The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.
We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.
Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.
I’ve been circling this copy of Green Street 2 for days, trying to figure out how to handle it. On the one hand, it clearly had to be watched. No one who saw the preview could possibly question that. On the other hand, it presented a terrifying challenge. What if I failed to live up to it? What if I entered into the world of this carefully crafted, socially positive, psychologically excellent piece of art, which its creators had released straight to DVD so that it could be enjoyed in private contemplation, away from the hassle and teenagers of the cineplex (seriously, teenagers…why do you have to play this thing that way)—what if I stepped up to the mark, and somehow walked away unconvinced that soccer hooliganism was a viable path to self-respect? I pictured a disappointed Elijah Wood, shaking his head at me sadly…then almost getting killed by an Uruk-Hai…then being saved at the last minute when Legolas picked off the Uruk-Hai with an arrow…then shaking his head at me some more…even more sadly. It was a risk I couldn’t take.
Then it occurred to me. I didn’t have to do this alone. We could watch this film together. Sure, you couldn’t come over and sit on my couch, because that would be bewildering for both of us. But thanks to the highly specific non-magical capacities of the internet, I could share the viewing experience with you. That way, we’d be in this together, and if I didn’t live up to the high standards of the movie, it would basically be your fault.
So let’s do this. Elijah Wood is gone, but the spirit of the Green Street Elite remains. The soccer-based fight against prison overcrowding begins…after the jump.
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The Mysterious Stranger: Announcing a live blog so wild and furious that I can’t even tell you what it’s going to be about. All I can say is that it will involve a raging volcano of bitterness, misapplied evolutionary theory, and English accents. Check back TODAY at, oh, let’s say 2pm Eastern/1900 GMT for the hopefully not completely unspeakable truth.
When We Last Saw Our Heroes: Let’s not overcomplicate this. This guy named Dave got arrested during a huge fight between his West Ham firm and a group of middle-class picnickers from Millwall. Now he’s going to prison. You could argue that life was always going to be a prison once he was no longer a part of Elijah Wood’s journey of self-discovery, but whatever. He’s in real prison now.
Ground Rules: We’re going to do this roughly in real time. I may have to pause the movie occasionally in order to process some of the more complex theme-image clusters, but we’re aiming for as little of that as possible.
What the Hell Is This Thing Called: The first one was called Green Street in England and Green Street Hooligans in America. This one is called Green Street 2: Stand Your Ground in England and not available on the open market in America, so it’s really up to you. I’m thinking of calling it Père Elijah, to bring out the Balzacian aftertaste.
Before We Begin, an Obligatory Hairstyle-as-Moral-Compass Prediction: I predict that the good guys will be distinguished from the bad guys in this movie by 1) being between 2 and 8 inches shorter, depending on the location of the scene within the learning-to-stand-up-to-the-bullies narrative arc, and 2) having slightly less shaved heads. Bad guys: totally shaved heads, with maybe a little scalp stubble to bring out the cranial sweat; good guys: anything ranging from a #2 buzz cut to a very conservative mop top. That’s my guess.
Okay, I’m pushing play.
1 min: After some ominous rumbling, the movie opens with a title reading Hooligans 2: Stand Your Ground. What? As the camera pans into the prison cell, however, this title winds up superimposed on a toilet.
1 min: There is such a thing as making it too easy for the critics.
2 min: Two minutes into the opening voiceover, and we’ve already had about 17 dropped H’s. Are these guys supposed to be Cockney or something?
3 min: Dave’s introductory voiceover is exploring the theme of conventional “respectability” (which the hooligans all had before they went to prison) versus the more primal “respect” which they earned by fighting strangers who liked different professional sports teams. This is an intriguing contrast. I’m sensing a dissertation here.
4 min: Dave’s in his prison cell, carefully wrapping gauze bandages around his fists. Apparently there are some Chelsea supporters in this prison, and they’re about to have a fight.
5 min: The hooligans enter the prison yard. They’re actually talking to each other about how they’re going to “stand their ground.” It’s as if they’re aware of the subtitle of the movie. Nice touch.
5 min: Uh-oh. First sight of the Chelsea hooligans, striding toward the Green Streeters in slow-motion. They’re big, and their scalp stubble is glistening as the morning sun catches their cranial sweat. But why didn’t I predict their goatees? Why, God, did I fail to predict their ubiquitous goatees?
5 min: The rival firms are standing across from each other, pointing and yelling “Fuck you!” Two questions: Are the guards not seeing this? Also: Did we really need to go into full slow-motion for this?
6 min: Oh, they’re punching each other. They’re punching each other, all right!
6 min: Riot police flood the yard as all sorts of people clutch at their head wounds and rapidly phase in and out of slow motion. I love modern action sequences. It’s always so easy to tell what’s happening.
