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Football Factory / Headhunters / England Away - John King

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8 Reviews

Author: John King / Genre: Fiction

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    8 Reviews
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      10.10.2011 17:41
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      Worth every penny

      I bought these books as they were released back in the ninety whatevers. I lived in New Zealand at the time and really struggled to get hold of them so I think my copies are probably the most expensive around, they were worth every penny though. As other reviewers have mentioned the three books are different but focus on characters which tie together in the third book. Football Factory probably being the most famous due to the inferior film tie in. All three books can now be picked up for a few pence on Amazon or similar and are more than worth the money, as is his later work Skinheads although some of his other books are perhaps a little hit and miss. These books have spawned many imitators but I would say these originals are still the best. Although his namesake Danny King is a close second pick up this trilogy and have a cheap weekend. Top Notch

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        27.04.2006 17:01
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        Hardhitting football violence and fascism

        NOTE - of the three books in this category, i am reviewing "England Away" - the thrid one. It does not soil the other two books to read this review. The trilogy is only very loosely linked. "England Away" is the third book in a loose trilogy by John King. The theme which runs through all three is football violence but it is perhaps "England Away" that has the most diverse themes and I would say that it is the obvious stand alone novel of the three as it is the one in which King demonstrates his skills as a writer,using strong characterisation and showing he is not just a one subject writer. "England Away" examines British - or perhaps more tellingly - English attitudes towards other nations and the behaviour they exhibit when abroad. To examine this issue from several perspectives the story is told from the points of view of three main characters. One is Bill Farrell, a veteran of World War Two who recalls his experiences during the war and contrasts this with the behaviour of the nationalistic young men he knows from his local pub. Another is Tommy Johnson, hell-bent on causing havoc as he crosses Europe, stopping off in Amsterdam en route to Berlin to watch England play Germany. The third is Harry Roberts who travels with Tommy and the others initially but later goes off on his own to explore what Europe really has to offer. Tommy and Harry are part of a gang of young men known as the Expeditionary Force, loosely affiliated with Chelsea Football Club, but it could be any London club The story is fast paced and punchy and the author shifts quickly from one character to another which can be hard to keep up with at times. The unconventional use of grammar also makes it harder to understand what is going on at times, the absence of correctly used speech marks is always a turn off for me. However, adopting this style of darting here and there increases the irony of what the young men are arguing when it is juxtaposed seconds after Bill has voiced a recollection about some terible memory he has of the war. If the story was to move more sedately and a whole episode was described before moving on this would result in the momentum being lost and the incisive conclusions which King is trying to draw us to would be lost as the story marches on. Bill Farrell tells his story from the bar while the other characters are aboard a cross channel ferry embarking upon their course of destruction. He talks of his memories of the D-Day landings and his experience as a soldier heading for Berlin. Some of his recollections are horrific but this is a book which depends on realism and so it is vital to have some graphic descriptions to get across the weight of Bill's experience and the value of his opinions. Like Bill, Tommy thinks that he is doing his duty. Therein lies the irony - two men fighting against Germans for very different reasons even though one thinks that their reasons are the same. Tommy really does believe that he is displaying his patriotism, "doing England proud". Harry, however, is not that comfortable with his group. He is more interested in other cultures, he sees the value in learning about other people although I did not feel that he was necessarily a character to be greatly admired. I found him rather weak - because he is involved with Tommy and the others in the first place and furthermore because his experiences in Europe, falling in love with a prostitute and the pain of dealing with the sudden and violent death of a friend are fuelled by and then exacerbated by a haze of drugs. "England Away" is a novel of stark, gritty realism. As well as the subject matter being dark and, at times, very unnerving, its dialogue is tough and unapologetic. Granted, it contains the obscenities we all utter from time to time but it is so prevalent here that it's impact is heightened. The scenes in which the fighting takes place or is recalled are also very realistic and quite disturbing, the book culminates with a huge pitched battle between the Expeditionary Force, Germans skinheads and the German police - this is quite graphic and perhaps not for everyone. This is not "Fever Pitch", it is not the football loving nerdy blokes of Nick Hornby, it is not the wacky world of Skinner and Baddiel. This is something else altogether. "England Away" throws up some interesting points for the reader to think about but it is not limited to football violence. Through using the character of Bill, King widens the debate to consider the nature of patriotism and whether it has changed over the intervening decades. It looks at politicians, the European Union and a little bit on Amsterdam away from football. All things considered though, these elements are not enough to pick up this novel. It can be very repetitive, some scenes and a fair bit of the dialogue feels like it's been done before - it was, earlier in the book. I felt that some of the points were laboured but were made so well in the first place that this wasn't necessary. I would recommend this book if you have read either of the other two from the trilogy ("Head Hunters" and "The Football Factory") but it is not a book with wide appeal. I would suggest that if you enjoy the realistic and hard-hitting novels of Irvine Welsh this may appeal but it just feels to me much more limited in subject than anything I have read by Welsh. King has employed an excellent technique to examine his subject matter this cannot be disputed. I felt that this elevated the book from being a glorification of soccer hooliganism to a respectable brief examination of the motives behind the problem. However, it is not a novel I could unreservedly recommend to all readers so my rating of three stars is based on my recognition of clever literary techniques - otherwise a two. ISBN - 0099739615 Available in paperback, list price 6.99 Pounds, but through amazon.co.uk at 5.59 Pounds. John King paperbacks can also be bought at discount prices from HMV and Music Zone stores, I think around 2.00 Pounds

