Bottom Rung of the Literary Ladder
Interview by Andrew Stevens.
3:AM: As a writer of so-called ‘hoolie lit’, were the Skinhead novels of Richard Allen an influence on you when you were growing up?
DB: Not at all. I can honestly say that no other authors have influenced me in any way and the truth is that I fell into writing purely by accident.
In 1995, I had recently left the Royal Air Force and was working as an extra on film and TV. When you do that kind of work there is loads of hanging around and inevitably, talk turns to football. That’s where my brother Eddy and I had the idea of writing about hooliganism and we began making notes. Not just about our own experiences, but those of others. We also talked about the who’s, why’s and wherefore’s, which is the real core of all my hooligan non-fiction.
Eventually, with Euro 96 approaching, we sent some sample material to Headline and within a few months we had a deal and an advance. It really was as simple as that!
3:AM: OK, well there goes my theory then! So it’s fair to say that non-fiction later led to fiction then? Was that done purely on a commercial basis or did being a novelist appeal to you at all?
DB: Yes, but it wasn’t a commercial decision at all. It was more by accident than design.
After my first book Everywhere We Go, I wrote three more non-fiction books and these led to an approach from the author and TV writer Lynda La Plante who wanted to write a hooligan based storyline of one of her crime series.
Unfortunately, the ideas they had were totally unrealistic both in terms of plot and character and so she told me to go away and come up with something better. Within the week I’d put together an idea based on a car ringing scam and she loved it. However, thanks to the PC nazis at ITV the idea never got off the ground but she told me that it was such a great story, I should go away and write it as a novel.
Although I had never really thought about writing fiction before, when someone of the stature of Lynda La Plante tells you it would be a good idea to do something, it really is a good idea to do it. So I pitched the idea to Headline and thankfully, they loved it. A year or so later, it was released as The Crew and a year after that, the sequel Top Dog hit the shelves.
3:AM: What did ITV object to, specifically?
DB: One of the key characters is a black undercover policeman and there was a racial element which would have made for quite uncomfortable viewing. It was however, an absolutely vital element of the plot as anyone who has read the book will know.
However, ITV simply wouldn’t accept it as they claimed it would have kicked off all kinds of controversy and so that was that.
3:AM: After you left the services you moved into writing and you have said you got out of hooligan activity before the firms’ tactics got too severe.
DB: I first became aware of the whole culture in the early 70s but only really because involved after 1976 by which time I was already serving. However, it’s important to understand that I was never really a ‘hard-core’ hooligan but very much a peripheral figure. I am after all a Watford fan not a Millwall one!
Of course, this begs the question as to how I could get involved if I was away from home but the truth is that whenever I was stationed in the UK I was never stationed more than 40 miles or so from Watford so it wasn’t that hard to get to games. Indeed, I never missed a single match home or away during the early 80s.
However, I think being away from home actually helped me because it allowed me to take a more objective view of what was going on in terms of the whole culture and the way it was being perceived. As a consequence, I began to form my own opinions on everything from the causes to the cures based on my own albeit small involvement. Those opinions form the basis of the non-fiction work.
3:AM: As you began to write about it, were you aware of the ‘hoolie lit’ genre, which was beginning to make a wider impact by the mid-1990s? John King, that sort of thing.
DB: Not really. The Football Factory came out at about the same time as Everywhere We Go and we were too busy working our balls off to promote it to worry about anyone else. And as time went on and we brought out book after book, we knew it was inevitable that people would jump on the bandwagon which is exactly what happened. We just had to stay ahead of the game, which I think we did.
What I didn’t expect however, was that the majority of authors who brought out books within the ‘hoolie lit’ genre saw fit to try and promote their work by slagging ours off. However, aside from backfiring badly on them, all it did was to make Eddy and I, me in particular, more determined to keep on.
That said, I do think the whole ‘hoolie lit’ genre receives an awful lot of criticism almost all of which is unjust. There have been something like 60 books published within the genre now the bulk of which are by first time authors who would never have dreamed of writing had people like Colin Ward, John King and to a lesser extent Eddy and I, not kickstarted the whole thing.
Now I’m not saying all those books were literary masterpieces but the key thing about hoolie lit is that it knows exactly what it is (or was) and who it is aimed at. As a consequence, not only has it sold a lot of books but just as importantly, those books have brought a lot of people back into reading.
Yet as a literary genre, it receives no recognition for what it achieved. I always say that those of us who write it are not simply regarded as the bottom rung of the literary ladder, we’re the bungs on the feet at the bottom.
That’s bollocks really. How many paperbacks in any genre are still in print 12 years after they first came out? Colin Ward’s Steaming In is, so is Everywhere We Go for that matter.
3:AM: How did you end up in a writing partnership with your brother?
DB: It was easier! Two typewriters means twice the speed and half the research!
3:AM: You moved from novels into screenwriting with It’s A Casual Life. To what extent do you agree that the ‘casual’ subculture is as much defined by attire as violence and what do you make of the forthcoming Awaydays film?
DB: Of all the subjects I write about, Casual is the one which attracts the most bizarre range of opinions. Largely, it must be said, because there are people involved in the nostalgia surrounding the origins of the scene who are so anal about it, I wonder how they can possibly walk straight.
But to me, as I’ve said many times, Casual is about football and clothes. Period. Yes, there were bands who jumped on it and yes, there are plenty of lads who got into politics be they left or right wing but they were all incidental. At the core of it all is the simple truth that back in the early days, gear was the uniform of the Saturday Scene and was designed to send a message to those on the outside. We’re better than you, don’t fuck with us. To me, that hasn’t really changed.
With regard to the Awaydays movie, I’m certainly keen to see it and all credit to those who have made it happen because I know how difficult that is. But to be honest, I wasn’t that keen on the book. I always got the sense that the football side of it was tacked on as a vehicle to tell a different story and there were elements of the book which just didn’t interest me at all.
Plus, I hate Tranmere Rovers with a passion which didn’t help.
3:AM: Recently you published Kicking Off: Why Hooliganism and Racism Are Killing Football — to what extent do you think racism remains a problem in football today?
DB: I think English football has led the way in anti-racism and deserves every credit for it. People forget that one of the reasons why racist incidents receive so much publicity is because they are so rare these days. But the fact that these incidents attract that publicity is important for other reasons. It proves not only that football is an easy target but that there is a gravy train being fuelled by the fear of racism and it is in the interests of the people riding that train to keep kicking football instead of praising it. More importantly, it highlights the fact that there are very few people prepared to stand up and actually criticise the anti-racism lobby for overstating the problem within the professional game and in essence, that’s why I wrote the book.
I thought it was about time that some of the things that were being muttered in pubs and clubs were actually put into the public domain and if no one else was going to do it, why not me? After all, I already had a reputation for writing about controversial issues and for pissing people off so who better?
3:AM: You wrote the script for Green Street, how happy were you with the finished product and what did you make of the critical reception afforded to it?
DB: Green Street, well, where to start! It’s no secret that I was very unhappy with the finished movie not simply because it was so different from the original story but because it could have been so good. As it is, it’s a shambles and every bit of criticism it receives is justified. The fact that it won all kinds of awards in the US simply amazes me.
That said, I learnt a lot from it and it’ll stay firmly on my CV. After all, how many Hollywood movies does the average bloke get to write?
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWEE
Once dubbed “the Yob Laureate”, Dougie Brimson is the author of three novels and 10 non-fiction books on football violence and culture. He has also advised the government on tackling football violence.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, November 11th, 2008.