7 min: And just like that, the fight’s over. This actually jibes with many reports of real-life experiences of conflict. The whole thing barely lasted thirty seconds, and yet it seemed to go on for an eternity.
8 min: The warden, who’s clearly someone who’d never get into a fight over a soccer team, and who’s therefore subhuman for the purposes of this movie, is transferring Dave to a different prison. He’s mad, but nothing he can do will ever make Dave stop smirking.
8 min: Cut to the new prison. Between you and me, it looks a lot more badass than the old prison. It’s got this huge, sun-drenched, old-West-compound-style yard, really high escape-movie-type walls, bright orange prison-movie-like prison jumpsuits, and light punk-pop tootling on the soundtrack.
9 min: And one of the guards is a woman! The movie gives us some time to process this.
10 min: The lady guard leads the hooligans past a prison-yard football pitch. “The governor’s a great believer in the constructive benefits of the sport,” she tells them. I wonder if football is going to play some sort of role in the plot?
11 min: The lads (basically, that’s Dave plus whatever interchangeable West Ham guys are flanking him at any given moment) are confronted by some Millwall hooligans they knew on the outside. The one who’s the biggest of all and the most resplendently endowed with scalp stubble tells them that he’s been “wanking off” waiting for them to arrive and that he’s going to make their life “a fucking misery.” I tell you. You can get yourself incarcerated, but you don’t check those football rivalries at the door, boy, nope.
12 min: The prison governor, a visibly weak and scholarly man who confoundingly also has a gigantic alpha-hooligan goatee, talks anxiously about overcrowding with a couple of the guards. He’s not doing anything to stop overcrowding, and the guards are upset, because there’s a lot of overcrowding. Really just amazing overcrowding, is I guess the takeaway idea from this scene. “He should grow a pair,” the lady guard sniffs afterward.
14 min: A Russian dude talks to Dave about the Cold War and how much he hates the Millwall fans. He used to be a fighter pilot. I genuinely have no idea what’s going on at this moment.
17 min: One of the Millwall hooligans is taking out the trash in the guards’ office. Judging from the incredibly ominous music, this can’t be good.
20 min: Dave and the boys are sitting in church (obviously) when the Millwall fans come in and attack them. A brief period of punching ensues, occasionally punctuated by a head being slammed into a pew or a Bible being smashed into someone’s face. You sow the wind of prison overcrowding, you reap the whirlwind of gratuitous football-themed chapel violence.
22 min: The lady officer’s name is apparently “Principal Officer Mavis.” There’s an outside chance I misheard this. The characters’ accents are…I don’t know. Cockney, or something.
23 min: Dave’s wife comes to visit him. Dave is, and I want to put this sensitively, playing in a league above his level. It’s as if Shrewsbury Town had married Manchester United. Also, she’s losing the house because with Dave in prison, she can’t make the payments. This is a bummer for Dave. Also for Manchester United.
25 min: Dave’s wife is telling Dave about the trouble she had shaving her pubic hair. This goes on for two solid minutes. That’s longer than the combined time of all the fight scenes so far, but that’s okay, because it’s also more entertaining.
27 min: I’m not saying a conversation about a failed attempt at pubic-hair shaving is inherently not entertaining, but I also think that if you’re putting one in a movie, you’d better make sure it’s not the single most entertaining part of that movie. One of the Millwall guys is burning someone’s face off with acid for some reason (failed contraband exchange, drug smuggling, corrupt prison guards, etc.) and my thoughts keep drifting back nostalgically to how Dave’s wife had trouble making it look like a heart.
29 min: Principal Officer Mavis is talking to the Russian about prison overcrowding. It’s going to affect the size of the bribe she needs in order to look the other way around his contraband-smuggling operation. Man, when it comes to prison overcrowding, everyone feels the heat.
30 min: Now Principal Officer Mavis is having a pizza delivered to her office. Did this movie have something to do with football at one point? Weren’t there some West Ham hooligans in it?
30 min: Wait a second…there are drugs in that pizza!
31 min: Here we go: A fight breaks out in the cafeteria line between the West Ham guys and some Millwall guys who don’t like the fact that one of the West Ham guys went to the front of the line to see whether it was fish and chips for dinner even though everyone knows it’s fish and chips every Friday night. Honestly, I think that was just an excuse. I don’t think it was about justice at all. I think they just wanted to fight.
32 min: The queue-jumper is given ten days of solitary confinement. “Bloody Ned,” he swears. Wait a second, is he…Cockney?
35 min: The Millwall guys are beating up a bunch of guys in C-block. There’s a lot of talk about people who “think they’re so fucking chav” when really they’re “from Paki-Town” which makes them “white wogs,” which makes them “the worst fucking thing there is.” Now, I’m not English. Is that a little offensive?