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          04.10.2001 20:46
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          I have not read all three books mentioned in this category, but 'The Football Factory' alone is definitely one of the best accounts I have read that deals with the subject of football hooliganism, and therefore one of the most compelling yet disturbing books I have come across. I found it very hard to put my thoughts down in any sort of coherent manner when it came to writing a review of ‘The Football Factory’, probably because a lot of what is described felt very close to home indeed. Now, by that I do not mean that I consider myself to be a football hooligan, or that I can claim to feel any sort of empathy with the events described in this book, which is for the most part fictional but is very clearly based on real people and real violence. It might be because Hayes, the mostly unsavoury London suburb that I have lived in on and off since 1981, is mentioned with alarming frequency. It might be because I know a lot of Chelsea fans who live in and around Hayes, just like several of the characters in the book, or it might be because a mate of mine has been banned from every football ground in England for largely unspecified reasons, which we can only guess at. I can also look back to a trip to watch Watford play away at Millwall’s new ground in Senegal Fields, as the description of Chelsea’s trip to south-east London in ‘The Football Factory’ brought back a few unpleasant memories of the single most frightening day I have ever spent watching football in Britain. For all of those reasons and the fact that this is a well-written book, at least in those sections that concentrate on the football, I found myself compelled to keep on reading, and finished it in two sittings. It is definitely offensive – the advertising blurb on the back cover alludes to John King being the English version of Irvine Welsh, and to an extent I can see why they draw the comparison. The language is unrelentingly foul and abusiv e – sexism and racism are more than just undertones here, women are generally referred to as ‘slags’, the north of England is dismissed as a poverty-ridden hellhole and the only non-white fans who are accepted are referred to as the ‘Chelsea coons’, remaining little more than peripheral figures. This will put many people off, but the sad fact of the matter is that it is very true to life. As you can probably guess from the opinions I have written, football always has played a large part in my life, and I can vouch for the accuracy of the conversations recounted in ‘The Football Factory’. It must be some sort of subconscious thing, but whenever I get back into the old routine of pub, football, pub, curry and so on, with lads that I have known for many years, I start to speak a different language. I realise that I could be straying into dangerous territory here, and I would like to point out that I do not indulge in the kind of activity that is described by John King, but something changes. It is a tribal thing, a sense of belonging, and that is essentially what this book is all about, even if I had trouble understanding the mentality of the people I read about. I have met people like this, I go to the pub with people like this, and that is what is actually quite frightening about the whole thing. The main character is Tom, a Chelsea fan who works in a warehouse and spends all his wages (plus the bunce he makes on the side from knocking off some stolen goods) on watching his beloved team play all over the country. The match is the most important part of the day, the one thing that draws him back to Stamford Bridge for a midweek cup-tie against Rochdale, but he also gets a buzz, a real high, from ‘steaming in’, putting the boot into opposing fans before and after a game, regardless of the result. A shadowy character called Harris is the leader of the Chelsea casuals, booking coaches to away games, arranging meets with rival ‘firms’ and attempting to dodge the police, who naturally want to stamp out the fighting. Tom, accompanied by his mates (one of whom is married, as if to emphasise the ‘normal’ appearance of most hooligans at all other times) travels wherever Chelsea are playing, but always says that he abhors the use of knives or any other weapons. He has some vague gladiatorial idea in his head that the pre-match fight should be honourable, hand-to-hand combat, and that people such as Facelift (an old-style hooligan who lives in, er, Hayes) rely too much on ‘blades’ and not enough on a good old-fashioned kicking. There is even some admiration for their opponents, even if the old hatreds for Scousers, and the Iron (West Ham fans) run very deep. The descriptions of the matches, the experience of watching your team from the terrace and from the seats, are very well done, and the extremely nervy walk back to the car after an away match up north is also accurately described. As for the fighting, well I can’t comment from first-hand experience, but I have been nearby when it all kicks off, and it is not a pleasant sight. Suffice to say that John King describes it accurately enough for me. He also excels himself when describing the Friday night ritual of lager and curry, and I found myself laughing out loud at some points during the events in the Indian restaurant! However, the effect of the book suffers when King tries to put the characters and events in some sort of wider social context – chapters such as ‘Newcastle Away’ and ‘Millwall Away’ are interspersed with attempts at explaining why Tom and his like do what they do. The problem is that the people you see here are little more than thin stereotypes, and they don’t have the chance to become anything more than that – the WW2 veteran who beats up some fascist skinheads on the Tube, the haughty barm aid who sleeps with Tom but then is revealed to be a slut who sleeps with as many black men as she can to prove that she is somehow not racist, the jobless man whose interior monologue reveals his hatred of immigrants for taking ‘our’ jobs, the lad in Manchester who is shown to be so cowardly and weak that he hits a woman, and so on. Is this intended to make the reader think that Tom and his friends are related to essentially decent people, that they are somehow honourable? I think I can see what John King was trying to do, but the overall effect is exaggerated, and therefore undermined by all that. Tom and the others are racist, they are violent, they are criminals, and they sleep around just as much as the barmaid who Tom ends up despising so much. When Tom does finally get the living daylights beaten out of him, you feel his pain, but you can not share his thoughts afterwards. For him, sitting in hospital recovering from the kicking, it was some sort of rite of passage, and he took his punishment ‘like a man’, didn’t moan, and didn’t run. Sure enough, as soon as he is back on his feet, he is back in there with the rest of the boys, necking a quick pint to get the buzz, and then steaming in. The one thing that you think might prompt a change of heart has in fact only deepened his desire to get back out there and do some damage himself. The sad thing is, his entire life is just one vicious circle of drink, football and violence, and you are certain that nothing will change that. A compelling, yet essentially depressing book that reveals much that is accurate about football hooliganism, without attempting to glorify or excuse the violence.

