review

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
"This was the climax that nobody had wanted," said the narrator of Inside Story (BBC1), talking over footage of the riots in Trafalgar Square. Squalid scenes of national disgrace, it goes without saying, but if you were the director of a documentary about football hooliganism and you hadn't really yet encountered any, there would presumably be a small, shameful part of you that would give a wild ululation of relief. Quite apart from that, the remark was inaccurate - this climax was exactly what was wanted by the hard-core hooligans for whom football is merely the occasion for a major ruck. You wondered for a moment whether the person who wrote the line had actually watched the documentary it concluded.

It wasn't the only inattentive mom-ent in the script, either. A little earlier the voice-over had concluded that "No amount of planning could have anticipated the nation's feeling of despair," a line which was directly contradicted by the policeman who next appeared: "I think it was going to be inevitable that at the end of England's participation in the tournament, something like this was going to happen," he said. Inevitable or unforeseeable? You can't really have both.

It's possible that the voice-over was a late addition intended to remedy some failures of clarity, because that sense of screws left untightened was reflected in a film which never quite managed its own artistic crowd- control, to marshal a sprawl of different subjects into some focused shape. There were interesting things here - from the surreal policing judgements made necessary by the props of some supporters (how big can a cowbell get before it qualifies as an offen- sive weapon?) to Inspector Barry Norman's cheerfully broad interpretation of English law: "You're drunk," he said to one stroppy supporter."If you breathe on me, that's an offence." But the film never quite overcame the fact that one football crowd looks broadly like another and that it rapidly becomes boring watching people watching them. "It'll be interesting to see how dispersal goes with those new steps," observed Chief Superintendent Linda Newham at one point. It might, you thought, if we had any idea what the old steps looked like and if we could actually see something other than a sea of bobbing heads.

"Eurocops 96" could also have done a little more to test the assumptions on which the police operate: "Segregation is non-existent," tutted one officer at an early Holland-Scotland match, deploring the fact that the fans were mixed together in the stands. There seemed to be no sense that this might be a solution rather than a problem - allowing fans to see each other as individuals rather than massed ranks of the enemy. That said, the hooligans' appetite for damage is unappeasable and the police are faced with an intractable paradox in containing it - in fighting hooliganism, you give hooligans precisely what they want - a sharply defined enemy against which to test their aggression.

In Northern Ireland the violence addicts are able to claim that their taste for dispensing pain is in the service of the community. Robert Wilson's film for War Cries (C4) about punishment beatings, "Baseball in Irish History", screened on Tuesday, aimed to raise a dissenting voice. It reminded us that the language of moral concern conceals a barbarous absence of justice, not a rough-hewn version of it. The people who pride themselves on beating young criminals have frequently been guilty of identical crimes themselves. It is, as one woman acutely pointed out, a demonstration of power - thuggery pure and simple. Wilson's film wasn't uniformly convincing (the sequence in which he proved that you can buy a baseball bat in Belfast even if you look a bit rough, struck you as naive rather than shocking) but it was a brave piece of journalism - these people don't take any more kindly to contradiction than they do to glue-sniffing, and they don't accept pleas in mitigation.

Comments