. Hotshot recalls a revenge mission.

"They've always had a good firm, Forest. They're up there. I would always says that about them. We've had loads with them. They've always been up for it. They really pissed us off that game. We should have had a goal. It got kicked off the line.

"When we went down there the next year, we were unstoppable. We went over and got plotted up, and took it from there. There was nothing arranged or anything like that. We'd do our thing, they'd do their thing, and then we'd take it on, like we did we everyone, like we always had to."


HOOLIGAN MOVIES HAVE been in production for more than 25 years. The first and probably best of a kind was the BBC film "The Firm," directed in 1989 by the late Alan Clarke, a prime chronicler of British culture up until his death the following year. A pre-Hollywood Gary Oldman is the psychotic leader of West Ham's hooligan band, or "firm," to use the term still employed to this day. Oldman's Bexy is a family man who cannot live without the buzz of football violence. "We come in peace, we leave you in pieces," he says.

Clarke's gritty realism casts the thugs as ciphers of Margaret Thatcher's Britain; some of Bexy's mob are BMW-driving stockbrokers while Oldman's character is an estate agent in the era of a property boom.

Actor Elijah Wood, director Lexi Alexander and actor Charlie Hunnam attend a premiere after party for Green Street Hooligans in 2005.

"The Firm" has been much imitated, even remade in 2009 by Millwall-supporting director Nick Love, whose "Football Factory," made in 2004, depicts relations between Chelsea and Millwall fans. It converted lifelong Hammer Danny Dyer, playing leading Chelsea Headhunter Tommy Johnson, into an icon of the post-millennial hooligan, clad in expensive sportswear. He swills lager, abuses illegal pharmaceuticals and acts like Jack the Lad before fighting kicks off.

Yet it is "Green Street" that remains the most famous -- and notorious -- of all "hoolie-flicks," even if in England, it is derided for a lack of authenticity. The presence of doe-eyed Elijah Wood as an American student suddenly running with West Ham's mob is matched for incongruity by "top boy" Charlie Hunnam's accent. Newcastle native Hunnam produces a Cockney accent that Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins might turn his nose up at.

Director Lexi Alexander, an admirer of the original "The Firm," recognises why the home front was not so welcoming. "There's no doubt I put a Hollywood spin on it," she tells ESPN FC. "My whole point was not to make a film that was authentic for the Brits. I wanted to show the rest of the world, especially America, that this existed. My point as a filmmaker was to say that there's a world you don't know about."

Alexander, a German whose backstory in arriving in Hollywood includes being a one-time kick-boxing protege of Chuck Norris, had her own hooligan credentials. In the early 1990s, as she puts it, she "did some time with a firm for a club called SV Waldhof Mannheim," now long lost to the Bundesliga.

"I was the only girl travelling with them," she says. "I never got into any fights, but they thought it was good to have me around, because I could take pictures of all the fights, how it goes off and what happens. I always thought it was an incredibly ... maybe romantic is not the right word, but there is something missing in the rest of society; a sense of belonging.

"The kids were normally from broken families, but there was a consistency of going to the game, meeting up and sticking together. It was very "West Side Story"; that died out in the rest of society. Though after awhile you start to see things that are not so romantic, like alcohol, and racism at times. And times when it's 50 against 1."

Her aim was to depict what happened in England. "The whole firm thing and hooliganism and how you behave, what you wear, that's all from you guys," she says. Though West Ham are not keen to be associated with the film, Alexander was able to charm her way into getting cameras inside Upton Park. After being released in 2005, it took on a life of its own. Panned by critics, it nevertheless has a 7.5 rating from 100,000 Internet Movie Database raters. The Griffin pub, in Brentford, West London was used for the film, and it still receives foreign visitors wishing to pay homage.

"Here comes this German woman who makes this movie people a lot of Brits think are dirt," says Alexander. "But it's not only a British thing, it's everywhere but America, and at least hooligans don't run around with guns. There is a resistance to it, that was personal, it was about who did it, and how. That put a cloud over how hugely successful it is.

"I have heard of 'Green Street'-dedicated birthday parties, a website dedicated only to the clothing. It has no end. If you hashtag #greenstreet or #greenstreethooligans, you cannot go a day without people saying it's their favourite movie. It's frustrating because it's a massive hit, but nobody gives it credit."

Alexander fears her intended message may have been lost. "I didn't want to say how nice hooliganism was," she says. "If that was the case I would not have killed the main guy in the end. I wanted to show that it can destroy everything."

