I originally read Among the Thugs last year, but with a (potentially) lengthy amount of hospital time looming, I decided to return to it, just becauseI originally read Among the Thugs last year, but with a (potentially) lengthy amount of hospital time looming, I decided to return to it, just because it was such a page-turner. Thankfully the hospital visit turned out to only be out-patient surgery (and also thankfully, the surgery went as well as could be hoped). Be this as it were, I still managed to rampage through this book. As my girlfriend will testify, I spend too much time reading about soccer/football (debatable) and other sports (probably true). This time period in English football still fascinates the hell out of me however.
While others have broached the topic, Buford comes from an American perspective, which in the 1980s meant little understanding of football. Reading his account of the rampant hooliganism ever-present in Britain during the ’70s and ’80s from the perspective of an uninformed football fan allowed the author to address the issue with less prejudice. It helped me, despite my knowledge (albeit somewhat limited) of the history of English football, to broach the phenomenon of the English soccer hooligan.
It is difficult to explain the cultural and societal impact of football in England to someone from the United States. The States are too spread out, its professional teams too far apart to develop the connection these clubs have with the communities they are in. At work the other day, while watching City play United in the Manchester derby, I tried to explain to a co-worker why there was so much enmity between the two teams. A history of success on the red side of the industrial city and jealousy and spite from the blue half is part of it, but it comes down to how the fans self-identity.
A better example would perhaps be the rivalry between West Ham and Millwall. Both these squads were formed in the late Nineteenth Century by shipyard workers, from rival companies. As these workers competed on the football pitch, they also competed for jobs. It’s as if the Yankees and Mets, Cubs and White Sox, Dodgers and Angels intensified their rivalry already due to proximity by adding a shared history dating back to the late 1800s where they competed for jobs and contracts complete with riots, strikes and picket lines. Even if baseball clubs shared a similar history to football clubs, professional teams in the United States are still too spread out over a landmass larger than the EU compared to the island-bound UK. The late Sir Bobby Robson perhaps said it best:
“What is a club in any case? Not the buildings or the directors or the people who are paid to represent it. It’s not the television contracts, get-out clauses, marketing departments or executive boxes. It’s the noise, the passion, the feeling of belonging, the pride in your city. It’s a small boy clambering up stadium steps for the very first time, gripping his father’s hand, gawping at that hallowed stretch of turf beneath him and, without being able to do a thing about it, falling in love.”
The direct and strong ties between the community and its football club(s), in addition to the recession faced by the UK in the 1970s and ’80s made the hooliganism, if not an inevitability, than a very possible outcome. The strength of Buford’s chronicle of about five years inside the world of the “Firms” (the chosen nomenclature for the hooligans for respective clubs) lies in his ability to discern crowd theory and the inherent weaknesses in argument made by sociologist decades before. He disagrees with the findings of Edmund Burke, Gustave LeBon, Hippolyte Taine and Freud, arguing their vantage points on crowds was too far removed from the heart of the action. He looks at the progression of the crowd, in its various guises:
“Every crowd has a threshold; all crowds are initially held in place by boundaries of some kind. There are rules that say: this much, but no more. A march has a route and a destination. A picket line is precisely itself: an arrangement of points that cannot be crossed. A political rally: there is the politician, the rally’s event, at its center. A parade, a protest, a procession: there is the police escort, the sidewalk, the street, the overwhelming fact of the surrounding property. The crowd can be here, but not here. There is form in an experience that tends towards abandon. I have described the relentless physicalness of the terraces and how the concentrate the spectator experience: that of existing so intensely in the present that it is possible for an individual, briefly, to cease being an individual, to disappear into the power of numbers - the strength of them, the emotion of belonging to them. And yet again: it is formlessness in a contrivance of form.”
In this, the hooligans found their method of rebellion, their statement against the inequity of a (sometimes) working class life. By surrounding themselves with like-minded fellows, equally prepared to make a statement with force, the crowd overcomes the individual and a person who acts as pleasant as anyone in his everyday life can become a battle-hardened criminal in the midst of the crowd.
This is the success of Buford’s book; he, through an exploration of hooligan-culture in the 1980s, helps find why random mobs have shaped the destiny of the world throughout the century. As a leaderless crowd becomes directed toward a common purpose, the leaderlessness of the crowd becomes unimportant because all the members of the group lose their identity. Anyone can be a leader and anyone can be a follower, a soldier. The only thing that matters is the willingness to take charge, perhaps a true meritocracy. Status does not matter in the crowd, your profession or salary falls to the wayside. All that matters, especially in the crowds Buford describes in Among the Thugs, is whether or not one is committed enough to stand for his or her beliefs when called upon....more
weird, complicated and i only understood about 75 percent of what was going on. but, i want to read it again and again. i don't know why, it just hasweird, complicated and i only understood about 75 percent of what was going on. but, i want to read it again and again. i don't know why, it just has a wonderful momentum that builds each chapter and if it isn't the narrative it's the prose itself. wonderful and completely worth the time and effort....more