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Released in the UK a week before the start of the 2004 European Championship, The Football Factory caused a media storm, accused of glamorising football hooliganism at a time when England fans were being encouraged to behave themselves. Now that all the hype has died down, does the film still make an impact?

Feature


The Football Factory tells the story of Tommy Johnson (played by Danny Dyer), a twenty-something Chelsea supporter who admits in his opening Trainspotting-esque diatribe that he “lives for the weekend, casual sex, watered-down lager, heavily cut drugs and occasionally kicking f*** out of someone”. He is the member of the Chelsea firm that travels to games home and away to fight the opposition firms.

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When he gets involved with the sister of a supporter of Chelsea rivals Millwall, it sparks off a chain of events that leads to a showdown with the Millwall fans via psychedelic dreams of impending doom for Tommy and one of his gang-mates and plenty of cockney-geezer posturing. It’s clear from the beginning that the characters on show are not the most sympathetic characters, although they do have a surprisingly wide vocabulary due to the liberal use of rhyming slang, which alone provides rewards for repeat viewings just so you can work out what they’re all talking about.

We are immediately thrown into a ten minute opening montage of genuine archive footage of riots and an introduction to the main characters then taken on Tommy’s journey, which takes in the relationship with his granddad who fought in World War II and frowns upon all the modern day firms who operate with military precision but don’t actually have anything to fight for other than the buzz of beating up groups of strangers. Tommy has premonitions of being badly beaten by the Millwall firm and has visions of a member of his firm who comes to a sticky end.

The final minutes go against the morals that Tommy is being taught by his dreams and it left a bitter taste in my mouth but this is probably because of my feelings towards hooliganism rather than a problem with the way the film is structured. Ultimately, Tommy’s character does not develop and the answer to the question he sets himself at the beginning ( “Was it all worth it?”) is a resounding yes. The final scene appears to give the message that it’s OK to hang around in gangs, take class-A drugs, value designer gear more than women and batter your peers every Saturday afternoon as long as you don’t steal or deal drugs. While this isn’t a philosophy that everyone should live their life by, it is an original ending and reminds us that these characters aren’t meant to develop: like Frank Harper’s character Billy, they will be this way until they’re eventually sent to prison or killed.

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Be under no illusion: this film has very little to do with football. Films telling the tale of football hooligans before (e.g. I.D.) and since (e.g. Green Street) have presented the characters as knowledgeable fans of the clubs their firms have allegiances with. In those films, we see them at the games cheering on their teams and goading the rival fans at the other end of the stadium. The Football Factory is different. As director Nick Love states on the commentary, it was intended for the film to be “a celebration of male culture”. Seeing as a love of football is a given for the young British male, what else is there?  Well, teaming up with a bunch of mates and beating the hell out of a bunch of supporters of another football club is a common pastime if this film is to be believed.

The fact of the matter is that this is a way of life for many British men (almost every club has a firm) and The Football Factory is probably the most realistic portrayal of football violence on screen. The use of ex-hooligans as extras gives the film extra energy. Once you know the men in the background aren’t extras on £70 a day but real thugs who used to do this through choice every week for many years, you realize that what you’re watching really happens every weekend up and down the country.

Given that all of the press quotes on the DVD case are from men’s magazines (although the official website does quote a positive review from New Woman magazine), it’s not a surprise to see the female of the species underrepresented. Women are present only to serve food and drink, give massages and ruin the boys’ fun by trying to (God forbid) build a relationship with them. However, a passing woman makes the most relevant comment when witnessing the first brawl of the film.

“You’re what gives this country a bad f***ing name. You’re not football supporters, you’re a set of f***ing muggy c***s”

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There are racist undertones running throughout the film, which are counter-balanced with immediate insults for the perpetrators. Nick Love states on the commentary that he’s not interested in the racist themes and it wasn’t his intention to lend any weight to right-wing politics.

Nick Love followed The Football Factory with 2005’s 80s gangster film The Business. The films are very similar in tone and utilise many of the same actors, however I find The Football Factory a more tightly structured film with stronger performances, particularly by Danny Dyer, Frank Harper and first-timer Tamer Hassan, who was born to play charismatic hard-man Fred. The hand-held camera work and thumping tunes give it more energy than the laid-back summer holiday feel of The Business.

Video


The feature is presented in 16:9 anamorphic widescreen, different from the original 2.35:1 ratio. Generally the quality is acceptable but there are more low points than high points. The film is constructed from scenes in three different styles: realistic, heavy red lighting and heavy blue lighting. Given the low budget of the feature, some techniques are more effective than others.

