Film Vs Book: The Football Factory
In this next series of articles, I’m going to take a look at books and their subsequent translation into a film. It is often said that a novel will always be superior to its adaptations, but is this really the case? This week: The Football Factory. Written by John King in 1997, and directed by Nick Love in 2004. Ah, Nick Love. Usually I wouldn’t attack someone like this. Love has a many a critic raining arrows on his head, and considering he is making money in an industry most would work in for free, I doubt many of them hit home. It was his adaptation of The Football Factory that got his name booted into the big leagues of British cinema, but with damnation ringing in his ears. The film’s plot follows the firms of both Chelsea and Millwall in the lead up to a derby match between the two. The film's extremely graphic depictions of both violence and sex, alongside a serious debate on whether the film glamorised hooliganism, meant it was either loved or loathed, and received many a damning review. It can seem that the nails have already been hammered into the coffin of this debate. Yet Football Factory has a great deal of popularity, and this is not entirely without merit. Although not spectacular in their performances, the cast are clearly enjoying themselves, and provide more than enough energy to carry the film along. The direction in places is great, and the fight scenes are well choreographed and very brutal. The real problem lies with the writing, and it is here that we turn to the book. John King’s The Football Factory does deal with hooliganism, and in many ways is much nastier than its motion picture equivalent. However, it put the violence in a context, and hooliganism is just a small part of the whole package. It follows other characters round London in the mid nineties, dealing with their emotions, everyday lives, and future dreams. Crucially however, and most importantly of all, it’s brilliant. King is a fantastic writer, and we care just as much about the firm as we do about a little boy on day trip. His prose is simple but saturated with ideas, and the text switches between crude and elegant writing in a way that elevates the novel as a whole. Love (apart from a small B-plot about one of the character’s granddad) makes it a straight hooligan romp. It had none of the charm or depth of the book, and even judged on its own merits is not as good as The Firm way back in 1989. Change the names and the title, and you could easily eliminate all links between the two. Whereas Love’s work is about a select few, King tells a tale of Britain.
The Football Factory is not a bad a film as its reputation would suggest. Its biggest crime is that John King may be regarded as a schlock and pulpy because of it. In reality, he is one of the most exciting British writers of the last twenty years, and for me deserves all the fame that has fallen at the feet of Welsh and Hornby. So in this case, without a doubt I go with: The Book.