Seeing as the tournament is taking place on their manor and that English supporters will be outnumbered a thousand to one, Russian thugs may resist the urge to strap GoPros to themselves and attack them à la Euro 2016. After all the usual cover story of both sides kicking-off will be a much harder sell. That violence in France appeared to be a bizarre attempt to wrestle the hooligan-crown from Albion - a whole thirty years too late. And at the time, watching it, it answered at least one question for me: now we know where the international sales of the straight-to-DVD ‘firm flicks’ have been going.
Till recently I had considered the fascination many still hold for the hooligan years peculiar but basically harmless. I’m not so sure anymore. The decades of changes to our national sport prompted by the violence have been overwhelmingly good but the downside is real and can be counted in pounds and pence. Money changes everything and the pursuit of it at all levels of the professional game has increased the gap between the people who pay for football and the people who are paid by it.
The examples are numerous and ongoing; fans getting priced out of following their teams and those teams being uprooted to soulless new stadiums; fixtures scheduled with no regard to traveling supporters and the relentless selling to and information mining of them. The upshot is an alienation that pushes some beyond the annoyance of watching your team taking a spanking on the pitch. It is a push towards the always present pull of nostalgia: a simpler, perhaps even ‘purer’ time when your club wasn’t always reaching in your pocket and you only had to look over other heads, not mobile phones.
Now let me stop and make a few things clear. Hooliganism never completely went away; we all know that but, those of us old enough, also know it is nothing like it was. Not even close. Having stated that I hope you’ll see I am in no way campaigning for a rolling back of the progress we have made. Personally, I’m even a bit leery about ‘safe standing’ zones. Lastly, the responsibility of gangs of young men smashing up property and hitting each other always did and must continue to lie with the young men involved. Ticket prices are not an excuse for hooliganism.
I am trying to make a finer but more slippery point about how a changing world influences us, sometimes unconsciously. I don’t want to ban hooligan films; that would make as much sense as banning gangster movies or westerns, but their success does baffle and, I’ll admit it, concern me. In the last ten years I count eight of these titles (whose names I am not going to list here) and I am sure I’m missing some. If their continuing appeal is down to supporter’s nostalgia, that can’t be a good thing. Endless childhood summers, fine, but this? Really?
Time will wear a boulder into an ornament but for the sake of the game we should remember what the violence of those bad old days was like without the fast editing and retro soundtrack. If that still doesn’t work for you, I have one recommendation not included in my unnamed eight, The Hooligan Factory (Nick Nevern 2014). It is not a great film but, come on, that’s not what you’re after.