FEATURE BILL BUFORD
one ofthe policemen to the ground,
lifted him up by the chest and then
head-butted him — inflicting a hair-line
crack across the forehead. With the
blow, the policeman must have lost consciousness ifonly because he seemed to offer so little resistance to what Harry did next: he grabbed the policeman by his ears, lifted his head up to his own face and sucked on one ofthe policeman’s eyes, lifting it out of the socket until he felt it pop behind his teeth. Then he bit it off.’ (Among The Thugs, p241).
Ifthat sounds like an extract from the latest hardcore violent shocker, well that’s because it is. Among The Thugs, a remarkable and unsettling, ifsomewhat tardy study of football hooligans doesn’t hang around in the sociological background as the boots and fists ﬂy, but goes in among Lthe blood and the the beer-bellies and the
8The Lists—‘21 November 199i m
n the fight that ensued, Harry wrestled '
Editor-turned-author BILL BUFORD has been following football hooligans around Europe for eight years. Tom Lappin finds that the resulting book Among The Thugs offers a new, and possibly controversial approach to its subject. Sensitive readers are advised to skip the opening paragraph.
swastika tattoos. What is surprising is that the work is written by Bill Buford. high profile editor of literary magazine Granta, friend of Rushdie, Vargas Llosa, Ignatieff and Pinter and civilised champion of ‘difficult’ writing. A useful bloke to know if you’re one short for a Hampstead dinner party or a Late Show discussion panel, but not perhaps the immediate choice for an ally if a posse of Millwall lads have got you trapped down a cul-de-sac.
Over the last eight years the chubby, bearded American has been living something of a double life, literally becoming the man in the crowd, following football violence and its perpetrators around Europe, discovering a subculture that fed on violence, barbarism and destruction. In the process he met and often befriended figures like Harry, Paraffin Pete, or DJ, the urbane counterfeiter who was equally at home at the Henley Regatta or on the rampage with the
West Ham Inter-City crew. Buford crashed l a National Front disco, was in the frontline } of a Manchester United ambush squad. and , got a thorough going-over from the Italian ' police in Sardinia. Several far cries from the : literary salons ofNWl.
Buford embarked on his enterprise after : witnessing a ritual Saturday afternoon | train-trashing session, courtesy of some Liverpool fans. As an American he had a confessed ignorance about soccer (he still believes Bristol City Rovers is one team) i and a bemused astonishment at football hooliganism. Fortunately, also as an American, his desire to analyse and explain the phenomenon came a distant second to an urgent need to experience and describe it. Countless sociological treatises have offered unconvincing theories as to ‘why they do it’. Buford’s book steers a different path, introducing us in ﬂesh-crawling detail to the culprits, describing their lifestyle and their deeds first-hand. It’s the first travelogue from the hooligans underworld. the first (very) Rough Guide To Mayhem. And told with relish. The element that many critics will pick up on is the fact that Buford is far j from entirely condemnatory. l le had little difficulty being accepted among the thugs. and, for times at least. he found it was a world that had attractions. ;
‘I certainly got into the spirit of the thing,’ he admits. ‘I did not want to try to maintain a spirit of aloofness or necessary detachment or fake objectivity. I wanted to try and get close. I suppose it revealed I was vulnerable to this kind of group. to its persuasions.’ To the extent that at some points Buford seems almost to have become sucked into the lifestyle, to have taken on a new identity. ‘Either that or I revealed my true one. It’s hard to decide which.’
This cheerful lack of objectivity irritated a leftish academic called to review the book on The Late Show. He dismissed it as shallow and disappointingly short on analysis, accusing Buford of revelling in the sordid glamour of his subjects. ‘I probably am.’ responds Buford. ‘and that’s fine because a lot ofthe time they’re glamorising themselves. That’s what I’m trying to show. The main point about writing about them is simply writing about them. It’s not pointing out any clear-cut sociological conclusions or observations about Britain, or the state of the nation, although all those things should be in there somewhere. I was trying to approach them in a way a novelist might, try to give the sort of pace and spacing comparable to what you might find in a novel. And the justification is that these experiences come alive in their particularly 1' intense or acutely-felt way.’ J