Such success gave rise to two more "Green Street" films, the third, "Never Back Down," released last year. Alexander had little to do with them, save for receiving a fee to allow her name to be associated with "Green Street 2: Stand Your Ground." Hooliganism has now become a subject for the modern-day B-movie, the straight-to-DVD film that never gets a cinema release.

The trilogy has gained particular cult status in the United States. "The college kids in the USA, they missed this," Alexander says. "You can't join a gang here like that, because gangs are too dangerous. There is not this kind of camaraderie and sticking together and showing up for someone even if you are scared."


"ALL MY MATES are my family," Hotshot says. "We all got brought up together. We were all into the same things. I know lads that have degrees and stuff like that but they still wanted to be the way we were, they didn't want to be all that mummy's boy s---.

"We're all football supporters," he adds. "You'd do anything for the club. If it went off in a boozer, say you [the writer] was there, you'd probably join in. You wouldn't want to get a Bic [razor] on your head, so you'd be right at the front. Well, after about four pints or so."


THE PREMIER LEAGUE era that started in 1992 signaled a watershed moment in British football. As satellite television deals injected money and demographics altered, it became acceptable to be a football fan in a manner that the dark days of the 1980s would not allow. Middle-class people had always attended matches, but now such a group felt able to write about the game using its own voice. Nick Hornby's "Fever Pitch," published in 1992, was the story of a Cambridge University graduate finding his way in life, while remaining hopelessly committed to Arsenal.

Later that decade, as football's popularity began a rise accelerated by heavier television coverage and Euro '96, a raft of books began to re-examine a hooligan era that had previously been demonised. Irvine Welsh, the author of "Trainspotting," used the life of active Hibernian hooligans as one of the backdrops to his drug-soaked fiction. John King's "Football Factory," eventually adapted into that Nick Love film, was a fictional account of Chelsea Headhunters that examined a group living a 9-5 existence lifted by the thrill of taking on rival clubs' firms.

Bill Buford's "Among The Thugs" was a nonfiction forerunner, coming from the unlikely source of a New Yorker staffer, an American former editor of literary magazine Granta. Buford's book, published in 1990 but begun in 1984, saw him embedded with Manchester United hooligans, members of the far-right National Front and with England fans in Italia '90. Buford wanted to discover why so many young men freely engaged themselves in acts of violence.

"Violence is their antisocial kick, their mind-altering experience, an adrenaline-induced euphoria that might be all the more powerful because it is generated by the body itself, with, I was convinced, many of the same addictive qualities that characterize synthetically produced drugs," he concluded.

Other texts were far less circumspect. "Steaming In," by Arsenal supporter Colin Ward, published in 1989, was among the first to tell the stories from a fan's perspective, and it inspired a raft of imitators. While Ward did not self-aggrandise, hooligan literature swiftly became a genre in which boastful retired "hoolies" related tales of victories against the odds and were not apologetic for their actions.

The 1984-85 season is regarded as the darkest in football history that culminated in 39 fans being killed at the European Cup final when some Liverpool fans charged those of Italian champions Juventus, and a wall at the Heysel Stadium collapsed.

"Look at some of the hoolieporn," says Clifford Stott, an academic expert in crowd management who is a Principal Research Fellow in Security and Justice, and who co-authored "Football 'Hooliganism,' Policing And The War On The English Disease."

Stott uses the same "hoolieporn" label as does Jacks, also suggesting much of the content is fantasy. "Look at the accounts, say, of the England matches. I have studied them, and I don't know what they are talking about," he tells ESPN FC. "It didn't happen like that. If you think about hoolieporn, it's 'We're the toughest, the hardest, we came, we saw, we conquered.' They glorify themselves and their role, that bears no resemblance of what they did. I suspect that's true of what of much they write about."

Colin Blaney is a former football hooligan turned author, whose exploits as a young Manchester United fan took him across Europe, where he served numerous jail terms for his part in the criminal activities that accompanied the violence. Having served out time in a German prison, and having already contributed to Richard Kurt and Chris Nickeas' "The Red Army Years," the tale of United's soap operatic 1970s campaigns, he says his German ex-wife persuaded him to tell his own full tale.

"She would come to United games in Dortmund, at Feyenoord and in Milan," he tells ESPN FC. "She used to meet these mates of mine. She was an intelligent girl and said that I needed to write about my colleagues and friends, all these crazy characters."