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            05.02.2001 20:02
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            I'll be blunt: I hated this book. Not because of the racist language, the sexism or the violence, I'm even willing to excuse the c**p writing. No, what makes this book so objectionable is the crass use of stereotypes. You want cartoon cut-out characters then here, take your pick: the lefty woman in the dole office who regards every white working class man with short hair and a flight jacket as a Nazi; or the white working class bloke in the dole office who suspects the woman of being a Trot and is himself sympathetic to the Nazis in C18; or is it the upper middle class woman who gets laid by Tom (the central character in the book) and who, being upper class, reveals herself to be a perverse slut who is against racism, videos herself having sex with black men but really has no black friends...I could go on, but what's the point? Perhaps all this is some form of post-modern irony, but in that case I didn't get the joke. The book alternates chapters based around Chelsea football matches with vignettes of 'working-class' life, and it is these which reveal the inadequacies of King's writing and it's here that the stereotypes I've described are trotted out as though they are something startlingly original. It's the football related chapters that work the best and which feel the most authentic. The pace is fast, violent and fuelled by drink-powered rage that wants to lash out at everything. It feels authentic, (and it shows that little has changed in the years since I used to go to watch Chelsea play every Saturday). However it's the crass generalisations and flawed politics/polemics which really stand out. No wonder the book was hailed by people like the 'Daily Mail'. If depictions of working class life and culture were not so rare in the mass media then I doubt whether this book would have attracted the attention that it has. But the fact is, the media is as class based as it always was, that doesn't change. When the middle-classes discovered football it suddenly became possible for books like this to be written, and the fact that it dealt with the underside of soccer gave it the 'unique selling point' it's capitalised on. If you want another view of football and working class culture then look at the fanzines. Get yourself a copy of 'Red Attitude' or take a look at AFA's 'Fighting Talk'.

