You wouldn't like me when I'm angry...
In years to come, when we are all specks of dust, the historians will look back on the last 10 years as the golden age of the football hooligan movie. We don’t appreciate how lucky we are to have supermarket shelves which are stocked with DVD classics like: Cass, Green Street, The Football Factory and...Green Street II.
These are the meat and potato British films which get ignored by the corporate clowns of Hollywood but are rightly regarded as being fucking great by legions of teenage internet abusers.
So let’s pay our respects to this much neglected corner of the British film industry and look back at the greatest ever performances in football violence movies.
5. Carlton Leach, Rise of the Foot Soldier (2007)
There are two main skills an actor in a hooligan film requires: a jaunty swagger, and a facial grimace. This is because 80% of screen time is spent either walking through council estates or lamping people/being lamped - in slow motion.
While Danny Dyer has achieved celebrity status through his mastery of the hooligan swagger, it’s his lesser known colleague Ricci Harnett who has created the definitive hooligan grimace.
The first public sighting of his remarkable facial contortion was in the portrayal of Carlton Leach in Rise of the Foot Soldier. The defining moment occurs at the end of a fight sequence in which the ICF hoolie has just lobbed a brick at someone’s head - causing a car to explode.
With the flames illuminating Harnett’s cherubic face, he turns slowly to the camera and contorts his face in the most spectacular grimace. He’s really, really fucking angry...but he’s loving it. Arrgghh!!
It’s an epic moment.
What makes it particularly impressive is that Harnett manages to convey such a powerful raw emotion despite looking very similar to Dougal from Father Ted.
4. Yeti, The Firm (1988)
Stringfellow, the early years
At some stage in the late 80’s director Allan Clarke must have read a Guardian article about how football hooligans often have nice middle-class jobs – they’re not all heroin addicted coal miners.
Clarke took this idea and ran with it – a little bit too far – to create a film called The Firm in which all of the hoolies dress in the style of middle managers attending a Rumbelows sales conference.
For actor Gary Oldman this was a challenge. How do you act tough when you have a neat moustache and a bouffant haircut? His portrayal of Bex never manages to overcome this obstacle; his fight sequences resemble Basil Fawlty thrashing his Mini with a branch.
But there’s one character who manages to emerge triumphantly from this wardrobe horrorshow: it’s Yeti, the horse faced nemesis of Bex.
With blonde hair, a ponytail, oversize sunglasses and black leather gloves Yeti looks like a cross between Andy Warhol and Peter Stringfellow - a truly scary sight.
3. Carty, Awaydays (2009)
Hoolie meets Joy Division
Movie critics hate football violence films. They dismiss them as being banal; just blokes punching each other and poncing around in branded sportswear.
But here we have an example of an intelligent hoolie movie. This could be shown in the art house cinemas of Cannes or talked about by Paul Morley on BBC2.
The lead character, Carty, is not just another Danny Dyer clone. He doesn’t just swagger around, punching people and doing facial grimaces. There’s more to Carty – because he also spends a lot of his time standing in industrial settings and staring out at stuff.
He’s a kind of a Renaissance Man. When he’s not slashing people in the face with a Stanley Knife he’s standing in a dockyard with the sun on his cheekbones, just thinking really deeply about society and all that.
In many ways Carty can be seen as the Orson Welles of the football violence genre.
2. Pete Dunham, Green Street (2005)
The main character in Green Street is played by the bug-eyed American actor Frodo Baggins. But the real interest here is in the performance of his co-star Charlie Hunnam.
What makes Hunnam’s portrayal of baby-faced hooligan, Pete Dunham, so remarkable is his refusal/inability to do a convincing cockney accent. Instead, the Newcastle-born thespian lurches joyfully between a selection of seven or eight different dialects.
It creates an exhilarating experience for the viewer. Every time Dunham opens his mouth you are taken on a white knuckle journey into the unknown. A sentence will start out in Australia, drift over to Canada, circle above Holland, before crash landing somewhere near Chiswick.
In a way, I suppose this shows the character’s inner struggle or something.
1. Gumbo, ID (1995)
This is not the best performance in a hooligan film; it’s the best performance ever captured in the history of recorded media.
No actor will ever come close to the sheer barnstorming majesty of Lee Ross’s performance as Gumbo, the toothless football hooligan who works in a pickle factory.
Gumbo is a relatively minor character in ID but Ross (Libby’s dad in EastEnders) manages to pulverise everything around him with an absolutely fearless display of rampant overacting.
Gumbo has nervous tics. He has facial spasms. He has a speech impediment. He dribbles. He coughs. He splutters. He has a Richard III style limp. He has the shakes. He has no teeth.
Combine all of these elements together and you get Gumbo - the acting equivalent of a Tsunami with the devastating power to destroy everything in its path.
In the words of Reece Dinsdale’s character: “Fucking love you Gumbo!”
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