"Grafters" is Blaney's account of how supporting United took him from Collyhurst, North Manchester, into a transcontinental lifestyle of thieving and violence. First published in 2004, and reworked in 2012, it gave him the opportunity to pen further books. "The Undesirables," published this year, is the story of the Inter-City Jibbers, United's light-fingered hooligan collective, while he also ghosted Hotshot's recent book.

Blaney suggests these books appeal to an audience who would not otherwise choose to read. "People's sons come up at Old Trafford and tell me that they've read my book, and they're only about 12 and say they've never read another book in their life," he says. "The wife of Brian Kidd [United legend and current City coach] told me that Brian never reads books, but that he couldn't put mine down.

"There's so many books," says Blaney, who suggests that hooligan literature is akin to modern-day war stories. "It's got a bit of everything. Besides the culture, the violence and the fashion, maybe it's quite compelling because you have a brotherhood, helping each get by, making money together.

"If our generation had been in the army, we'd be talking about that, but we all missed out on the [Second World] war and became an army on the terraces. Like the oldies used to talk about Singapore or dropping into Cairo or something, we talk about going to France to fight St Etienne or things like that."

"When they all get together, these lads, they're all late 50s and 60s now. It's like a reunion from 50 years ago when you had old army geezers talking about military manoeuvres they'd been on, talking commanders and lieutenants."


FOOTBALL VIOLENCE HAS has long provided a compelling narrative for television. The BBC's flagship current affairs programme "Panorama" made a 1977 documentary on fans at Millwall FC, the club whose fearsome reputation continues; Lions fans fighting between themselves at the 2013 FA Cup semifinal with Wigan made international headlines.

"All we're going for is a good game of football, a good punch-up and a good piss-up," is the view of Harry The Dog, a now deceased Millwall fan who became a cult figure for his unreconstructed approach to terrace life.

"Millwall" is viewable on Youtube, as are many such documentaries, with 2000's "Macintyre Uncovered" a particular hit. Investigative journalist Donal Macintyre infiltrated Chelsea's Headhunters, and his findings resulted in hefty sentences for those he caught boasting of their antics. One convicted hooligan boasted, while being filmed by a hidden camera, of slashing an off-duty police officer and their setting up "meets" with rival supporters via mobile phones.

In 2006, Danny Dyer, to follow his starring role in "The Football Factory," accepted a commission from production company ZigZag to present "The Real Football Factories," in which Dyer travelled Britain and, for a second series, South America and Europe, to meet real-life hooligans.

Dyer was perfect for his assignment. Like his film character, he was a strutting, foul-mouthed, white-powder-sniffing, chain-smoking, pint-swilling lad, and he could approach the wavelength of such terrace luminaries as Burnley's Suicide Squad, whose leader, Andrew Porter, explained his philosophy to a clearly edgy Dyer.

"If you don't like jail, don't do the f---ing crime," said Porter, a fearsome skinhead holding court in his local pub. "I've done sentence after sentence. When you come out, they all say rehabilitation, but it doesn't. You're born with it. Beckham were born with it. He didn't learn his f---ing skill. Rembrandt were a painter and he were born with it. He didn't learn to paint a f---ing brilliant painting, did he? It's in the genes, innit? It's not a violent streak, it's just being proud."

Peter Day, the series creator, thinks that even a decade ago he was depicting a culture that was fading. "In Britain, we're taking about a small period of time," he says. "Most of the people in the film are over 40 and it's nostalgic, preserved in aspic, that football violence like that doesn't really happen anymore."


THOUGH THE ORIGINAL protagonists might be pushing toward retirement age, the fashions of football hooliganism continue to be a strong indicator of its ongoing afterlife. The "casual" movement, in which young men dressed up in imported foreign clothes as a uniform for battle, resonates down the decades. It's also big business.

Adidas's Originals label re-releases and reimagines 1970s and 1980s training shoes and sports garments for a market of males either trying to relive or recreate what is seen as a "golden age." Meanwhile, reassuringly expensive labels like Stone Island continue to be the chosen garments of the more discerning football supporter, or the youngster with aspirations. Even if violence has decreased to the point of disappearance at stadiums, looking the part continues to be important to a certain kind of fan.

The movie Grimsby, due to be released in 2015, stars Sacha Baron Cohen as a football hooligan supporter of lower league team Grimsby Town.

