Review: Among the Thugs

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amongthethugsWhat it lacks for in real application of the scientific method, Among the Thugs more than makes up for in raw exposure. This is not just an expose on football hooliganism in England; it’s a full-fledged, first-hand intelligence report on mob mentality in one of the most brutal eras in the history of crowd violence. Bill Buford is quite literally punished for getting so close to the facts, but his sacrifices are far worth it to the reader

Delving into the scene of British hooliganism at the height of the movement in 1980’s England, Buford follows several hardcore supporter’s groups around Europe and through the English countryside to detail his every experience. His tenacity for remembering explicitly the events he witnessed lends much credence for the type of journalist he is. Buford’s writing style teeter-totter’s between the objectively, matter-of-factly, stereotypical bystander of journalism and the immensely human, down-to-earth, lager-drinking lad that he’s set upon to portray. What’s most revealing about his writing is how often he consciously, yet hesitantly he strays across the line of objective witness to the maddening crowd itself. So much so that he, himself, engages in the very activity he denounces overall. But be this fact very far from a criticism; Buford manages to very intimately illustrate how anyone can so easily fall into the mindless ways of the mob. This amount of humanism is what makes the book so appealing.

Climaxing at the 1989 Hillsborough disaster and finally wrapping up his years-long observations with the subsequent European Cup tournament, Buford questions many of the established thoughts and theories about mob mentality. His unique perspective as a member of the press(yet accepted by the thugs he’s writing about) in the midst of the mob provides a different way of looking at this phenomenon compared to those “social scientists” that came long before him.

Many types of readers should be interested in this book:  the soccer fan; the sociologist; the economist; the libertarian philosopher; the aspiring journalist; the renaissance man; the general reader at large. Among the Thugs should stand as both a pillar of applied social science, a “required reading” item for anyone studying the subject; as well as a memorial stone for football supporter’s around the world for what once was, and what never to become again.

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