Thursday 9 May 2013

Arrivederci Millwall

Riding high on the jingoistic pride of winning the Falklands War, England got their 1982 World Cup campaign off to a blistering start in Bilbao. Scoring the then quickest goal in World Cup History, Bryan Robson put England 1-0 up ahead against France after just 27 seconds. In contrast to Captain Marvel's fortunes, a gang of football hooligans (one clad in that wonderful, wonderful Admiral kit) were holed up in a sweaty prison. It's a funny old game. Apparently.

Tackling it's way onto BBC2's screens on 03/01/1990, Arrivederci Millwall was a one off, 50 minute short film which followed a small gang of Millwall FC fans on their way to the 1982 World Cup in Spain. It's fair to say that dining on the local tapas and, say, visiting the Museu Picasso were the last things on their mind. Smashing up a plate of calamares fritos before putting a boot through something from Picasso's blue period would be more their cup of tea.

Genre: Drama
Channel: BBC2
Transmission: 03/01/1990

Thrust to the forefront of the film is Billy Jarvis (Kevin O'Donohoe) - the stereotypical 80s football hooligan clad in an array of polo shirts and Argyle jumpers. When he's not practicing his own brand of stanley knife inspired plastic surgery or taking care of drug dealers, Billy finds time to conduct an affair with the girlfriend of his sailor brother Bobby (Brian Lawrence). Despite the ease with which he sets about betraying his brother, Billy - in true arrogant arsehole style - loses his tiny mind when Bobby is killed in the Falklands War. Billy’s original plan for the 1982 World Cup – namely stamping Millwall's hooligan credentials all over it – are then revised to include avenging Bobby’s death. Travelling to Bilbao with his violent, skull cracking buddies, events take a tragic turn.

The film was transmitted under the Screenplay Firsts banner which set out to bring attention to up and coming directors. Charles McDougall was the fresh faced director, straight out of Beaconsfield's National Film and Theatre School, making his directorial debut with an adaption of Nick Perry's stage play of the same name. Arrivederci Millwall was first staged in 1985 at The Albany Empire, Deptford and was Perry's first play. The play was a small success and was honoured as joint winner of the 1986 Samuel Beckett Award which was given to promising new writers. Perry was also behind the screenplay for the TV adaptation. McDougall fulfilled his early promise and went on to direct episodes from US TV shows such as The Office, Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives. Perry continues to write for stage, screen and radio - his most recent production being a 2012 BBC Radio 4 dramatisation of Jack's Return Home.

Ever since the early 00s, there's been a gamut of British football hooligan flicks carving their way onto our cinema screens like a Chelsea smile. Curious British Telly was intrigued to see whether Arrivederci Millwall would offer a less glamorous, less cliched take on the genre. Originally written when hooliganism was still rife amongst the terraces - the Heysel tragedy being still fresh in the mind - Perry's script avoids the two dimensional constraints that plague The Football Factory et al. Sure, there's the cliche take on 'looking after our own' with the rather redundant thread concerning Terry (Tim Keen) and his classically 80s heroin habit. More interesting, is Billy's descent into a xenophobic rage which is a nice nod not just to the 'Rule Britannia' mood pre-Falklands and his skinhead makeover hints at National Front leanings.

Football hooligan's aren't the nicest of chaps, so there's an inevitable gritty edge to the proceedings. The scene where Terry is egged on by a wildly manic Bobby to cut the face of a rival hooligan took us rather by surprise due to it's graphic depiction. There's also time for a - rarely heard on British TV - quick uttering of "Cunt!" by local gangster Harry Kellerway (David Barrass). The 16mm filming format also helps to heighten the grimy and claustrophobic feel of the South London streets chosen to house Billy and his gang.

The acting on present is one of the lowpoints and although several of the actors have carried on acting, they've failed to set the screen alight since. Playing Billy's gangmember Mal, Stephen Marcus has probably had the most successful career starring in several international films as well as TV roles. Compared to The Firm, which had aired the previous year, the acting truly was well below par. The other issue we're going to take umbrage with is the length of the piece. At 50 minutes everything is far too rushed when you take into account the number of characters. We only get to know Billy whereas the rest of the characters are forgettable.

Arrivederci Millwall is available on DVD and also on YouTube as well as various torrent sites, so it's readily available and we recommend searching it out, but there are definitely better hooligan films to watch such as The Firm and I.D. Still it's only 50 minutes of your life and it's a nice addition to the genre.


  1. i love it. running time should have been longer. 2 hrs, not 50 mins, but it captures london circa 1980s perfectly.

  2. I would love to see Nick Love remake this ..