Tech Lives: Donal MacIntyre

In a new, regular series, T3 interviews the stars about their lives, their tech and whatever it is they happen to be plugging and are hence available to chat...

Having done Vic Reeves, in a discussion that was described by one Twitter Jockey as “the most inane interview ever”, we now move on to foot-in-door danger man Donal MacIntyre.

His new film, Hooligan, is the the hardest-hitting football violence film ever. Narrated by Sean Bean, it’s been hailed as a masterpiece by both the Sunday Sport and Paul Ross.

T3: What are you plugging? A doc about football hooliganism, yes? Tell me all about it.

Donal MacIntyre: The film is basically the final chapter in my very turbulent relationship with the world of football hooliganism. It started about 10, 11 years ago and I went undercover for about 18 months with the Chelsea Headhunters and as a result of that I had to move house and bodyguards. All the fun stuff. My wife was badly beaten up and I was beaten up and there were prosecutions. So basically I decided, as I’d done with other undercover targets, I decided let’s see if I can end this football fatwa, and see if I could do a more considered documentary reflecting on how the hooligans are made, how they operate, their kind of honour code, and to put it in the national, English, context and also an international context, from Germany to Argentina

T3: I think I can see the logic in that. Did it cross your mind that maybe not making another film about football hooliganism might be the way to go?

DM: Well it did, and bearing in mind I’m an expert in living my life in the very unusual gun scope of football hooliganism, while I steadfastly avoided it for ten years, it didn’t abate or stop the attacks at all. For some reason it tapped into this zeitgeist and became the focus of hooligan resentment. Ok, an intelligent perspective is that you don’t analyse the same subject the same way, I would hope, ten years on. So I haven’t. And always with the subjects I’ve done, whether it’s care home investigations or whether it’s returning to underworld characters, I keep scratching the same itch because you become an expert in an area, so the more you cover and the more you reflect on it, the more intelligent analysis you can engender

T3: Do you enjoy danger? Does it go into the realm that you don’t feel you’re doing your job unless you’re putting your body in the line?

DM: I see where you’re going. With these Hollywood clichés of an adrenaline junkie. No I’ve always had one foot on the brake and one foot on the accelerator. I don’t quake at the thought of a gangster threatening me or warning me or even attacking me. I tend to recede into a very cool place. Unless I’m taken by surprise. But no, I don’t tend to engage with fear in the way a lot of people do. On the other hand, I’m not comfortable in the dark and I don’t like mice. I’m not an adrenaline junkie at all. In all the things I’ve done, whether I was a canoeist, or whether I’m a filmmaker or director or reporter, you just try and do the best you can do. And it’s not that hard to be the best in what I do because it’s not a very crowded field. There’s not too many people seeking out these people on the edge, and it’s on the edge that there are these interesting people – these criminals, gangsters, football hooligans. They’re interesting people. People always say to me, “DM, why are you so obsessed with crime?” and I say “Have you seen the f**king TV schedules!?” It’s now an area of expertise for me – I’m a journalist, broadcaster and director, but now I’m also a lecture in criminology and forensic psychology at Birmingham City University. It’s part of an expertise where you engage and try to understand, and that’s what I continue to do.

T3: With this film, is it international? Do you cover the English game at all?

DM: Yeah, yeah. It’s voiced over by Sean Bean and it’s a personal narrative and the scriptwriter has written it in a very colloquial narrative that’s engaging. So it’s engaging for the football supporter, it’s a very good sky one audience with lots of international references and externations and understandings and analysis of why. What was the most intriguing analysis for me is that there seems to be a parallel between some of the most beautiful football played on the pitch and some of the most dangerous violence in the stands. Argentina and Italy for me represent a very good example of that.

T3: Considering the bad outcome the last film had, why are you confident that making another film about the same subject won’t have the same effect this time?

DM: Because it’s about analysis and understanding and insight rather than condemnation and conviction and exposure. I’ve been down this road before. Before I did my first major in the cover investigations with a major drug dealer in Nottingham called Wayne Hardy, and this was a guy who was a very serious player and at his height was earning nearly £350,000 a month in cash from profits from drugs, so any comparison between him and the football hooligans are way out of sync; clearly he’s a very dangerous character. I went undercover for him for World in Action in my first exposé, 12 months undercover. This is a single voyage by a journalist, foolhardy, maybe reckless, but we didn’t know how reckless it was. We gave evidence, and eventually he went to jail.

Ten years afterwards I tracked down the same guy and it took three years of negotiation and I engaged with him and I said “Ok last time I exposed you, and now I want to reveal your world. Now I want to give you a chance to have the right of reply.” And by doing that, in the first programme I revealed him as a drug dealer. Ten years later I revealed him as a man who was a good brother, a very good dad, who brought up a learning disabled son who had a very serious life threatening illness, who also saw his first partner commit suicide and kill their 10 month old baby girl called Sunny. He saw his brother killed in a road accident in front of him, and his daughter was a heroin addict and a prostitute. A guy who had many, many tragedies and so his human qualities weren’t just defined by his criminal record.

So it’s kind of a journey from a current affairs reporter, although I still do current affairs, Newsnight reports here and there, but basically to from being a current affairs reporter to doing documentaries. In current affairs, you’re making an argument, you’re making a case, or exposing, gathering evidence and revealing the evidence. In documentary you’re doing all of that but you’re building layers and seeing context and you’re explaining and understanding analysis, and in the end you have to look at a world differently ten years on, and with the Wayne Hardy documentary called The Best of Enemies I felt I really achieved that and it was like therapy for me in many ways, going down this road.

Revisiting the world of football hooliganism maybe is a cheap sort of therapy. Wayne Hardy represents genuinely a much greater serious threat to me than Jason Marriner or the Chelsea Headhunters. I’ve been beaten up and threatened and my wife was beaten up but somebody from the underworld could easily have put a £50,000 death threat on my head after my Nottingham exposé. So basically this isn’t a foolhardy response, it isn’t a thoughtless, desperate attempt to get an adrenaline rush or high. We worked with a collaborative team – we had a co director, co-producers who are going out and filming all around the world and gathering research interviews, and allowing me as the architect to pull them together, get Sean Bean on board, a writer on board, and to present a very good and watchable insight into the hooligan world in 2012.


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