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            29.12.2000 00:38

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            Im reading the third book in the John King trilogy,Headhunters which is just as dark a read as the first two giving you a nasty sad insight into the life of Britain's hard East End working classes who live for fighting,football and f******ing and they get them all with out fail. There's not really a story in the three books but the authors evaluation of this type of life on the harder streets of London and how their love of Queen and country is an excuse to behave like delinquents abroad. The Football Factory is a reflection on domestic football violence through The Chelsea Headhunters who work hard in banal pointless jobs all week and live for the weekend of football at their beloved Chelsea, dance music to swill down the ale and shag the tarts and a fight where they can find it. Its ultra violent,near the knuckle.Women are dirt to these guys and the expletives and sex are on every other line.But hidden in the scripts an intelligent thought provoking question or two asked at why our society is as it is. The characters are the same through the three books although at no point do you become endeared to them as they are scum bags,make no mistake.Any females in the read are sex objects or world and weather beaten mums who haven't seen a penny in their life so i wouldn't point a women in the direction of this series.Its very ladish probably ideal for the later Oasis Brit pop types although they are compulsive reading if just to reassure the reader that he's not a scumbag when errs now and then. England Away is basically the same as the first book but set abroad following the national team with a war element thrown in as a justification for hooligans to rip up Europe when they have had a beer or two. Im not quite sure where John King sees the hooligans as reliving D-Day in Europe by smashing up street cafes in Brussels."England on the march"as our author puts it. There's some good background on how the guys get past police surveillance at the ports to get to the match and the way foreign fans structure their hooligan element. The Headhunters is not so much about football but lads on the beer chasing girls and scoring points for various sexual acts.The guys agree that a new category should be added.If anyone can do a poo poo in a girls hand bag there's a whole ten points up for grabs.yuk. Again this book has a real hatred for women and i get the feeling Mr. King is too good with the ladies and lets rip here to get it not her of his chest. Not for the faint hearted.........

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            11.10.2000 02:30

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            I have only read the first book in the series, the 'football factory' and it is a good book, but I just didn't think it ended well. The main part of the story was tied up at the end, but throughout the book there were 'fairy tale' chapters of some other kind of story. The whole time I read the book, I thought these would be linked in at the end and the whole thing would fit together. Unfortunatley this did not happen, and so I am left having read these strange chapters, not knowing what on earth they are about, and having seemingly no relevance on the rest of the book.

