photo & text by nacrowe
BILL BUFORD's seminal examination of FOOTBALL HOOLIGANISM in AMONG THE THUGS (SECKER & WARBURG, 1990) is interestingly less about sport and more about the GROUP PSYCHOLOGY of CROWDS and how one's personal sense of IDENTITY becomes transformed and reorientated immediately within a new emerging collective construct. BUFORD goes to great detail about the EMOTIONAL, PHYSICAL and PSYCHIC ramifications of such a transformation, embedding himself with everyone from psychotically impassioned MANCHESTER UNITED fanatics to xenophobic NATIONAL FRONT meetings. what comes across is that there is a real sense of intense satisfaction and joy in losing yourself in a CROWD, especially a violent one. for me it was very difficult to read about these accounts (from violent sackings by hooligans in ITALY, GERMANY and ENGLAND) and not think of the JANUARY 6TH INSURRECTION and the seeming misguided nationalistic fervor and over-exhilarated testosterone levels that senselessly fueled it. that same jingoistic SMALL DICK ENERGY seems to carry both through to their destructive ends.
part of what i appreciated about this book is its GONZO-like lack of objectivity as BUFORD is, as the title attests, in amongst the thugs. he doesnt participate in the violence, but is embedded during senseless violent uprisings abroad and attempts to gain an appreciation for why these skirmishes happen from an insider's perspective. is the phenomena of FOOTBALL HOOLIGANISM an expression of a repressed and effectively impotent middle class seeking a vehicle for self-determination? is it a nationalist expression of a post-war subset of the BRITISH population that wishes to express its dominance in a post-colonial context? is it an expression of deep DISSATISFACTION with a changing cultural and economic landscape that leads to an ALIENATION that can only be reconstituted through group affiliation? what is on full display, and BUFORD attests to his own experience of such, is the thrill of watching a crowd arise from nowhere and transition into a violent entity where all sense of INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY and PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY are subsumed into this GROUP ETHIC and IDENTITY. chaos and lawlessness doesnt happen all at once, it is pushed along by small transgressions that reestablish the MORAL PARAMETERS of a group. one person takes a step into the street which leads others to do so, thus blocking traffic. one person anonymously breaks a car window, thus making such ACCEPTABLE BEHAVIOR to the entire organism. its a destructive downward spiral initiated by many MINOR TRANSGRESSIONS that leads to absolute CHAOS.
the process is improvised yet curiously with regards to HOOLIGANS is in some regard well-organized. there are multiple leaders that emerge once the process is underway who effectively direct traffic and initiate battles with like-minded and similarly constructed rival factions from other football teams. there is even an UNSPOKEN CODE OF CONDUCT in which the object of violence is to be directed at other rival factions and not the police. there is oddly a sense of RESPECT for the police. the squads are attempting to evade such and conduct their TOXIC DISPLAY OF MASCULINITY outside the auspices of the law, which means away from the physical presence of the police. that is unless, such takes place overseas. in that case the dehumanized concept of the "other" is attached to all foreigners. their life and property is completely disregarded, in fact, their "otherness" is seen to be the root cause. it is never the HOOLIGANS fault that they were collectively "set off," they were merely defending the honor of their country. again, this is very much in sync with the warped mindset of modern insurrectionists on JANUARY 6TH and the REPUBLICAN media echo-chamber the promotes and profits from its proliferation.
again, AMONG THE THUGS is easily one of the most affecting sociological examinations i have come across and its examination of the GROUP PSYCHOLOGY surrounding VIOLENT MOBS is more relevant now then ever before. sadly. id consider this book required reading for anyone interested in the concept of CROWD BEHAVIOR and what happens when your sense of individual accountability gets folded into a COLLECTIVE IDENTITY.