Back in college I wrote an editorial for the campus newspaper entitled “I Want To Be a Soccer Hooligan.”
The University of Richmond had at the time (and may well still have) a very good women’s soccer team. Only, no one knew because no one attended the games. One afternoon, with nothing else to do, I decided to see for myself how the women’s soccer team fared, so I hiked out to that side of campus, paid my two dollars admission, and settled in the stands to watch a soccer match.
This match went down in the annals of soccer history as one of the unexciting ones, which is, to be fair, how roughly 98 percent of all soccer matches are remembered. The score might’ve been one-nil or two-one or something similar that sounded closer than it actually was. Up and down the pitch, kick it out this way, kick it out that way. As I said, unexciting stuff and, as a consequence, the crowd never got into the match. Then again, there wasn’t much of a crowd to get involved in their spectatorship–I joked in the editorial that there were more people on the pitch than in the stands.
Hence the reason for the editorial.
If the school could do something to actively encourage attendence, then more people would experience the joys of soccer and the success of the women’s soccer team. My suggestion? The University needed to encourage hooliganism.
No, not the full-blown violence-in-the-streets brand of hooliganism. Instead, a kinder, gentler hooliganism, where the university would allow garbage cans to be set aflame in the stands, where students could strip half-naked and paint spiders on their chests and their faces, where drunkeness before the match in the audience wasn’t just permitted but outright desired.
Suffice to say, my suggestions for encouraging hooliganism were roundly rebuffed, and perhaps for good reason. Soccer hooliganism isn’t a good thing as the film Green Street Hooligans, released today on DVD, displays, front and center.
Green Street Hooligans tells of an American college dropout, played by Elijah Wood, who travels to London hoping to figure out the next chapter of his life, only to find himself drawn into the world of soccer hooliganism. As the film progresses he’s drawn deeper, and at the end he must decide between the dictates of family and the loyalty he feels toward his friends in the West Ham firm.
I’d heard of this film several months ago on its release in September but never got around to seeing it in its limited release. I picked the DVD up mainly out of curiosity–really, who among us can imagine Elijah Wood, Frodo Baggins himself, as a soccer hooligan?
The film surprised me. Wood’s transformation from a Harvard-educated naive young man into a London street tough is both remarkable and convincing. The story, too, kept me guessing–I had no idea where the film was going, and every time I thought I did something would happen, something would be revealed, that sent me spinning. Until the film’s final act I had no idea where, or how, Green Street Hooligans would conclude.
Green Street Hooligans won’t explain hooliganism and why it continues. It does, however, give some insight into what it’s like to be a hooligan. (My other brush with that experience came from the computer game, Hooligans: Storm Over Europe, a game that one review called “morally reprehensible.”) I’m not sure that it’s worth a blind-buy, I’m not even sure that I‘d watch it again, but it’s certainly worth a rental or a viewing on pay television, especially for people who want to see that Elijah Wood does, in fact, have some acting range.