Directed by Charles McDougall from a Nick Perry script which had previously made its debut on the stage in 1985, this 50 minute drama follows a gang of Millwall FC fans on their way to the 1982 World Cup in Spain, a sporting event dangerously foreshadowed by England's other entry onto the world stage that year; the Falklands War.
Kevin O'Donohoe leads from the front as Billy Jarvis, an archetypal 80s hooligan dressed in a series of loud polo shirts and Argyle jumpers, Stanley knife never far from his grip. He's also shagging his brother Bobby's bird whilst he's away at sea. It isn't long before Bobby (Brian Lawrence) is sent to war and, when he becomes one of the first casualties of the conflict, Billy goes spare. Shaving his head, he arrives in Spain with his hooligan mates not only to show off Millwall's prowess as the elite of firms, but also to avenge his brother's death. Travelling to Bilbao with his equally up for it violent mates, events soon take a dramatic, foolhardy and tragic turn.
Arrivederci Millwall, written at a time when hooliganism was still a real problem on the terraces, delivers far more successfully than the recent almost fondly recreated, poorly characterised takes on the culture as witnessed in the likes of Nick Love's The Football Factory and Perry's script is under no misapprehension that the perpetrators of such crimes were deeply misguided, psychotic individuals as perhaps witnessed by Billy's personal affront at his brother's death despite showing no remorse for sleeping with his girlfriend. As with the best traditions of revenge cinema, Perry understands that the psychopath who seeks revenge is never undertaking it for the memory of those who suffered, but more for their own personal interests. Like Jack Carter in Mike Hodges classic Get Carter (which director Peter McDougall would go on to adapt for radio, ironically) this is a case of 'how dare they kill my brother', the emphasis always being on the perceived disrespect shown to the avenger himself. Also interesting, is just how quickly Billy's descends into wild xenophobic rage with an NF skinhead cut which grimly taps into the jingoistic mood Thatcher inspired as a result of her liberation of the Falklands. This is particularly well addressed in a scene which shows Billy and his gang jeering at the news footage of defeated Argentinians with the chant 'What's it like to lose a war?' only to find themselves being cowed into silence by a British squaddie on holiday who has seen events first hand and knows, unlike these idiots, that war isn't a game of football.
Equally well captured is the feeling of early 80s London, with its neon lit clubs littered with small time gangsters pounding out the likes of Spandau Ballet and the sweaty, sun drenched Spanish resort is also well photographed and deeply evocative.
Unfortunately the acting isn't as great as that seen in The Firm and Arrivederci Millwall suffers from not having someone as electrifying as Gary Oldman in the role of Billy. Equally there's little to invest in the supporting characters too, though one could argue that, at just 50 minutes, the duration hardly lends itself to introspective character study and depth.
Arrivederci Millwall is available on DVD ( as part of a double feature with The Football Factory) and also available to watch gratis on YouTube.
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