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            14.08.2000 05:51
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            I bought these books separately, as they were written, I found myself scanning bookshops desperately waiting for England Away to be published. Bearing that in mind I've chosen to look at them individually. This book, and its follow ups, are well worth the money. The Football Factory, on the surface, deals mainly with violence on tour through the UK. The main protagonist is Tom Johnson, a Chelsea Headhunter in his late 20's, who sees it as his duty to crack the heads of his counterparts. The opening line is "Coventry are F**K all." . And so the book proceeds. King neither glamorises nor demonifies the excesses of his characters, preferring to describe them and let you make your own mind up. His characterisations are brilliant, King manages to humanise everyone he invents to an astonishing level . Every nuance is a story in itself. I have read this book 6 times now and still find new things and still marvel at how lifelike the myriad of characters are. If you have an interest in the society you live in read this, it says a lot more about Britain than just hooliganism, though the violence might be too much for some readers. Also if your life has never been touched in this way, it may appear gratuitous. HeadHunters is not, as the name might imply, another examination of football violence, although it is loosely a sequel to The Football Factory. The central theme is sex in various forms as the absorbing characters start their own shagging league. Ranging from the Man Utd of shaggers, Carter, through to the dreamy Will who craves love, they grip the reader. This is Kings venture into the end of youth, and the insecurities and responsibilities that go with it. The inevitable violence comes from a different perspective, being more one of the necessary evils of being a bloke than a way of life. Relationships between the characters are a key theme and it’s difficult not to be touched by many of the situations. Another winner with a real twist in the tale. England Away examines the differences and common ground regarding relationships that are felt by old and young. From the war veterans to the young Vince, the cynical but genuine national pride of the English, as King sees it, is affectionately looked at from a number of angles. Like the rest of the series I’ve read this four or five times, and writing about them is giving me the itch to pick them up again. Working class male violence and loyalties throughout the last century are covered, as are some serious political and historic issues, but in the end it’s Kings characterisations which again I find so addictive. The way King has made me empathise with his characters is very reminiscent of the effect Steinbeck has on me, high praise indeed. Great end to a truly excellent trilogy.

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            26.07.2000 16:24
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            John King, The Football Factory Trilogy Someone in the Guardian (Mark Stein, I think) once pointed out in a review of an earthy film that the French have a useful concept known as *nostalgie de la boue*. The Oxford English Dictionary translates it as “a yearning for mud”. Slumming it. Rough trade. In an artistic sense. The concept seems to apply to John King's books too: football hooliganism and shagging. The Football Factory kicked it off. A working-class lad whose name escaped me - if it's mentioned, I missed it, because I rapidly got bored with the book and stopped reading properly - narrates episodes from his life as a Chelsea fan. “West Ham at Home” is one chapter heading. “Newcastle Away” is another. Punch-ups, pub windows put through, faces slashed, and so on. The descriptions have the ring - or thud - of authenticity, particularly when nothing goes off in the “Newcastle Away” chapter because the police have tracked the coaches and make sure those on board don't get loose in Newcastle (except for some, not including the narrator, who leave the coaches and hire taxis). In between the hooligan chapters, however, are vignettes from other parts of working-class life, and they aren't convincing. The sex is weak, even risible, and King doesn't have much of an ear for dialog, particularly not for badinage and wit. Headhunters was the follow-up and is sailing under false colors, because it's named after the most famous Chelsea hooligan gang and doesn't have much hooliganism in it. I’d given up reading properly long before I reached this section of the three-in-one volume, so I can't say much about it except that the other parts of working-class life are predominating and King's weaknesses are letting him down even more badly. Presumably King's editor realized this and made him use the deceptive title to draw in the people attracted by the violence of the first book. And presumably the editor made him concentrate more on the violence in the final book in the trilogy, England Away. There are attempts here to draw parallels between English football hooliganism and English militarism but I think that they, like everything else “significant” King tries to say, don't work, and the sex - with a Thai prostitute in Amsterdam called Nicky and a German nymphomaniac called Ingrid - is even less convincing than it was before. According to the back cover, the magazine Total Football has described King as “the nation's finest writer of football fiction”. That's bollocks. He says very little about football, though he says a lot about a particular culture associated with it. According to the front cover, Irvine Welsh has described King as “the author of the best books written about English culture since the War”. Welsh is either talking out of his arse (as usual) or taking the piss out of the English.

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