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Among the Thugs
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52 of 55 people found the following review helpful
on April 4, 2000
Bill Buford, a naive American adrift in England, tackles a very dicey subject: Mob violence by English football fans. He starts out innocently enough, trying to find the allure, cause, nature, basis, and form of England's notorious football hooligans, but soon has difficulty separating himself from his subject matter.
As he relates his journey into the world of the yobs, we get a vivid picture of the people and the events, but no real glimpse into what is behind the football mob violence -- even after Buford spends most of the second half of the book trying to work it out. The only real insight were provided is that the mob becomes greater than the sum of its parts, and that there is a line where a person within the mob ceases to be an individual, and becomes a compnent of a greater organism.
However, questions such as why sporting crowds in the US, Canada, or other countries never reach the level of violence or mob mentality as seen in England are never addressed, nor are questions of why this sort of violent behavior seems to be limited to a very large degree to football (soccer) crowds. Of course, that subject is beyond the scope of any one book.
Still, the snapshot into the seedy world of NF members, jingoistic supporters, drunks and felons provided by Buford is entertaining, in a voyeuristic sort of way. Besides, unless you are intimately familiar with crowds at English, or any European, football matches, Buford's book is best if taken as a sort of superficial sociological travelogue, offering a glimpse into a strange land, complete with foreign customs, traditions, uniforms and etiquette.
Reading 'Thugs' won't provide too much enlightentment on sports violence or the psychology of mobs, but it will entertain. And with the coming Euro2000 tournament, reading this may prove timely, as well.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on April 13, 2005
When my friend recommended this book, I was skeptical. I didn't believe an American journalist could successfully infiltrate a gang of European football hooligans. I was introduced to the notoriety of hooligans when I attended a match in Turkey. There I witnessed 200 soldiers armed with assault rifles and riot gear, lined up behind the goalie. This severity made me believe what I'd heard about fans ending up trampled, stabbed, beaten, and killed in the aftermath of a match.

Starting with a few lukewarm leads, Bill Buford, a true journalist, is relentless. He transports the reader to England, Germany, and Italy as he tries to understand what fuels hooligans. You experience the helplessness of being caught in a body-crushing crowd, being ambushed by the brutal mobs after the match, and riding the fan-crammed trains. His characterizations are so vivid, you can almost smell the charged atmosphere in the streets and in the stadiums.

This book is about violence. The descriptions are fierce and don't let up. The history behind the European football fury is discussed. Even if you aren't a fan of football (better known to Americans as soccer), this book is an excellent read on the sociology of mob mentality. You become aware of what propels crowd violence and its devastating effects on the victim, whose only blunder might be unfortunate proximity and timing.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on July 31, 1999
I couldn't stop reading this. We went to a friends house and I sat and read this book in the corner (easily one of the most impolite things I have ever done, but there was no way in hell I was stopping reading). I lived in London in the late eighties, working between Highbury & Islington tube station and Arsenal's ground and can remember the shops and pubs closing early on Wednesdays if there was a game. I can also remember the warnings not to work late, etc. I never understood why until I read this book. These people were (are?) the cruelest, nastiest people alive, and Bill Buford deserves endless credit for the quality of this book.
One last thought, we often hear that it was the average person that served as the guards in concentration camps, etc., well after reading this book I think it is the thugs who are described here, not the average Joe - so I feel better about the rest of humanity.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on August 8, 2005
I really enjoyed this book and tore through it in three days. It really does capture how the working class of Britain has degenerated even as its standard of living has reached levels of comfort that would seem unimaginable a few decades back. There is something about the game of football that tends to drive working class males crazy in almost every country, from Argentina to China. The author does however lose steam in the middle of the book when he attempts to psychoanlayzie crowd behavior. Overall very good read
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on April 5, 2001
I, like Mr. Buford, lived as a priveleged American in London during the heydey of bootboys and hooligans in the early and mid 70's. I was a teenager and a wannabe-hooligan, too young (early teens) to be a real hooligan. I travelled extensively on the "football specials" to away games, among them a 1973 FA Cup semifinal at Hillsborough (scene of the 1996 disaster that ended standing on the terraces forever), and the danger of violence was expected and palpable. I recall a lovely spring day in Southampton where hooligans in motorcycle helmets roamed the streets smashing milk bottles on heads in a completely random fashion. Unlike some readers, I found his descriptions dead-on accurate. The discussion of crowd theory and when things change right before they "go off" was fascinating, as well as absolutely true. The part of the book I found odd was the change of opinion from wanting to study his topic to throwing up his hands and deciding there was nothing to study. What's the conclusion, or are there none? I am happy to report that those days are, for the most part, over. Having recently returned from England, the ticket pricing, and all-seater stadiums, have eliminated the hooligan mobs at football matches. the reason the hooligans rampage in continental Europe is because that's all that is left (there are still terraces in much of Europe). Domestically, many of the football venues described by Mr. Buford have been torn down or rebuilt as all-seater stadia.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 11, 2004
I thought this book would simply be a blow-by-blow recitation of the crimes and violence perpetrated by Britain's soccer "hooligans." I was very pleasantly surprised that it turned out to be much, much more. Mr. Buford gives a very nice discussion of the crowd mentality and explains from a first-hand perspective how quickly a large event can turn violent. He also does a nice job of explaining how the social environment in Britain led to the conditions that allowed large number of disaffected young men with few other outlets for their frustrations than Saturday games and riots.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 1, 2008
This is a fantastic book, and what's more, it has served as a model and inspiration for the many (many, many) football hooligan books that followed.