37 min: “Choose your enemies carefully,” Principal Officer Mavis spits at one of the uncorrupt police officers after he saves the West Ham hooligan in solitary confinement from getting killed by some Millwall hooligans. Principal Officer Mavis is a) corrupt, b) in the pay of the Millwall firm, and c) a fan of basic, unadorned cheese pizza. There’s something wrong with Principal Officer Mavis.
39 min: Okay, I just had to take a break to look this up, but yes, Principal Officer Mavis is indeed portrayed by Marina Sirtis, who played Counselor Deanna Troi on Star Trek: The Next Generation. My brain is trying to figure out what to do with this information.
40 min: Theory: The makers of the Green Street movies are somehow contractually obligated to allude to a beloved sci-fi/fantasy franchise with each new installment in the series. We’ve had Frodo as a neophyte hooligan, we’ve had Counselor Troi as a corrupt prison guard. For Green Street 3, I’m thinking…Mark Hamill as a guy who sells meat pies at Arsenal?
42 min: Second theory: Inside the mind of the casting director: “Well, she used to have sex with Klingons. Fraternizing with Millwall fans will be just like riding a bike.”
46 min: The Green Street guys, who seem increasingly irrelevant to the plot, enjoy a contraband beer in the church. “It’s like an angel pissed on my tongue,” Dave says. Is that a Cockney thing, or are they just drinking Grolsch?
47 min: A Millwall guy is beating a West Ham guy over the head with a sock full of rocks. I’m kind of wondering how Dave’s wife’s pubic hair is getting on at the moment.
49 min: According to this Star Trek wiki, Marina Sirtis is a Tottenham fan. I’m just putting that out there.
50 min: I haven’t really gone into this, but there’s a whole subplot about an uncorrupt cop who’s afraid to stand up to Counselor Troi. “Stand your ground, man,” Dave tells him. The “respect” vs. “respectability” theme hasn’t really gone anywhere, but the movie hasn’t disappointed in its overarching commitment to ground-standing.
52 min: One of the Millwall guys threatens another of the Millwall guys with an eye-gouging followed by a skull-fucking. It was about time this movie got around to installing that image in my head.
54 min: Essentially, there are now three intertwined plots going on in this movie: Counselor Troi vs. the uncorrupt cop (the best part of the movie so far, mostly because Marina Sirtis is actually qualified to act on a screen), the machinations involving contraband smuggling in the prison (indecipherable, but at least they’re spending a lot of time on it), and the vengeance campaign of the Green Street guys as they take out the Millwall hooligans one by one following the rock-socks attack on their buddy (increasingly irrelevant to anything else in the film). On top of that, we have an entire thematic layer devoted to prison overcrowding and the implied politics of the prison board.
55 min: Fortunately, this is a film that knows how to sustain a high degree of narrative complexity.
57 min: I mean, at this rate, I don’t see why Mark Hamill couldn’t just show up for the third act in this movie. They’ve got meat pies in prison, right?
59 min: Counselor Troi is whaling on Dave with her nightstick while two other corrupt guards hold him down. In the next scene, Dave almost bites the nose off the leader of the Millwall firm when he attacks him in the prison infirmary. The message is clear: Counselor Troi is the scariest person in this movie.
60 min: She really “Tottenhammed it up” in that nightstick-bashing scene. You could almost see the Tottenham.
62 min: I’m seeing this through to the end, but I want you to know that I no longer care about anything or anyone and actively wish harm to every character in the movie.
64 min: Okay, now we’re talking: The prison governor has just declared that he has to release some prisoners due to overcrowding and wants the guards to submit their recommendations tomorrow. I think we all know where this is going.
67 min: Yes! The two competing guards submit competing recommendations: Counselor Troi wants to release the three main Millwall hooligans, and the upright guard, who doesn’t seem to have played a role on Star Trek, wants to release Dave and the West Ham geezers. The governor ponders. An idea occurs to him. “In ancient Rome, convicted criminals were frequently used as gladiators,” he very sensibly observes. “Often, teams of gladiators were pitted against each other.” Why not? WHY NOT? He may not have what it takes to destroy the skeleton of a Fulham supporter, but this prison governor is the only force in the universe capable of jumpstarting this movie.
68 min: “Let them compete for this prize,” the governor decrees. We’ve got us a football tournament!
69 min: Dave’s wife is back at the prison! But now they’re talking about football rather than the evolution of her personal grooming technique. A crucial plot thread is being callously neglected here.
70 min: Oh, no. The Millwall captain just pointed out Dave’s wife to a squirmy-looking visitor in a tracksuit. “You know what I want you to do, so just do it,” the Millwall captain says. What? A bikini wax? What?
