Among The Thugs by Bill Buford – Book Review

When Bill Buford started investigating the extreme violence among the soccer “firms” in the UK he was, newly an American in England and as a result looked upon as an outsider when approaching members of the different groups.  His continued attendance at soccer matches, presence at several brawls between the firms and other soccer fans, and dogged perseverance led to him becoming more accepted as part of them, and he eventually gained access to the leaders of these ultra-violent clubs.  Buford started out wanting to understand everything about the culture of the firms and what motivated their ultra-violent behavior, but by the end he seemed to be as involved in the culture as the other members.

I was shocked by the violence in this book and completely horrified by the behavior of these most ardent soccer fans.  Though these men chose the life of being in these firms and fighting amongst one another- which is appalling enough,  they often brought innocent bystanders into the fray.  The willful destruction of property along with the lack of respect they had for the establishments they visited, and the people that waited upon them, were extreme.  I cringed while reading the entire book- there were several violent beatings that made you wonder if the person could have possibly have escaped without being extremely disfigured or handicapped for life, if indeed they were able to survive at all.  This was coupled with the destruction of property, excessive drinking and aggressive acts towards women.  It is hard to talk about because the events that occurred and the level of violence is so fantastical as to almost not be believed.

I was ambivalent about the author’s role in reporting on what he saw and where he went, and was acutely conscious of my own complicity while reading this book.  As it progresses he was more deeply involved with the soccer hooligans and swept along in the power of the crowd- enjoying the adrenaline rush of each mounting situation.  I could see his excitement about being one of the boys and was disturbed by it, but aware that I wouldn’t be privy to this information without his investigation. At the same time I don’t think equal consideration was given to finding the underlying causes and motivations of the violence, nor to any of the solutions which law enforcement might have be been considering contain the firms. One of the things that made this book so scary is the groups seemed to be unchecked and virtually unstoppable, and it was much like a weekend job for the participants. Through the week they held down jobs, which though blue collar were usually highly paid, and had families.

Some of the firms were linked to virulently nationalistic groups that pretty much hated everybody, and had no qualms with using deadly force against those not fitting into their definitions of what was racially or culturally acceptable.  Buford attended their meetings, only leaving when overcome with disgust for their politics and violence.  He would eventually stop his investigation of the firms when he reached a breaking point, considered just how deeply he had become immersed in the life. He was overwhelmed by what he sought to understand.

I read this book as a part of My Friend Amy’s investigation into Newsweek’s claims that they had 50 Books for Our Times. I have gone back and forth whether I think Among the Thugs is one of them, and I think I have decided that it is. While it may not have provided the reassurance that there are workable solutions to mob mentality and group violence, Among the Thugs certainly  provided a startling overview of the situation, and definitely paints and indelible picture in the mind. It’s a book that I will not soon forget.

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  1. I read this book I think when I was in high school or college and was appalled by it. To this day, European soccer fans freak. me. out. I know that when I visited Scotland in 2008 and mentioned to my friends that maybe we should see a big soccer game, they mentioned that the teams I suggested were really horrible in that way and that most people made sure to stay home on those days. And that alcohol is not allowed to be served in the stadiums any more to decrease risks of these riots. It’s insane! I can’t believe it’s so out of control and that people live in such terror. It was horrifying.
    .-= Aarti´s last blog ..Review: The Help =-.

  2. I’ve actually been on the streets of London when a soccer match ended, and I got into my hotel FAST. There is a serious mob mentality going on there, and I’ve witnessed it’s repercussions with my own eyes. Cars set on fire, innocent bystanders getting hurt, excessive drinking, glass bottles being thrown through windows. It is insane. We have nothing like that over here. And the thing is (based on what my London colleagues told me) its not just the closet sociopaths out there doing the damage, it’s your basic drunk middle class guys out there getting sucked into it too. I’d be interested to know if there are these issues in Latin American or other European countries. (Although now that I remember, there was a player from Brazil? Argentina? that accidentally scored a goal for the other team in a World Cup match, and was gunned down in the street…)
    .-= Sandy´s last blog ..Monday Movie Meme – Beyond the Screen =-.

  3. I read this book in college before going to the UK to study and remember being shocked! Mob mentality is freaky and combine that with alochol and political hatred and it you need to stay away. This book for me was a fascinating study. Great review.
    .-= Amused´s last blog ..Mailbox Monday – Jan. 18 -23, 2010 =-.

  4. I love sports but can’t imagine how these guys go from loving sports and their team to being violent. I think they are hateful to begin with and sports gives them an outlet for their bad behavior. I’d definitely be interested in reading the book and learning more.
    .-= Kathleen´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesdays =-.

  5. Maybe people should read this book before they try to make soccer into America’s new favorite sport. 😉

  6. I certainly hope that our world won’t be typified by such unnecessary violence. There are many ridiculous reasons for violence, but sports must be one of the most ridiculous.

    I understand your feelings of complicity by consuming something like that. I know that this is a different type of situation, but when Princess Diana died, I felt as I played a role – however minor – because I purchase and read magazines like People. If there wasn’t so much money in those pictures, she may be alive today.
    .-= Literate Housewife´s last blog ..Where Has This Book Been My Whole Life? =-.

  7. I just recent finished Buford’s most recent (I think) book, Heat, where he does the same sort of in-the-experience reporting by going behind the scenes at a four star restaurant. I got some similar impressions from that book, that he got more involved than perhaps he intended, but since it was mostly about cooking that involvement didn’t seem distrubing. This book sounds much more serious, but I think I’d live to give it a try.
    .-= Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness)´s last blog ..Pollan v. Kingsolver: A Food Writer Showdown =-.

  8. In my (Dutch) opinion Bill Buford succeeded in reveiling the psychological drives behind soccer related crowd disorders which above all took place in the eighties all around Western Europe.
    To my belief the atmosphere around Western European soccer matches have greatly improved thanks to the fact that finally individuals started being held responsable for financial damages or losses as a result of their misbehaviour. An example, my team was quite well known in the ’80’s for disorders on the stands and the pitch has been often invaded, nowadays nobody even considers for example to enter on the pitch: Euro 40.000,00 fine.
    Also people who don’t behave are kicked out of the stadium as you have a personal access card.
    The combination of police awareness and the set of taken effective measures have certainly cleaned the scene in
    Western Europe around football stadiums.
    There always will be an ignorant minority misbehaving, and yet in Eastern Europe there are vast lots of hooligans yet operating in the same manner as in Western Europe was seen in the eighties, the authorities there are not controlling the situation very well.
    And yes, I do have a lot of respect for the ‘American’ way of experiencing sport events… there will certainly be a brawl from time to time over there, and it’s normal to provoque the opponent a bit, but not with so much hatred and disrespect as in Europe (or Latin America).
    Sport is entertainment in the US and it has always been and I wish it stays like that, the game of soccer is really cool and it would be a real pity if young guys following there team would take the same stupid road as many did in the eighties over here.
    How to avoid that?… high fines, good individual control… if necessary, cause I feel the American way of following a match (let it be icehockey, baseball or basketball or soccer) is without hatred in their hearts with
    regard to the referee or opposing team…whereas here you have soccer matches which are so filled with tension that you sense an atmosphere which is explosive….it has it’s charm I have to admit…but on the long run it does more harm than good.