Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Return to the Bad Old Days?

Tonight in London, events transpired that The Guardian would describe as football "plunging back into the dark ages." A game played between two London clubs, West Ham United and Millwall was marred by widespread fan violence, a stabbing and on-field mid-match pitch invasions.

Violence among English supporters seems to date back to the birth of the game itself. Gratefully, when a pair of horrifically fatal episodes transpired in the early 1990's, the British government declared that enough was enough. Their investigations concluded that more security was needed at games, that football grounds were largely outdated and that all-standing terraces should be banned.

But amid these studies, no one seemed to be able to conclude on what is going through the mind of the average English hooligan when the trouble starts. The tribal dissonance between West Ham and Millwalll goes back decades. But since this rivalry's zenith in the 1970's, the fortunes of these two clubs have differed dramatically: West Ham have enjoyed the fortunes of England's top-flight league, while Millwall has wallowed amid the lower leagues. They've met a handful of times in the recent past and no real trouble has transpired.

Over the years, the violence which had long marred the English footie scene has been generally attributed to an amorphous working class discontent. Just as in America, the 1970's brought the death to sustainable middle class manufacturing jobs, accentuated by the toxic relationship between labour unions, business leaders and the bewildering all-knowing Oz that was Margaret Thatcher. Amid the madness, hooliganism provided some sort of release. We could look at West London today, mindful of the putrid state of our shared economies and blame today's events on some sort of global malaise.

American Bill Buford attempted to dissect this mystery in his book, Among The Thugs. While living in England, Buford latched onto various platoons of Manchester United supporters. I think Buford went into this endeavor believing he could provide evidence of a link between football violence and The End of the British Empire. I think he too readily believed that football violence was an outlet for unemployment and other such economic discouragements.

The problem was that as Buford befriended many of these so-called hooligans, he found that many had good jobs and were enormously likable people. What might appear to be unimaginable and incomprehensibly violent acts were a sort of hobby for these folks. Perhaps what happened today is not a statement of labour discontent. I suppose it is more frightening to see it as a nihilistic outlet similar to the one that the combatants sought in the film Fight Club.

No comments:

Post a Comment