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Carry on Casual: Anachronisms in the UK
By Shaun Smith
I have to be honest. I’ve enjoyed some of Nick Love’s previous films. Maybe that’s akin to admitting to a bad Greggs chicken pasty addiction or tells you I’m a clueless pleb with no taste but both The Football Factory and The Business, while hardly being Ken Loach or Pedro Almodovar get-your-thinking-head on efforts, gave me the odd grin. And his vastly-underrated debut effort Goodbye Charlie Bright is worth ninety minutes of anyone’s time in my opinion. But the release of Love’s big screen re-make of eighties football hooligan drama The Firm does beg one question of a director who claims to be fastidious in his attention to detail. Namely – how the fuck did they manage to get so much wrong?
I had more than a sneaking suspicion where this all might be heading the day the film was released. Love was interviewed on a Guardian blog and the accompanying picture showed him wearing what looked to these eyes like one bad striped linen blazer that might well have had Anna Wintour going weak at the knees if Roger Federer was accepting the Wimbledon mens singles trophy in it. Love (or more likely some twat of a stylist) had bastardised the jacket with a Fila BJ badge on the left tit, thus making the wearer look like a right tit. You couldn’t make it up …..
Perhaps I’m not really qualified enough to comment on this. After all, I’m not a Cockney and, unlike Love, I’m not on drinking pal terms with pricks like Guy Ritchie. But I did own at least three of the tracksuits and a version of one of the coats ported by members of the cast back in the day, whichever day it’s supposed to be. Which is the crux of the problem with The Firm. The chronology is all over the shop. Love seems to have been so determined to show the “casual” era in all its technicoloured Fila and Tacchini glory, that he’s forgotten one of the most important parts of the supposed casual ethos – getting it right. It reminds me of a great scene in an episode of Cheers where Norm Peterson and Cliff the postman have just sat through an all-day screening of sword-and-sandal epics, holding a loser-buys-the beers competition to see who could spot the most anachronisms. Norm claims victory but Cliff is not happy and, after buying the drinks, ponders out loud at the bar to no-one in particular about the crucial winner “… six? You spotted six? I’m not having that. No way was Caesar Augustus wearing a pair of Reebok …”
And neither would Caesar Augustus, Gus Caesar or any character in The Firm have been wearing blue adidas Munchen at £38 a pair, not unless he was, I believe the phrase is, Nicholas old chap, a “fackin’ toby”. Even this northern monkey, between a bout of bubonic plague and grooming the family whippet in the winter of 1983, managed to buy a pair of Munchen for what was an extortionate £25. By January, pissed off with the thick soles in comparison to the design perfection that were royal blue Gazelles (£14:99), they’d been relegated to workwear. My beloved Gazelles were re-stored to playing out prominence alongside a pair of Diadora Borg Elite purchased the previous summer for £35 (over half a week’s wages at the time) and a year-old pair of adidas Korsika
The original television version of The Firm was set in the 1987-88 season, in the lead up to the 1988 European Championships in West Germany. The weakest part of a piss-weak plot being Gary Oldman’s character Bexy looking to lead a “national firm” that appeared to comprise of Eastenders, Only Fools and Horses and Grange Hill free transfers against the might of Hamburg and Feyenoord’s naughtiest that summer. An easy solution for Love and his writing loveys would have been to simply remove any reference to this, thus helping transport the film back to the 1982-1984 period the wardrobe is clearly meant to encapsulate. Except that the soundtrack would have then plotted up and conspired to commit more disorder. We get lead character Dominic and his mate buzzing about Yarbrough and Peoples Don’t Stop the Music, in the manner that you did when you first heard a song that really made your spine tingle, and then they are shown getting down to the same “just-breaking” classic in some East End barn of a club. No argument on that one. It’s one top tune. That had charted over here in December 1980. I’ll hazard a guess as to why it has been included. Footage available on You Tube shows Cavin Yarbrough performing the same tune stood at his keyboard while wearing a navy/cream Fila BJ Settanta tracksuit top (with a pair of impossibly tight white kecks).Which raises the possibility that Dallas Cowboys had a well-dressed mob before Chelsea (… why do I feel a dozen-page thread on this very topic on some “casuals” forum naturally beckoning …). Just to totally confuse the issue, the soundtrack then also throws up the 1977 Giorgio Moroder disco opulence of Donna Summer’s I Feel Love and – god knows why – Soft Cell’s Tainted Love in the opening and closing titles. Given that the soundtrack album contains the near-forgotten 1985 gem that is Rene and Angela’s I’ll Be Good, the latter’s prominence in the film in preference to it is nothing short of criminal to this pair of ears. But I listen to stuff like the Bunnymen, Jeff Mills and David Bowie so what do I know?