I found the scenes with blue lighting (mostly dream sequences) worked better than the scenes with red lighting. These scenes are easiest on the eye and the picture quality is most consistent from one scene to another. The use of red is sometimes harsh, as is the use of bright colours in the scenes with more realistic lighting. The whites and yellows can be very bright and distracting while other sections of the picture lack colour depth, particularly the skin tones, although this may be down to the strength of the lighting rigs used on set rather than the transfer to DVD.

The highlights of the video are the cityscapes of London that separate the loose chapters of the film. They are beautifully photographed images that show off the capital’s skyline and impressive cloud formations. It’s a shame this isn’t a common theme throughout the film because in other instances the sky is often presented as a big fluorescent white blur.

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Audio


I’m happy to say the audio quality is better than the video. The soundtrack is made up of a who’s who of British guitar music and the hits of Primal Scream and the Libertines sound particularly great, with throbbing bass to give the film the energy it needs to convince us we’re joining the firm in getting psyched on the way to a battle.

When we get there, we’re not disappointed. The fight scenes are when the 5.1 track comes into its own. Bottles smash and punches crunch all around us with enough power to convey the feeling of being stuck in the middle of a fight with a fired-up thug at every turn. For the rest of the film, the dialogue is clear and the soundtrack drops to an appropriate level when we’re supposed to hear what everyone’s saying. It’s one of the few films I can think of where characters in a nightclub convincingly raise their voices to be heard by each other.

Extras


There is a decent amount of supplementary material on the disc to complement the feature, certainly enough for this release to pass itself off as a special edition.

The highlight is the commentary track by Nick Love and Danny Dyer. It’s a track filled with cockney banter and insights into the themes and the making of the film. Love is more grounded than Dyer, who seems to love everything and everyone on screen. It’s worth noting that if the bad language in the film turns you off, you definitely won’t want to listen to the commentary track.

A few weeks before The Football Factory was released in UK cinemas, a very high quality version did the rounds, complete with the more light-hearted opening included on the DVD. When Danny Dyer mentions “the snide version” on the DVD commentary, he is referring to this version of the film, which appears to have been more of a marketing technique by producers Rockstar Games (creators of Grand Theft Auto) rather than a rough cut smuggled out of the editing room without the filmmakers’ knowledge.

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The ‘Making of’ documentary (4:3, 34 mins) is an interesting journey through the filmmaking process, showcasing Nick Love’s techniques and the obvious enjoyment of everyone involved. Love speaks frankly about the film, admitting that the script was far more light-hearted and the tone had to be adapted when he got to the editing room and discovered that what he had shot was darker than expected.

There are a selection of trailers for other features from Vertigo Films: Goodbye Charlie Bright and It’s All Gone Pete Tong (both non-anamorphic widescreen). Also included are trailers for The Football Factory (non-anamorphic widescreen) and the music video for the Streets’ ‘Fit But You Know It’, which features on the soundtrack. Interestingly, even though the DVD is an 18-rated release, the music video is the edited, safe-for-TV version.

Also included are two still montages, one focusing on design concepts for interiors that show the ideas for colour schemes that were used to good effect in the old men’s homes and the other focusing on the fight scenes.

The eight deleted scenes are a mixed bag, some full scenes that develop the characters further; others are just short clips that were chopped out of the montage sequences, none of which would have added considerably more to the film. It would have been good to have more deleted scenes, since Nick Love mentions in the ‘Making of’ that the original length of the first edit was over two hours long.

Love Story (non-anamorphic, 15 mins) is Nick Love’s first commercial picture, a short film about a drug addict and his pregnant girlfriend who live in a public toilet and his attempts to score some gear after she goes into labour. It’s depressing but stylish, well-made and full of recognisable faces including Ewen Bremner and David Thewlis.

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Overall


Turn off your social conscience, grab a six-pack and this is an easy, enjoyable watch with some strong (although not too challenging) performances and some great moments of cinematography: look out for the dark cloud hanging over a house early on to tell you bad things are about to happen. It has a storyline more grounded in reality than I.D. or Green Street and doesn’t use football violence to make a commentary on Nazism or family issues that in my opinion bogged down the story in those films. This is an unapologetic film about boys being boys.

There is a decent array of extras that enhance the viewer’s experience. I can appreciate the film more now that I know that 90% of the men in the fight scenes used to do it for real. Nick Love appears to be a director on the rise who is a natural leader and commands the respect of everyone he works with. My rating for the feature would have been a six, but what I now know after watching the extras takes it up a notch.


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