U.W.: What did you think when you first heard that Ukraine and Poland would host Euro 2012?
I have to be honest and say that I was surprised that the tournament would be taking place there, but now I think it will be very good for both countries. I hope so anyway.
U.W.: What problems can come up in Ukraine during the tournament? How can we expect English fans to behave? Many people think of them as hooligans…
I think fear will be the big problem for all sides. There seems to be a lot of worry about English hooligans, for example, but the truth is, that there is nothing for anyone to worry about. The hooligans have been mostly removed from our support-base now and we will be coming to enjoy your country and have fun.
They will drink alcohol and make some noise but that’s not dangerous. In many countries, people are friendly towards them and I hope that the Ukrainian police will treat them this way too, and the UK police that will be in Ukraine for the tournament will share their experience with their Ukrainian colleagues. English fans think that the Ukrainian police is not only corrupt, but also uncontrollable. Hence the never-ending talks of boycotting Ukraine. If the police treat English fans as hooligans, this may well cause problems. The same thing could happen if Ukrainian or Polish fans go looking for trouble with England supporters. This will not be good for anyone.
U.W.: How would you comment on the claims in the British media that Ukrainians are racists?
The British press is free to say whatever it wants to. Sadly, though, journalists sometimes make mistakes. I find it embarrassing that the whole scandal labelling Ukrainians as racists has damaged the image of Ukraine. The British media has been buzzing with stories of racism and other scary things in Euro 2012 host countries, even if most of them are far from the truth. But I’m sure more stories like this will come up soon.
I USED TO BE JUST LIKE THEM: Dougie Brimson was a football hooligan not too long ago. He was part of the FC Watford fan group
U.W.: How different are hooligans in different countries? Can you tell a Ukrainian or a Polish fan by just looking at him/her?
I do not know that much about Ukrainian hooligans, other than some of the history which is written in my book “Eurotrashed: The Rise and Rise of Europe's Football Hooligans”. However, if they are anything like some of the other hooligans from countries in the former Soviet Union, they will be strongly influenced by English hooligans from the 80’s and films such as “Green Street Hooligans”.
As for Polish hooligans, they are widely regarded as being some of the worst in Europe and I know that it is one place that even hard core English hooligans worry about visiting. That should tell you all you need to know.
U.W.: Football hooligans rarely use weapons in Ukraine. They prefer fair play. How about the fans coming to Euro 2012 from elsewhere? Will they use knives in street fights?
I think hooligan groups in most countries follow the fair play rule, as it is part of the unwritten code. Only Turkish hooligans don’t, and the use of knives by some Ultra groups who follow Italian clubs is standard. My own opinion is that anyone who uses weapons in a fight is a coward.
U.W.: Which hooligan group is currently the strongest in the world?
This is an impossible question to answer because all hooligans are dangerous in their own way. A punch in the face hurts just the same, whether it comes from an Arsenal fan from London or an Arsenal fan from Kyiv.
U.W.: An unpleasant accident occurred in 2006 when Scotland’s football team played against a Ukrainian team. Ukrainian hooligans beat up regular fans from Scotland, not hooligans. Those people were just having fun downtown. How is it possible to avoid such incidents during the tournament?
Sadly, similar things happen all the time. I think that direct discussions with the hooligan groups should be taking place right now in both Ukraine and Poland, warning them that any hooligan activity during the tournament is not acceptable. They must be made to understand that the world will be watching them and if there is hooliganism, it reflects very badly on both their football and their country. Fans often insult the locals and break laws without even knowing that they’re doing something wrong. It’s too late now. But I think the championship will be fine if the Ukrainian police treat fans with respect.
U.W.: What do you think of politics in stadiums?
This has always been the case. Football stadiums are places where working class men gather not just to watch the game but to talk and discuss life. Politics is a natural subject for the terraces, especially when things are not so good.
U.W.: These days, Ukrainian fans often shout out their dissatisfaction with the president in the stadiums.
Football grounds are natural places for people to gather and express their views. Politicians know that, which is why they try so hard to be part of the football culture during elections because they try to win the fans’ support. But sadly, there are times when things become so bad politically that the terraces explode. Look at what happened in Egypt (on 1 February 2012, 73 people died and more than 1,000 were injured during the football riot following a match between two Egyptian teams – ed.) and in former Yugoslavia (a clash erupted between the local Dynamo FC and Red Star Belgrade, involving fans and football players, after the Yugoslavia Cup game in 1990; the game was later called the Death Match. It was one of the signals of the future war for Croatia’s independence – ed.). It is very sad when this happens.
Episodes of Green Street Hooligans, a film co-written by Dougie Brimson
U.W.: As a one-time ultra, do you see any difference between the football hooligans of your generation and those of today?
I can’t criticize them, because I was just like they are today. But you guys should realize that whatever you do has consequences. If you take part in a fight, you can end up in jail. If you beat someone up or use weapons, your opponent can end up in a hospital or a coffin. You might end up there as well. If that happens, your mother will no longer have a son, your wife will no longer have a husband and your kids will no longer have a father. If you realize all this and still want to fight, that’s your choice.
U.W.: What would you like to see changed in modern football?
I would take the game away from the money men and give some control back to the fans. Without us, it would not exist, yet we are never asked for anything but money.
U.W.: You’ve mentioned that every character in your books has a real prototype. How about “Green Street Hooligans”? Could you tell us more about the real Matt Buckner and Pete Dunham?
Green Street Hooligans has lots of basis in fact and that includes most of the characters. But I cannot tell you much about the real life Pete or Matt because they are still my friends!
U.W: What are you working on now?
I am always working! At the moment I am writing a new comedy novel about football and a film based on the same story. I am also working on a film about British soldiers in Afghanistan.
U.W.: Which book of yours is the most important to you?
In the football sense, my book “Kicking Off: Why Hooliganism and Racism are Killing Football”, which looks at the subject of racism in football, is probably the most important. On a personal level, it is my novel “Billy’s Log” because it is a comedy about men like me!