"It's an aspirational thing," says Daniel Sandison, a Liverpool-supporting terrace fashion expert and journalist with Halcyon Magazine, as well as the co-creator of Stand Against Modern Football. "That's happened through each gang of lads since the '60s when people were skint but bought an Italian suit. Living beyond your means has always been that thing of getting by and then spending all your money to look the best you can. That goes beyond football.

"Some of the poorest, most impoverished areas contain the best dressed lads."

Then again, says Sandison, "It gets ridiculous. You think you look like a hooligan, but it actually looks like a fancy dress thing. Fellas get older and keep dressing like that. They've got check shirts, navy jumpers, but with beer bellies and bald heads. They probably need to mature their look a bit."


"WHEN UNITED AND City get to have their organised fights, it only happens once every two years," Colin Blaney says. "It's usually up in Oldham in a car park. It never really happens at the football, and I'm glad."

Even if arrests at stadiums are at an all-time low, the football hooligan hasn't been fully eradicated yet. Violence does still erupt away from the grounds; the 2011 break-up of Burnley's Suicide Squad was caused by police intercepting an arranged meeting with Blackburn Rovers supporters. Andrew Porter, now 47, was given five years for a riot his taxi did not even arrive in time for. He was damned by phone records that proved he had helped to arrange the brawl.

Technology has been an aid to reducing battles between firms. Mobile telephones, the internet and social media are new ways in which fans can contact their rivals, but they also provide an electronic trail for police to catch participants. The modern "top boy" must be a master of subterfuge and perhaps even be an expert on the law itself to stay one step away from arrest.

"The violence and all, it's very hard for them all now, with all the cameras and all that," Hotshot says.

"Say United are playing City, if they get found that morning ahead of the game, say 40 of them together, they get sectioned off the Old Bill and are not allowed to go into Manchester all day and night, so they have to go home, so that's a full day lost. It's all really changed for those boys who really want it. They've missed out.

"United still have a tasty little firm," he says of the small band who continue the pursuit of violence. "They do their own thing. It's just ... you can't do anything in a city centre anymore. What they have to do is sit tight until, say, 8 o'clock and say, 'They're there' and just go for it. That will be out of town, mostly."

"A lot of the problem now is young kids, we're talking between 14 and 18 years old, are dressed up in the Stone Island gear," Stott adds. "If you blew on them, they'd fall over. But they get a strong sense of identity from this stuff."


THE ENGLISH FOOTBALL hooligan first became a "folk devil," to use the sociological term, in the late 1960s, yet has outlived all his contemporaries. That was a time of Flower Power, Skinhead and Northern Soul, subcultures now for revivalists only. The hooligan era outlived the punk explosion, Two-Tone, mod, and even survived beyond the late 1980s rave culture that many theorists said had put an end to it, the idea being that thugs switched from alcohol and aggro to Ecstasy, the "love drug." "When the Ecstasy came in, we started knowing them through the dance scene," says Hotshot of the drug's effect on his relationship with the City hooligan firm that was once a sworn enemy.

Yet, 20 years beyond that rave movement's height, hooliganism's identity survives and has spread beyond Britain to be copied and imitated across Europe and even further afield.

"We have this sense of vilification of violence but also this 'whoa look at that,'" Stott says. "It draws us in, the narrative. The very fact that a film like 'Green Street' can be produced and be marketable speaks about the way in which we have this contradictory sense of violence."

Cass Pennant is a well-known West Ham hooligan who has turned, in the words of his own website, into an author and 'hoolioligist.'

"The violence appeals to people in the way that these really violent computer games are popular worldwide," suggests Amanda Jacks. Peter Jay draws significant positives from the movement, using the example of Cass Pennant, a legendary West Ham hooligan turned, in the words of his own website, "Author and Hoolioligist."

"If you look at what the state had in mind for Cass at 18, it wasn't publishing books or going on book tours, as some kind of social anthropologist," says Jay. "The idea for him at 18 was that he wasn't needed in a most uncompromising way, so I think what he does it now is fantastic."

"It's maybe one of the last great subcultures," says Lexi Alexander, who says she has been repeatedly encouraged to write a hooliganism TV series. "The producers who paid for the movie were asking me if this type of thing really exists. Most Americans did not know there was such a thing as a hooligan firm."

"Green Street," whatever its problems of authenticity to an English audience, took an unknown and underground phenomenon to a country beginning to fall for the game's on-field charms.

And somewhere in either Ecuador or Mexico, Enner Valencia was won over by the film. Like it or not, a culture of football hooliganism continues to live on and prosper.

John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.

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