Among the Thugs Summary

Bill Buford

Among the Thugs

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Among the Thugs Summary

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Among the Thugs: the Experience, and the Seduction, of Crowd Violence (1992) by American journalist Bill Buford presents and analyzes the dynamics of mobs and mob behavior at sporting events in the United Kingdom. The work helped established Buford as the father of “dirty realism.” For more than a decade, Buford was also the editor of the highly influential and globally-focused literary journal, Granta.

This book’s themes include the economic forces behind group violence, compassion for those who act despicably, and the functions of community. The work was praised for its compilation of more than eight years worth of interviews with football professionals and fans, as well as its intimate glimpse into the world of violence and the reasons behind it.

Among the Thugs is divided into three parts and presents the author’s experience chronologically from 1982 to 1990. In the first part, he explores Wales, Northern England, and Northern Italy while living in the UK as a Marshall scholar, an elite academic scholarship and honor. Part two takes place in the mid ’80s and explores sporting events at Cambridge University and other wealthy parts of England. Part three concludes with English teams playing some of their top rivals: the German team of Dusseldorf, and a team from Sardinia, in southern Italy.

The work begins by showing how Buford became interested in mass reactions to sporting events, a.k.a “hooliganism.” While returning home to the United States, Buford passed through Cardiff, Wales, around 1:30 AM one winter morning. He was amazed by how riled up everyone was over a football (called soccer in the U.S.) game. The police were prepared to handle thousands of drunk and loud people, and train station managers erected barricades to facilitate the flow of traffic for the inebriated population. Buford is especially interested in how working-class people–very often young men–express their dissatisfaction with their current economic situation by lashing out against their immediate surroundings after a football event.

The hooligans pose a risk to the many middle-aged people and their families who bought tickets to enjoy a chivalrous game; these families have to be protected by the police. Buford wonders why these families insist on paying to attend what is often a miserable event. It’s intensely crowded, one can get into a spat easily by accidentally bumping into someone, and it’s not unusual to have someone pee on your shoe or your shirt.

By the late ’70s, Buford is determined to figure out why “hooligans” flock to football games. He forces himself to attend games around the country. Overt ime, he starts to enjoy the unsavory ritual of attending a sports game. He reasons it’s like drinking or smoking: bad for you, but addictive.

He meets the “Inter-City Jibbers,” a group of young, working-class men who are obsessed with the football team Manchester United. This includes Barmy Bernie, Steamin’ Sammy, and Daft Donald. They seem to like rioting after a football game as much (if not more) than viewing the match itself. The young men show Buford bruises and stab wounds from various conflicts with the police as well as the fans of opposing teams. As he interviews them, Buford realizes that these young men hate almost all of their surroundings. In fact, they live off of hate, and soccer games are one socially acceptable way to express their rancor.

Later, Buford meets several members of the National Front, a fascist group that wants to expel all immigrants from the UK and promotes the genetic superiority of white people. Buford finds that their hatred is, in some ways, parallel to the thoughtless, violent antics that overtake obsessed football fans. The people who act like hooligans are more likely to feel unstable in the world, and unwelcome by corporate environments; they also feel very threatened by globalization. They prefer to explain any personal setback they experience to be the fault of “the other guy” (usually someone non-white) rather than their own failings. These feelings can grow so intense that they issue bomb threats to other teams; their behavior then, is not unlike the National Front, who advocated for and committed violence against ethnic minorities.

Along with the National Front, other white-power groups and skinheads (neo-Nazis) organize around their favorite football team. During or after various matches, they help cause numerous deaths, as well as destruction of property that exceeds millions of dollars. A dozen people die in one riot 1985 in Brussels; nearly 100 spectators are crushed to death after a panic occurs within the crowd at one 1989 match. At one of these violent uprisings, Buford saw one young man bite out a police officer’s eyeball.

At the 1990 World Cup in southern Italy, Buford finds himself in a riot. He, along with hundreds of others, is beaten by the police. The police are especially brutal during the World Cup, knowing that the rest of the world is judging their capacity to maintain law and order. Buford is hit by fists and batons for over five minutes.

Towards the end of Among the Thugs, Buford considers why these young English men are so eager to start a riot. He concludes that the effects of rioting produce endorphins in the brain that are similar to ingesting drugs. Simply put, they riot because it’s fun. It’s also an instant way to feel that they’re connected to their community and can act in “noble” ways that are larger than themselves. These positive benefits are not, in their social situation, handedly delivered to them; so they act out, as society gives them nothing for which to to aim.