Although estate agent Clive ‘Bex’ Bissell (Gary Oldman) – the leader of a notorious football hooligan ‘firm’ called the ICC in the late 1980s – is a nasty and violent individual, he is also charismatic and it was this ambiguity that caused the predictable newspaper panic after The Firm aired in 1989 as part of the BBC’s Screen Two anthology.
The film also ruffled the feathers of the football establishment. The Football Association, desperately trying to restore the image of English football in the wake of the 1985 Heysel Stadium disaster (which left 39 people dead and led to a blanket ban on English clubs competing in European competition) accused the film of providing “poor role models” to young fans.
Ron Noades, then the chairman of Crystal Palace football club threatened the BBC with legal action. He was furious that some of the hooligans in The Firm were identified as Crystal Palace fans and, although he had given Clarke permission to film inside the club’s Selhurst Park stadium, he claimed it was on the condition that the film had nothing to do with hooliganism.
The climactic shooting of Bexy by rival gang leader Yeti (Philip Davis) provided a less than satisfactory ending but the film successfully demonstrated that football is not the cause of hooliganism but the victim, and undermined the myth that hooligans were mindless working-class thugs.
This vicious attack on both Thatcher‘s Britain and the hooligan minority who were destroying the reputation of football (a sport he had loved since his childhood) was Alan Clarke’s last film.
Clive ‘Bex’ Bissell
Terry Sue Patt