71 min: Time for a bright punk-pop montage of all the prisoners practicing their football. I’m not going to be happy unless Counselor Troi takes a penalty kick at some point.
72 min: In the only scene so far not set in a prison, a couple of goons break into Dave’s house and grab his wife, who squeals appropriately. The Millwall boss tells Dave to throw the game or they’ll kill her. And the game starts in only half an hour!
73 min: You know who could solve this problem? Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Starship Enterprise.
74 min: Also, the Russian guy can apparently solve it, because that’s who Dave’s talking to now. Captain Picard still would have been my choice, though.
75 min: The Russian calls some of Dave’s West Ham friends on the outside, who get ready to go rescue Dave’s wife. This leads me to a philosophical reflection. The greatest asset a person can have in this world is a close circle of male acquaintances who are prepared to unleash the fury of hell to protect each other’s interests. Fredorrarci, p4limpsest…I want you to know that if you ever need some windows smashed up in order to keep from going overdrawn in your checking account, you’ve got my cell phone number.
76 min: The game kicks off. Why, these guys are kicking each other as much as they’re kicking the ball!
77 min: I wonder what Björgólfur Guðmundsson would make of all this.
78 min: GOAL! 1-0 Millwall But it’s really down to sloppy man-marking, if you ask me. The Millwall boss sort of waddled toward the far post and then just clucked it in.
79 min: The score is being kept on a giant chalkboard adjacent to the pitch. The governor is sitting at a long table under the chalkboard. This is the movie we should have been watching all along. It’s like they only got around to watching The Quick and the Dead on the 95th day of shooting.
79 min: Back at Dave’s house, one of the Millwall thugs sends the other Millwall thug to get food and beer (a vital part of any hostage situation) and starts playfully threatening to rape Dave’s wife. This would never have happened if only the West Ham hooligans had been the ones doing the kidnapping!
79 min: Is it 2-0 Millwall now? The chalkboard has a “2″ on it. ARE THEY NOT SHOWING THE GOALS?
80 min: The Millwall kidnapper has Dave’s wife’s shirt unbuttoned and is stroking her thigh with a Bowie knife. It’s unclear where this is going. Fortunately, there’s a knock at the door, and the kidnapper opens it to find 35 angry West Ham hooligans waiting on the front lawn. “You’re fucked, sunshine,” says the one in front. Why would the kidnapper open the door?
81 min: Dave gets the news, breaks into a grin, slugs the Millwall captain, and scores. Seriously, the violence has gone past hoolie-porn and is mostly being played for comedy at this point.
82 min: I think it’s 3-3. But I wouldn’t know, because THE MOVIE ISN’T MAKING US AWARE OF THE TIME AND SCORE SITUATION.
82 min: Suddenly, Dave scores and all the West Ham guys are jumping around shouting “We did it! We’re going home! We did it!” It would have been nice to know that was imminent. I’m just saying.
83 min: As the West Ham players celebrate, the prison governor swoops in to arrest Counselor Troi for drug trafficking and the Millwall boss for kidnapping. Wasn’t the Millwall boss already in prison? Can you meaningfully arrest an already incarcerated person? I mean, they’ve handcuffed him…where are they taking him?
83 min: It’s questions like this that make me almost not mind the fact that the movie never delivered on the “respect” theme or that I never learned any of the characters’ names except Dave and Principal Officer Mavis.
84 min: Dave bids his final farewell to the Russian guy, whose purpose and identity I never quite ascertained. Did I mention that he was an ex-Soviet fighter pilot? Just a deeply confusing character all around.
85 min: Back home, Dave finds his loving wife, who’s lived to shave another day. He also finds 900 West Ham hooligans, who’ve crowded in to celebrate his return, sort of like the last scene from It’s a Wonderful Life, only with the strongly established prior understanding that it isn’t.
86 min: The lads all spray beer on one another, jump up and down, and whoop shrilly. It’s enough to make me miss prison.
87 min: And the credits roll.
Afterthought: There doesn’t seem to be even the hint of a hint that Dave is going to give up his hooliganing ways. From where I sit, it seems like a fairly straight line from the “A” of “I like to beat people up for West Ham United” to the “B” of “Some rival hooligans kidnapped my wife and nearly raped and murdered her.” (I mean, it’s not even B. It’s like A-and-a-half.) But Dave doesn’t seem to have made this connection, and perhaps even more strangely, neither does his wife. You are who you are, I guess. Some of us are bloggers, some of us are hooligans, and some of us are plot contrivances. I’m just glad we could go on this journey together. Thanks for standing your ground.
by Brian Phillips · April 27, 2009