I won't really comment on the absolute cliched tripe served up by one reviewer who gave this book one star, but I would point out that he might want to take some time out from an all-knowing banality spouting, error decrying, schedule, and consult a calendar.

Among The Thugs - 1993. Most of the others? 1999 and later, including the 2005(!) Gardner tome. This book, almost alone, spawned a veritable minor industry of Football Hooligan memoirs and reportage. Don't believe me? Head over to amazon.co.uk and check it out all the related items with this book over there.

By the way, I think it was sort of the point of the experiment that an editor of a (very popular in the right circles) literary magazine like Granta went and did what he did, and reported what he saw. And in the Granta tradition, he expounds a bit on What It All Means. That gets a little dull at times, but by no means lessens the overall interest of the book.

Among the Thugs is not meant to be a piece of documentary journalism, oral history, or a PhD thesis. It's a subjective and personal account, and the author makes no bones about that. The author did, objectively, get beaten to a pulp by Italian cops, so there's some credibility right there.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2000
Picked up the book - an American author? forget it! But I decide to carry on, being "actively" involved as an English supporter in the eighties I was interested. I agree with another reviewer, people will bs, he does appear naive in some areas but that works for the book. When he describes how badly behaved our fans were, it's embarassing, but at the time it meant nothing to us. One very important point (US readers take note) the deaths and diasters that took place were not really hooligan related but bad policing and organization. Buford account of Sardinia is so powerful. I must have read it 20 times. I was there and he really describes the frustration of being treated like animals and then the violence. Us in shorts the police with batons ect. Bottom line, only a few people were real wankers, most wanted a laugh but it got too serious. The author met a few head bangers and top fans- good book. You can't make an omlette without breaking a few eggs!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 1998
It was Bill Shankly, ex Liverpool manager, who said "Football is'nt a matter of life and death, it's more important than that". This book goes someway to capture the passion and importance of Football in English culture, and the extreme lengths that some so called supporters go to feel that they belong. As a true English Football supporter, I felt somewhat annoyed that readers of the book from other countries would feel that all English Football supporters behave in this manner, this is NOT true. But this book does accurately portray the minority who caused and still cause the atrocities described. The book works on two levels, to shock with horrific stories of brutal violence, and at a much deeper level to explain crowd behaviour and how this can be manipulated. Overall this is a valiant attempt by an American to explain English Football violence, which to my suprise was successfull.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 28, 1999
This is a terrifying, fascinating book. I have recommended it to many friends. Buford is a wonderful observer, capable of capturing and relating the mood and mayhem of his surroundings. The subject matter is at once hilarious and frightening. In one moment, drunken footballs fans are described crawling beneath the seats of an airliner as they stowaway on a flight to Europe. In the another, an innocent bystander is beaten bloody in front of his family as these very same supporters rampage their way to a match.
In simply describing these scenes, Buford is brilliant. Where he, and the book, overreach is in trying to determine why such seemingly ordinary people regularly go off the deep end. Buford's attempts at explanation are somewhat ponderous and, at the same time, superficial. Still, the stilted social commentary hardly detracts from what is an otherwise excellent read.
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