Green Street Hooligans is yet another film about hooligans among English football fans, and yet another football film that divides opinions across the Atlantic.
While the 2005 film is no more about football than Rocky is about boxing, it’s still the case that a combined US-UK production that features an American plus a Brit with the wrong accent and talks about England’s most beloved sport is just always going to piss off people in the UK. And that’s fine; I’m an American, so I don’t mind any of this. Accepting Elijah Wood as a hardened football hooligan, however, took some doing.
It is noteworthy, though, that one of the most famous clips or images shared on the internet is this one, in which Pete, played by Charlie Hunnam, decides to take Matt (Wood) to a game.
Green Street Hooligans: Story and Reactions
Matt, an American, is wrongfully kicked out of school, in a subplot that really doesn’t need to be in the film at all. He winds up in London, where a combination of family and friend connections places him at a West Ham United game in the company of the Green Street Elite, a formerly great but back-on-the-up “firm” of hooligans. (It’s loosely based on the actual Inter City Firm.)
Against his wishes, he gets dragged into this world, and to his surprise, he likes it and learns something. Then the film gets into the characters more deeply, a vital backstory emerges, and a deadly climax is reached. I always rush to say that I’m not a film critic, but I thought this was all fine. I also really enjoyed the actual football that appeared, and I felt proud of myself for knowing a bit about what I was looking at. More on those later.
Reviewers lined up along the usual partisan lines. For example: Roger Ebert of the US liked it, though he had doubts about Wood and couldn’t understand the violence it portrays. The Guardian newspaper in London simply said, “Please don’t watch it. It’s terrible.” Among their problems with it: apparently Hunnam, from Newcastle, put on a poor East End accent.
Reasons to Watch Green Street Hooligans
Since we at Groundhopper Soccer Guides (and yes, we “fucking say soccer“) are not film critics but explorers and explainers of English football culture, let’s give you a few reasons to watch this film. The first one is that it shows you something you can’t see anymore — and I don’t mean hooligans.
I mean Upton Park, West Ham’s old home, which was in fact on Green Street. I was lucky enough to see a couple of games there. It was a proper old football ground, and in Green Street Hooligans the Hammers are playing Birmingham City. I thought, based on the shirts, the visitors were actually Manchester City, which happened to be who I saw there on a “Sad, Wet, Fun Night” in 2014.
But no, it was Gillingham, amazingly then in the First Division, and now in League One. That was March 27, 2004: Hammers 2, Gills 1. There’s also some good footage of the lads walking from the station to the ground; it’s still an interesting neighborhood to visit, especially for the Queen’s Market and for being one of the most culturally diverse areas in the UK.
I also enjoyed the scenes around the FA Cup draw, like when West Ham and Millwall found out they’d be playing each other. This is a real thing, hoping for a rivalry game in the FA Cup draw, which is random and without seedings or a bracket. Especially if your rivals are in a different league at the moment, a Cup game can be your only shot at them.
Back in the real world, as recently as 2009 a West Ham vs Millwall game in the League Cup was marred by violence, with 20 people injured in a riot on Green Street. One was stabbed but made a full recovery.
Otherwise, some of the actors in Green Street Hooligans are good, and there’s some proper singing, including “Let’s Go Fucking Mental” and the West Ham anthem “Blowing Bubbles.” Here are actual Hammers fans giving it a go at their new home, London Stadium, in 2019:
Where Was Green Street Hooligans Filmed?
Aside from the above bit at Upton Park, I was quite proud of myself for recognizing The Griffin as being the GSE’s local pub. That The Griffin is actually in West London, near the former home of Brentford FC, rather than in East London anywhere near West Ham, is irrelevant; this is movieland, after all.
One can and should visit The Griffin, as well as the other three pubs famously at each corner of Brentford’s former ground, Griffin Park. They have moved into their new home a short distance away, but I’m sure Bees fans will still pack the old pubs before heading to the new place for a game.
Here is the actual Griffin pub in the real world:
And here are Matt and Pete walking to it in the film:
Another fun note, which I sort of figured out on my own: There’s a scene in which Matt plays goal in a game between Pete’s schoolkids. They destroy him, of course, and although Pete says they are “just ordinary English schoolboys,” I suspected something else entirely. Sure enough: They were all from the West Ham academy! This excerpt from IMdB adds more fun notes:
A few of the players in the schoolboys football team actually went on to become professional football players, the boy who scores and celebrates with a somersault is Billy Knott, who was a youth player at Chelsea and he also played for Bradford City, he scored the equaliser in the league cup tie against Yorkshire rivals Leeds United and also played in the team that beat Jose Mourinhos Chelsea 4-2 from 2-0 down at Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup in 2015. Blair Turgott is the black boy with short dreadlocks, he also played for Bradford City, he was in the team that beat Arsenal in the League Cup at Valley Parade and played in their very famous wins against two more premier league clubs ( Wigan & Aston Villa ) when they reached the English league cup final in 2013.
That Bradford City win over Chelsea was really something, by the way: one of the 10 biggest FA Cup giant killings I described in a blog post.
Another interesting real-world note: West Ham initially was thrilled that a Hollywood film with big stars was being made about them, until they realized it was about hooligans. They then withdrew their support and cooperation. Good thing the home-game scene had already been filmed!
Watch Green Street Hooligans Streaming on YouTube
It’s hard to find a US DVD of Green Street Hooligans, but that’s okay, because you can actually watch it for free on YouTube! Enjoy.