If you loved this mode of dress as much as most of those involved did, then it could be argued for the defence that The Firm might be viewed as the 1980s casual generation’s Quadrophenia. Except the seaside fight scene here is on the front at Southsea rather than Brighton and involves the Pompey 6:57 v ICF. And Lesley Ash doesn’t get nailed up a back passage. Or run past a cinema advertising a film not made for another fifteen years (Heaven Can Wait). At least that’s one thing the two films have in common. Shite chronology. The one thing though, with the exception of the tracksuit overkill and Pompey not sitting down to the a la carte menu with Bexy afterwards, that Love has got more or less spot on is the fracas at Southsea. Two large mobs squaring up, loads of posturing and gesturing, things getting thrown and broken and when it does finally go off, the actual boxing being reduced to six-a-side at the front. Sorry, did I say 6:57 v ICF? That would mean Portsmouth v West Ham and we’re back to 1987-88 again. Why? Because the period 1980-1987 saw Pompey literally fighting their way up through the bottom three tiers of English professional football, while West Ham were in the First Division and the two clubs consequently never played each other until that season. And contrary to what those clowns at Boys Own seemed to think, a 1987 tear-up involving the 6:57 and any other well-dressed mob would have seen a sea of Italian denim, leather, knitwear, sweatshirts and running shoes rather than tennis wear. Tennis wear which would not have been bought or stolen from a branch of JD Sports in London as shown in the film. Because JD didn’t open a branch in London until 1989. And if they had have done so seven years earlier, it’s highly unlikely that they would have permitted young oiks to shoplift their best stock in Head bags as easily as portrayed in the film. Because if it was anything like MC Sports or Hurleys, it would have all been hung up about fifteen feet above you next to the roof. And despite the obvious help of adidas marketing, who must have wet themselves when asked to get involved in this project after Awaydays, West Ham’s top lad would not have been wearing 1999 version reissue Forest Hills. And unless it was a London thing I somehow missed in my drunken, matchday stupour, I somehow don’t think you would have seen as many full tracksuits being worn as Love would like to have everyone believe. Unless Boro were involved of course. As in “Boro have just got off the ordinary lads – load in full turkeys” (trans: young men from town in north-eastern England not normally associated with cutting edge fashion have arrived on the train, many wearing full Sergio Tacchini tracksuits). Another tracksuit big issue is the preponderance of emerald green/cream Fila BJ Settantas on show in the film. These were like the holy grail and I only saw a grand total of two in the flesh during this period. One on an Everton lad who I only knew by sight at that time but got on first-name terms with a few years after and the other on possibly a DLF head standing on the platform at Derby. The only other sighting that I can dredge up from the back of a mind full of nonsense is on the last Match of the Day of the 1982/83 season and Birmingham City winning at Southampton to stay up. Loads of young Zulus piled on the pitch from the home seats under the cameras to celebrate and one lad in the iconic green ran over to shake hands with Mick Harford
No doubt The Firm will put unslashed arses on unslashed cinema seats. Football hooliganism/football casual culture is big bucks these days. Across from the cinema I watched it in, Borders were holding a hooligan book signing, with a journalist signing copies of a book co-written with lads with an eye for a quid. And aimed at a market demograph fast becoming more familiar with the nuances of cs gas than CS Lewis’s Ordinary to Narnia. There are people who will watch The Firm, enjoy it and believe it is a true reflection of what watching football in the nasty 1980s was all about. Bluffers like a work colleague who spent that whole era playing local league football on Saturdays, discovered labels and England away games five years ago and now tells anyone who will listen what it was like being a hooligan. They will definitely see Love’s version of events as the real deal. Whether those that really were there also do so is another story. One probably already signed up by Warner Brothers and to be directed by Nick Love for release in 2012, telling how Gary Bushell and the Cockney Rejects brought acid house to East London in 1980 after witnessing Clyde Best and Mike Marsh in dayglo Fila BJ Terrindas playing six-hour Balearic sets at a Canvey Island soul weekender ………..
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