A new DVD about spectators around the world could do with a touch more explanation, but Al Needham still finds the spectacle enthralling

If Danny Dyer’s Real Football Factories: International has taught us anything (apart from a couple of dozen new descriptions for men in Stone Island jackets running at each other with their arms out), it’s that Johnny Foreigner has left us in the dust when it comes to football violence. Even though you couldn’t shake off the feeling that each “firm” will have been reminding each other to get their balaclavas on straight so their mums wouldn’t notice, it was a timely reminder that people can still get worked up about football without a television company or marketing agency having to tell them to.

So if, like me, you’re a bit entranced by ultra culture but jaded of people amateurishly hitting each other in the face, this might be the remedy. Two German football enthusiasts – cinematographer and groundhopper supreme Carlo Farsang and prolific author Jörg Heinisch – have spent six years taking their cameras to matches around the globe. And for most of the time, pointing them away from the pitch. With varied results.

The main feature, Futbol Fanatico, is an hour-long examination of Argentine terrace culture, in the loosest manner of the word possible. No voice-over, extremely little in the way of subtitles – Jörg and Carlo roll up to the Estadio José Amalfitani (Vélez Sársfield), La Bombonera for the Boca Juniors v River Plate Superclásico, or El Coloso del Parque (Newell’s Old Boys), point the camera and shoot. This would be an exceptionally boring experience, were it not for the fact that Argentines appear to have 50 times more fun at a football matches than we do. For viewers of a certain age, the footage of ticker-tape-strewn pitches will take you right back to 1978, when you emptied the contents of your file-paper hole-puncher on to your Subbuteo pitch.

“Passion” has replaced “attitude” as this decade’s over-worn buzzword, and Futbol Fanatico has it in spades, from the chipped life-sized statues of Maradona outside La Bombonera to the almost feudal appearance of the fans. Unveiling a massive home-made banner in the stands is one thing – making it veer ten feet left and right at blinding speed is another. The lack of any kind of editorialising is a blessing and a curse; no, you won’t have to listen to any moralistic guff about the happy-go-lucky urchins and their love of the beautiful game. You only have to look at the state of the stadiums and the lamentably poor mascot outfits to realise that any money raised from football over there is not trickling downwards. But then again, a half-full Estadio Monumental de Victoria (home of Club Atlético Tigre, who were in Primera B at the time of filming) is much more interesting than a packed-out Stamford Bridge.

That said, unless you’re conversant in at least two other languages, you’ll find that the DVD asks far more questions than it answers. Like, what are they singing? Why has someone brought a massive Iraqi flag to a Chacarita Juniors game (same club colours, I think). And why is that middle-aged man waving a plank about? Sure, there’s a documentary that follows Jörg and Carlo around, but there are no subtitles. A director’s commentary would have been very handy.

Perhaps the best way to enjoy Futbol Fanatico (available from fan-geht-vor.de) is to let it wash over you, like a video art installation on the telly in the corner of the bar. You might not be so keen on the half-hour special on the train journey from Poland to South Korea for the 2002 World Cup (which proves the indisputable link between groundhopping and trainspotting, as the makers linger a little too long on those engines), but by the time you wade into the second DVD (which focuses on eastern European and Indian Ocean expeditions), you feel yourself channelling the spirit of Desmond Morris and wondering what happened to our traditions of spectating.

Hoolie-porn aficionados beware: apart from a few smashed windows and coppers letting off fire extinguishers, there’s little to hold your attention, even though eastern European football is as moody as you’ve been led to believe. Oh, and don’t get worked up about the Wasserspiele special feature: it’s just footage of a New Zealand Knights v Adelaide United match played in a torrential downpour.

Although Futbol Fanatico isn’t the easiest route into ultra culture – I found myself absolutely battering Wikipedia through the course of the second DVD to discover information that could have been imparted with an extra subtitle or two – it’s nice to be reminded that football is still thriving on its own merits, free of the rubbish that has blighted our game.

From WSC 248 October 2007


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