Book review / Saturday night's all right for fighting

The Football Factory by John King Cape, pounds 9.99

Presumably the author is not the John King who used to manage Tranmere Rovers. That King's prose concerned itself with taking each game as it came, the significance of the forthcoming outing ("a massive fixture for us") and, when the match came around, his reaction to defeat ("the lads are gutted"). This John King's writing is more medically inclined, relishing the forensic details of what happens when a nose comes into close contact with the porcelain tiling of a pub Gents': "There's a heavy thud of bone and concrete. I feel the shudder through my arm. His knees go and he's sliding into the piss below, blood splattered across the wall."

It is this kind of writing, you assume, that provoked the endorsement on the cover from Irvine Welsh - "Only a phenomenally talented and empathetic writer working from withinhis own culture can achieve the power andauthenticity this book pulses with." Because there's not a lot else.

It might seem unfair to criticise a novel for the manner in which it is sold. But the claims made for this book ("beg, borrow or steal a copy now," yells Welsh from the cover) are so hyperbolic, you can't help it. Whatever the publishers might hope by the association, Football Factory is not fit to share the same pitch with Trainspotting. It has none of the other book's ear for language, none of its voyeuristic pleasure, none of its imagination. It is rather pulp writing, sex and shopping for lads (shag and scrapping, perhaps), its spiritual antecedent Richard (Skinhead) Allen. Fun enough in its own way, but hardly sufficient for it to find employment, as Welsh suggests, in weeding out potential conversational partners ("In a short time," he claims, "anyone who hasn't read it won't be worth talking to").

The book centres on Tom Johnson, a Chelsea follower well partial to barney and biriani, the type of fan who hasn't allowed softie Nineties football nonsense like all-seater stadiums, family stands and David Mellor to come between him and his Saturday recreation. King has obviously studied how a football firm works, and his descriptions are plausible, sparse, and in the case of the Wednesday night fixture in Millwall, vivid.

But there is no more to it than that. Like the hoolie himself, this book is only fired up when it's fighting. When it's not, it's a sphinx without a puzzle, a Frank Bruno of a novel. There is, for instance, none of the humour promised on the cover, unless this is it: "There's a brief punch- up, a lot of front and kicks, and Derby do a runner as though it's synchronised. Should be on a fucking ice rink." There isn't even a plot. Johnson and his oppos have a bundle against Tottenham in one chapter, then he's seen at work in the next (boring job, see, have to get your kicks somewhere, dontcha?), then there's a bit of bonking, then an unrelated, uninteresting, unresolved character is introduced through an unrelated, uninteresting, unresolved vignette. Thus we meet a spunky OAP, or a reformed hoolie who's seen the world and reckons there's more to life than bricking Derby fans down Fulham Broadway, who are both - perhaps it is a metaphor - going nowhere. Oh, and then it all goes off again, against West Ham.

From the episodes involving King's hero, however, we learn something odd about Tom Johnson: he is pretty PC for a psycho. He'd never thump a fan who wasn't looking for it ("Where's your self-respect?"), admires Indians (particularly their food), likes blacks (especially Black John, a Chelsea hood with a vicious streak), believes a man should be faithful to his wife ("I know he's into Mandy in a big way, but truth be told he shouldn't be shafting birds behind her back"), and reckons hitting a woman is a no-no ("I just went mental, and kicked the shit out of him. I hate that kind of thing. I mean the girl was suffering").

Of course he loathes the police, politicians and the middle classes, but that's OK in the PC world, like it's all right to have Hollywood bad guys with English accents. The manner in which this cocktail of right-on social responsibility is married to the urge to bury a lump of concrete in a Spurs' fan's face is just implausible. "The most authentic book yet on the so-called English disease", then? Do us a favour - just admit the book's only interested in trouble and then the rest of us could learn how to avoid it.

Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform