Among the Thugs

by Bill Buford

Paperback, 1993




Vintage (1993), Edition: Reprint, 320 pages


They have names like Barmy Bernie, Daft Donald, and Steamin' Sammy. They like lager (in huge quantities), the Queen, football clubs (especially Manchester United), and themselves. Their dislike encompasses the rest of the known universe, and England's soccer thugs express it in ways that range from mere vandalism to riots that terrorize entire cities. Now Bill Buford, editor of the prestigious journal Granta, enters this alternate society and records both its savageries and its sinister allure with the social imagination of a George Orwell and the raw personal engagement of a Hunter Thompson.

User reviews

LibraryThing member GingerbreadMan
In the late 80-ies, Buford, an American living in England happens to find himself on a Liverpool supporter train somewhere in Wales. The experience is smelly, loud, violent, scary and disgusting. It’s the heyday of British football violence, and things are happening at virtually every game, both
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home and abroad. And Buford finds himself asking the question what it is that makes young men run amok every Saturday all over the country – and why the fact that they do is more or less looked upon as some sort of natural disaster. The interest quickly becomes an obsession, and Buford spends years watching games in packed cages, and running with the firms and hooligans. And after being in the middle of the horrorshow when Man U:s Red Devils trash Turin, sending over sixty people to hospital, he is even accepted as someone who can be let in on the truth: It is about the violence, not the game, of course it is. At times Buford tries to quit, but even though he’s never a part of the violence himself, he finds it very difficult to leave. He’s become addicted to the sweat, the piss, the blood.

You might need some utterly basic knowledge about football to fully appreciate this book, know just a little bit about European teams and their connotations. But mostly this is a fascinating read about how groups work. How a group makes collective decisions and how it channels it’s energy. On top of this, Buford is a very good stylist, with a nail-biting ability to describe frozen moments like the very second a crowd becomes a violent mob. One should be warned that the violence described is extremely graphic and detailed. This is at times a very disturbing book. At times, I feel an intense relief that the book is dated. We have come a long way in these twenty years. Still, in Sweden , the firms are on the rise again, and I know many who hesitate to bring their kids to the high risk games and derbys.

Among the thugs is part freakshow, part horror story and part journalism, and should be of interest to anyone in groups and psychology. Football interest is optional.
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LibraryThing member ecw0647
Bill Buford, an American export to Britain, began an exploration of sports violence after he had the misfortune to take a train that was being systematically destroyed by hundreds of Liverpool soccer team supporters - the police seemingly unable to control the riot, indeed as afraid as the other
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passengers. There is a particularly savage image of a drunk "supporter," as Buford calls the hooligans, throwing lighted matches on the shoes of a well-to-do businessman riding in first-class, perhaps hoping to set the man's pants on fire, the man trying to ignore the barbaric gesture. To Buford, this act became symbolic of the revolt of the unemployed and uneducated against class distinctions: sports fans "determined to break or destroy the things that were in their way."

Buford's English friends were not surprised; this was normal behavior for the "lads." What did surprise them was that Buford had never been to a soccer match. So they took him. It was quite an event:
spectators urinating on one another, fighting, manhandling the police, wrestling for their seats. Buford decided to investigate "them."
Some of the behavior Buford attributes to the design of English football (soccer). The spectators become crowds. There are not enough seats for all; most stand to watch and are pressed together in a remarkable intimacy during the game. When they leave, the observers must exit through narrow gates and are forced to herd together in a fashion Buford could only describe as a stampede. Indeed, they are fenced in (often with chain linked fences topped with several rows of barbed wire curved ill towards the spectators) during the match in conditions much like a stockyard. Buford recalls one match: "the single toilet facility overflowing, and my feet slapping around in the urine that came pouring down the concrete steps of the terrace, the crush so great that I had to clinch my toes to keep my shoes from being pulled off, horrified by the prospect of my woolen socks soaking up this cascading pungent liquid still warm and steaming in the cold air. The conditions are appalling, but essential: it is understood that anything more civilized would diffuse the experience."

Unfortunately, the type of fan that enjoys this experience is also one that the British National Front, the neo-Nazi party, believes is most responsive to its race-baiting, jingoistic, xenophobic literature and propaganda, and they do their very best to enlist cadres of football fans into groups that revel in violence and class hatred.

The truly scary revelation of this book is Buford's discovery of how easily he became part of the crowd and began to act just like them. Crowds are mindless. Crowds are primitive, barbaric. childish, fickle, unpredictable, capricious, dirty. and vicious. Crowds kill. They killed Jesus and Socrates. They murdered at the Bastille, in Mississippi, and in front of the Wmter Palace. People in crowds are typically those who have "abandoned intelligence. discrimination, judgment. " They are "unable to think for themselves, are vulnerable to agitators, outside influences, infiltrators, communists, fascists, racists, nationalists, phalangists, and spies."

Why have people adopted this manner of behavior? Is it biological, innate to our species, or does it result from environmental conditions, overcrowding and poverty? Buford theorizes that the English working class has essentially disappeared, that most jobs are "service" or white collar. "This bored, empty, decadent generation consists of nothing more than what it ap~s to be. It is a lad culture without mystery, so deadened that it uses violence to wake itself up. It pricks itself so that it has feeling, bums its flesh so that it has smell."

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LibraryThing member HenryKrinkle
Bill Buford, editor of the English literary magazine, Granta, took a leave of absence to spend a year with soccer hooligans. These aimless thugs are the filter Buford uses to examine British society and the demise of it's working class. It contains one of the most harrowing, perceptive first hand
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accounts of the phsycology of mass violence written.
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LibraryThing member jwhenderson
This is a horrific and almost unbearably detailed look at British football (soccer) fan violence. The author, the editor of Granta, includes very little football, but rather follows the ``supporters'' on their Saturday jaunts during the 1980s. British football fans and their loosely organized
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``firms''- -with their bizarre ties to white-power groups, skinheads, and the National Front--were involved in scores of deaths, countless riots and skirmishes with police and rival supporters, and untold damage to property in England and across the continent. It is the ``precise moment in its complete sensual intensity'' when the crowd goes over the edge and erupts into heedless violence that captures Buford's attention as he attempts to understand such ferocious behavior. He finds that ``violence is their antisocial kick, their mind-altering experience,'' and notes that `` the way animals behave....'' Following his own brutal beating at the hands of Sardinian riot police, a despairing Buford concludes that, in a society that offers little to look forward to or to believe in except ``a bloated code of maleness, an exaggerated, embarrassing patriotism, a violent nationalism, an array of bankrupt social habits,'' youth, out of boredom, frustration, and anger, will use violence ``to wake itself up.'' It is a unique book in my experience documenting the fan culture of soccer in England. The mass violence seems to provide evidence to support the conclusions of those who study the psychology of crowds. These are crowds unlike any I have ever experienced. Buford is a very good writer and his account is mesmerizing.
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LibraryThing member bas615
This book is mesmerizing and disgusting, frightening and fascinating. I haven't read a book as quickly in a long time. Buford puts himself right there and tests the line for acceptable behaviour for a journalist. He makes connections with people most of us would not go within 10 yards of. He is
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rewarded by in-depth insights into this movement. Whatever you want to call the movement is a deeply disturbing arrangement that raises unanswerable questions. This is not a society with large differences from my own and the violence is incomprehensible to me. Yet, we are left so close to that edge that I begin to worry that I may wind up over the edge unconsciously.

Even if I can assure myself i am not going to do these terrible things, I cannot ignore that this is a developed nation that regularly descends into absolute chaos because of fans of a sport. The violence in the slums of Lagos or Port-au-Prince is "over there". This is not, this is people like my neighbors. Who in my neighborhood is going to suck out a policeman's eyeball and then go eat dinner with his wife? I dont know...

Bottomline, Buford does an absolutely wonderful job of bringing this world to life. He makes clear that this world is our world. His writing is concise and his personal responses are spot on and enhance the book greatly. I highly recommend this book as a well written study of a culture that needs to be examined.
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LibraryThing member jiles2
This book is not so much about soccer, but rather about soccer culture in England. An interesting read, but it sentimentalizes the violence surrounding an ordinary soccer match. The class society is front and center, something which is a bit foreign to my American eyes. We like our class-based
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hypocrisy to be hidden in the shadows, not placed in view, for all the world to see. Each time a grizzled old veteran steps up and talks about how it used to be, it makes me sad I never saw it, but glad that it's no longer that way. If you've ever seen "Football Factories", this book makes an interesting accompaniment.
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LibraryThing member debnance
I’m not really much of a sports fan, but, after reading this book, I can see that I WILL NEVER ATTEND A SOCCER MATCH. I was astonished, flabbergasted; I can honestly say I never dreamed there were people like this in our world. Buford attends soccer games with the most diehard of fans, fans that
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throw beer bottles at their opponents, fans that run amok, fans that set fires in the stands, fans that urinate out the windows of their tour buses, fans that steal from vendor in their opponents’ cities….I was shocked to read this book.
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LibraryThing member dwfree
One of the best books ostensibly about sports I have read.
LibraryThing member MarkBeronte
United), and themselves. Their dislike encompasses the rest of the known universe, and England's soccer thugs express it in ways that range from mere vandalism to riots that terrorize entire cities. Now Bill Buford, editor of the prestigious journal Granta, enters this alternate society and records
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both its savageries and its sinister allure with the social imagination of a George Orwell and the raw personal engagement of a Hunter Thompson.
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LibraryThing member kendrak
This book is all right, but not great. It is clear that hanging out with the firms was something exotic for Buford, and that it had little to do with team loyalty. I guess he didn't really convey anything about the fans, just the violent yobs, which got old after a while.
LibraryThing member heytoomey

Pretty good insight into mob mentality and funny anecdotes of the author's time in England.
LibraryThing member stretch
Soccer hooliganism was and still is the bane for much of the footballing world. Violent, drunken fans, hell bent on destruction leave nothing but shame and millions of dollars of damage behind. There are many books and articles explaining the socio-economic and general psychology of crowd behavior,
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but there haven't been many that seek out an insiders view of the violent crowd. In Among the Thugs, Bill Buford embeds himself in the lad culture that prevailed in European soccer in the late '80s and early '90s to provide a unique perspective of what fuels the crowd.

The violence exhibited by supporters of the top flight soccer before, during, and after the matches was in many ways a feature of game for many in the 1980s. It was just what was done. By the late '80s the violence had become organized. At the time the police looked to confine the violence, rather then curb it. As long supporters only harmed other supporters then so be it. Buford, an ex-pat, inserts himself into these violent crowds like no other member of the press ever had. He becomes a hooligan.

Bill Buford describes all the horrible drunkeness, and awful violence you'd expect for a book about hooliganism. And what people do in the anonymity of the crowd is truly horrible. But what sets Buford's account out for the others is that he tries to seek out the not just the how but why the violence was so prevalent during those times. Sure alcohol fueled the rage. The changing economy from blue collar work to service industries played a major role and soccer became an outlet for the aggression. For Buford though it was the experience in the terraces that really drove the crowd. Being jammed into such a tiny place, that you had to become apart of the crowd just to survive. Moving and a swaying and pushing and pulling on people to keep from getting crushed created something of living organism. You have to give up your individuality to become apart of the crowd. Once people stop being individuals and their actions are dictated by the crowd then anything and everything is possible. Especially with a select group of troublemakers looking to lead that crowd.

Today, the firms that once controlled the crowds are largely dead in England. The nationalist party fell away, nationalism isn't that big anymore, economy improved, policing of supporters got better, banning the leaders/jail time, the rise of the EPL, all-seater grounds, and destruction of the terraces has lead to a calmer supporter culture. Violence still happens but now its smaller and less organized then in the past. Buford by immersing himself so deeply in the lad culture has done a wonderful job of giving us some insight into violent crowds. And along the way gave me some wonderful passages about the game to remind me why I love it so much.
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LibraryThing member arubabookwoman
This is a book of immersion journalism. After witnessing an act of random football (soccer) violence, Buford decided to investigate the phenomenon of football hooliganism in England in the early 1990's. It had gotten so bad that many British fan clubs were "banned" from travel to the Continent to
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attend matches, as violence and mayhem seemed to accompany these fans everywhere. The book describes how Buford insinuated himself into Manchester United's "firm" or fan club, becoming known to many of its members, his travels with the club to games and matches in Great Britain and on the Continent, and indeed his own participation in the vandalism, riots and violence that accompanied the group wherever it traveled. The book is at its best when it describes the feeling and emotions of mob mentality; it is not so good when it tries to intellectually explain the roots and causes of mob violence.

I'm not particularly a football (US football or UK "soccer") fan, but I have often wondered at the propensity for violence in sports. This book is a glimpse into that world.
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LibraryThing member ghr4
This is a powerful exposé of the crowd violence that prominently infected English football in the latter part of the 20th century. But as shown by the epigraphs preceding each chapter, the problem traces far back, even to the 19th century.

Author Bill Buford infiltrated the ranks of these groups
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of thugs to present truly horrifying eyewitness accounts of their savagery and destructiveness, and the intense exhilaration it provides for them. He analyzes the personalities and circumstances that draw people to this behavior; the disaffected, the aimless, the discontented, those with the need to be be part of something exclusive thereby giving a sense of belonging.

Buford's decription of the mob as a coordinated, structured unit is fascinating: its movements akin to a single organism, shifting and reashaping, splitting apart as necessary while on the march and then reforming when necessary. The narrative descriptions of the incidents are quite graphic and sometimes difficult to get through.

The final chapter describes the author's experience in the midst of the stampeding violence at the 1990 World Cup in Sardinia. The stark, abrupt ending - spillover vandalism, arson, and murder back in the suburbs of south London - is an effective last jolt.
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LibraryThing member ProfH
Very interesting despite some flaws. It would have been helpful for context if Buford had shown how the firms are a minority of the supporters. The most popular sport in the world is followed by all classes, ages, ect. Some of the descriptions make it sound as if only thugs are attracted to soccer.
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The account of rioting violence in Italy at the beginning and end of the novel was by far the most fascinating for me. The power of the crowd and the desire for an "us against them" struggle is mysterious and seductive.

I would love to see an updated chapter/afterwards that reflects on how this phenomenon has changed since publication.
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LibraryThing member lexmccall
This is crowd practice as opposed to crowd theory. I read Buford's Heat long before I read this, and the funny thing is that his tone works so well for both subjects. He's curious, bemused, and slightly detached, but simultaneously watching himself get more immersed in the thing he's studying.
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Hilarious and lovely when you're reading about chefs and their egos and Italian cuisine, terrifying and fascinating when the topic is the violent power of a crowd.
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LibraryThing member NLspellcheck
In this entertaining travel account, Bill Buford explores what happens when fandom becomes much more than passing time. It is a way of living. I am an American soccer player and fan, so this book, while resting on the shelf, immediately appealed to me. I quickly became immersed as the author
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detailed the horrific imagery. At the same time, I was enamored by the sheer pride the fans had for their team, hometown, and culture. In conclusion, I highly recommend this book, you will never again think of sports fans in the same way.
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