15 Years Later, Green Street Still Makes Me Cry
In 2005, cinema’s football hooligan genre reached its zenith with Green Street. ‘Let’s go f*cking mental, na na na na.’
The rush of the lights, the numb fingers and toes, the euphoric bristling of a top bins zinger, the operatic, wrathful chanting of a team’s legion – memories of a former football fan. While my fondness for the sport hasn’t entirely faded, it appears in my life once in a blue moon, often out of happenstance at the pub.
While ‘match-day madness’ rarely takes the spotlight, my love of Green Street has prevailed through 15 years of change – a semi-regular re-watch thanks to continuous re-runs on UK TV. Its toxic masculine aesthetic is undeniable, and mostly accurate. However, proper heart lies beneath the glory of the bouts.
Just two years prior, Elijah Wood secured peace in Middle Earth, conquering Sauron’s evil will. The actor led a franchise to historic success; yet, his career wouldn’t be steered by the Fellowship, later starring in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Sin City and, of course, Green Street.
Wood plays Matt Buckner, a Harvard journalism major who’s expelled after taking the fall for his cocaine-fuelled, bratty, elite roommate; think of every caricature of an aristocrat, blended into one obnoxious tool. ‘What I was about to learn, no Ivy League school could teach me,’ he narrates.
With $10,000 in his hands as compensation, he flies to England to see his sister Shannon (Claire Forlani) and her husband, Steve Dunham (Marc Warren). Briefly, all’s gravy, until Steve’s brother Pete – an irresistibly, affably brusque Charlie Hunnam – walks in with a swagger that could carry carpets, and asks for cash for the boys.
For the uninitiated, the film opens on Pete and his rowdy firm, the Green Street Elite, facing down some yammering Tottenham supporters. ‘If I knew I was going to a Bar Mitzvah, I’d have brought me f*cking skull cap,’ he shouts, in a ‘cockney’ twang probably conceived near the Tannhauser Gate.
Moments later, a goon is headbutted through a phone box, heads are slammed off poles. It’s a squall of swearing and blood-splattering rage, scored to the throbbing beat of Disturbed’s Down with the Sickness. In all the fights, the direction from German-born Lexi Alexander lacks a finesse, occasionally it’s disorientating, but that’s the point. These men aren’t fighters, they’re agents of frenzy.
Also, this is how Pete lost his wallet. Unfortunately, Steve sends him on his way with Matt holding the folding. When he tries to taunt the money out of him, Matt’s attempt to kick Pete lands him on the pavement with a ruthless swipe. ‘Ho ho ho, well, how f*cking stupid do you feel now?’
One ill-advised moment of violence sparks a friendship. Soon, they’re in the pub with the boys (Ross McCall, Rafe Spall and Kieran Bew), senselessly nattering about Mr. Miyagi à la Tarantino and educating Matt on rhyming slang, like ‘struggling runt for c*nt’. Then there’s Bovver, Pete’s right-hand man in GSE, who’s not too keen on the septic tank (Yank).
The Stone Roses’ Waterfall plays under the constant laughter, and you can almost feel that frosty blanket of lager down your throat. Moments of joy like this peek through, such as Matt’s hopeless goalkeeping against ‘regular English boys’. All in aid of a breathing, believable brotherhood.
What follows is a fair degree of melodrama, courtesy of Alexander, Dougie Brimson and Josh Shelov’s screenplay. Whether it be Matt’s daddy issues or Bovver’s distaste for ‘the firm going all international’, ‘The Major’ pay-off is genuinely compelling, but the rest feels more functional.
There’s some unintentionally hilarious quotes, such as Matt claiming the news of the firm’s successes ‘travelled across England faster than the death of Lady Di’, or one hooligan’s pseudo-sinister threat of ‘having to give a boy two funerals’.
The central, driving event is the GSE’s clash with Millwall, their arch-enemies. Their leader, Tommy Hatcher (Geoff Bell, striking more fear in his introductory café scene than his similar, weaker Kingsman sleazebag), has an axe to grind after losing his son in a past brawl, which revealed in a bleak, old-timey flashback with some interesting haircuts.
The film also falls victim to the clichéd colouring of the UK. How else will the audience know we’re in Britain if everything isn’t a shade of grey or blue, seemingly always at an indistinguishable time of a gloomy day?
However, its flaws are part of the fun. Green Street is far from high art, and other entries in the genre do interesting things: Gary Oldman’s The Firm is probably the most incisive portrayal, while Danny Dyer’s The Football Factory is a far stranger experience than most remember.
Sure, it relishes the senseless, unhinged violence. Certain set-pieces are there purely for fun, like ‘United away’. But through the shattered teeth, broken legs and slit throats, there’s a sense of belonging. As the GSE stand at Trinity Wharf, Terence Jay’s lyrics feel extremely apt: ‘One flesh, one breath, one life, one blood.’
Then, with a punch to the gut, the film reaches a genuinely heartbreaking conclusion. The glamour of punch-ups fizzle, silence takes the stage. Hooliganism is a specific passion, but the tragedy of the moment is universal.
Ostensibly, Green Street is a ‘Saturdays are for the boys’ movie. Really, and bear with me here, it’s about the purity of oneself; standing your ground not just in the streets, but in life. Pete represents the force – whether it be your dad, a friend, or even a fictional being – which triggers that evolution.
Life’s a far cry from 2005’s simplicity. Football no longer exists in my orbit, nor have I ever been anything remotely close to a hooligan. Yet, today and always, ‘I’m forever blowing bubbles, pretty bubbles in the air’.
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