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"I ain't YOUR facking John. You don't know me at all, do you? Mend the fuses, fix the car, mow the lawn. It's facking boring. You think that's me. It's all bollocks. Facking house, facking babies, it's shit. I'm MY John. Me. I'm different."
So says the Detective Constable, protagonist of 1995's Phil Davis-directed film I.D, to his girlfriend. Like a lot of really excellent movies, you can explain the plot of it in one sentence: an undercover policeman enjoys posing as a football hooligan so much that he becomes one and loses everything as a result.
Ambitious John is one of a four-man team sent to infiltrate a firm of thoroughly nasty football hooligans who follow fictional Shadwell (a real place in East London, overseas chums). They play at the Kennel, their nickname is The Dogs, and their watering hole of choice is The Rock, run by terrifying bat-wielding landlord Bob and his comely barmaid niece Lynda. John, swaggering and quick-witted, takes to this life of hard drinking, smashing up rival supporters' coaches, abusing police and (brilliantly filmed) surging, adrenalin-charged crowd violence like a duck to lager.
It is clear that some hole in his life - a perfectly nice life with a loving home, pretty policewoman girlfriend Marie and loyal, close work buddies Trevor, Eddie and Charlie - has been filled. Via acts of hooligan "bravery" that become increasingly deranged and suicidal, John wins the respect and affection of the hooligan crew's leaders, and Lynda as well. However, in getting close to the investigation's major targets, it has become horrifyingly clear to his colleagues that he has seriously lost his sense of self. It all goes very bad.
It would have been possible for this film to work as a "the face becomes the mask" psychological drama, or as a "cops and robbers: two sides of the same coin" thriller, or a satirical broadside at UK policing, or a comment on middle class ennui, or on the crisis of masculinity and sublimated violence in an age without a wide-reaching war.
It works on all these levels, but it wears these heavy themes lightly. This is a highly entertaining movie.
I.D. manages to pull off the slightly queasy trick of making being a football hooligan look like, well, look like a hell of a lot of fun; in the same way that the contemporaneous 'Trainspotting' showed that getting out of your gourd on industrial strength recreational drugs is a bloody good time, at least for some of the time. Davis captures the sheer thrill of being in a surging crowd, the tribal element and the rush of the violence with a boisterous boys-will-be-boys quality, rarely showing the horrible aftermath and destruction. This isn't to say that the film is endorsing or glorifying the violence; rather that we feel along with John the seductive power of the danger that anyone who has been at a match with an unpleasant atmosphere will recognise as being exciting, if not in a good way.
It is to the credit of Davis and a top-notch cast (Reece Dinsdale, Richard Graham, Sean Pertwee, Philip Glenister and others) that this film utterly lacks the puerile, voyeuristic, empty tone of most later hooligan films in the Danny Dyer mould.
In a film which is, by nature of its subject matter, a bit of a sausage-fest, Saskia Reeves as the bad girl barmaid and Claire Skinner as the blameless, spurned good girl do a lot with not much on the page. The ending packs a thoroughly unpleasant emotional wallop, and plenty of questions are left for the audience to ponder.
Along with The Firm, we rate this among the very best of films about (or at least, related to) football. Any others?
John Nicholson and Alan Tyers
Alan has ghost-written a book for football legend Ronnie Matthews.
Read Johnny's book, 'The Meat Fix' here
Follow Alan on Twitter here
or Johnny here.