Book review: Abroad with the angry brigade

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From the start Eddie Brimson declares his allegiance. He loves football, he is proud to be English. To demonstrate these attributes he felt he had to be at France 98. He was undeterred by his complete lack of tickets no matter what the game's authorities advised.

"I had a dream of being able to say `I was there; I experienced the World Cup finals' and I had a burning desire to prove to myself and those money- grabbing bastards who continually ruin the great game that no matter how hard they make it I, along with thousands of other fans, will always find a way in which to continue the love affair we all hold with the game."

There is something almost romantic about those words. The epithet applied to those who run the game, which is oft-repeated, might be considered strong, but many would agree with it. Eddie and his like, you are invited to infer, merely seek the opportunity to appreciate football's beauty: the little people intent on upholding tradition.

So, Eddie went to France for the tournament. This book is his diary of the trip and the brief time in which he flitted back home to his wife. It is a pity that Tear Gas and Ticket Touts - With the England fans at the World Cup (Headline, pounds 6.99) manages to depict none of the joy Eddie and his mates purport to derive from the game.

Perhaps the reason for this is buried somewhere in the middle of his sojourn, which appears largely to have combined attempts to secure accommodation and tickets for games while ensuring that the European lager lake is substantially reduced. Having managed to acquire entry to the match between South Africa and Denmark he admits: "Inside the ground the atmosphere was good, but I have to say that unless I'm watching Watford or England I often find football a little boring." Yes, well, you would, wouldn't you.

Brimson has had some previous success in writing about being a football fan and, once upon a time, a football hooligan. He sets out to defend, or at least to put the facts about the English followers' behaviour in France last summer. In doing so he castigates the press coverage in this country.

There may be something in his argument, splenetically though it is delivered, but any sympathy that might be felt is shattered by the cast of characters with whom he took up on his trip. Brimson's shaven head and hard eyes (as depicted in the photograph of the author) may not make him the most immediately prepossessing of characters, but he appears as charm personified compared to some of his travelling companions, who think nothing of arguing with friendly hotel patrons and hunting down beds for which they have not paid in top-class hotels.

Brimson's prose is littered with excessively colourful language and the odd joke. He makes out a sound, if angry, case for England followers having been the wronged party in Marseille during the notorious riots there which scarred the match against Tunisia. Far from being the provocateurs they were on the receiving end. But his cohorts seem clearly to be so unsavoury that the most liberal-minded of perspectives could conclude only that they had it coming to them.

It is a racy volume, which makes some valid points about the game. It does not make you proud to be English.