George Srouji (19), a first-year psychology student from Greece, was a hooligan of the AEK Athens football club during his early teens. On his left arm he has a tattoo of a lion’s head.
“After matches we’d fight the supporters of rival teams or arrange to meet in quiet places to have a brawl. For the adrenaline and for fun. If the police showed up, we’d turn our anger on them, throwing stones until they dispersed us with tear gas. Fortunately I was never arrested.
“In 2013 we were taken by surprise in our clubhouse by other hooligans. They stormed the building with knives, stones and baseball bats. It was all over in three minutes. I was completely covered in blood; the doctor at the hospital said I was lucky I was wearing a coat, otherwise I wouldn’t have survived the blows to my upper body – mainly with baseball bats. I ended up with multiple screws, bolts and a metal plate in my arm, 32 stitches in my face, a body full of bruises, and two battered legs.” He shows an X-ray of his left forearm; it looks like a Greek hardware store made a fortune off him. “It still bothers me today. I can’t write for more than an hour at a time, so I get extra time during exams.”
“The hooligan world in Greece is very violent, and at the same time very fraternal; your clubmates would do anything for you. If someone is arrested, they all raise the bail money together. When I got out of hospital that evening there were fifty to a hundred clubmates waiting for me. ‘We’ll get our revenge,’ they said.”
“That night was a turning point for me. What was I doing? I was fourteen, didn’t care about school, had no work prospects and had just been beaten to a pulp. If I kept on going down that path I wasn’t going to make anything of myself.”
Srouji rolls up his sleeve and, along the length of his left forearm, against a green, yellow and red background, reveals a lion’s head. “My lion tattoo represents the strength and courage I needed to step out of that world and change my life. I’m now a university student and working on my future. The tattoo is on my left arm because that was the one that was broken and had to be operated on. Every time I look at it I think about that night and my inner strength.”
“The background colours are the colours of reggae. After the beating I started listening to reggae music and it came to play a big role in my life. Reggae has given me a lot of strength and peace. Obviously it started with Bob Marley, but now I listen to all sorts of reggae artists. It’s about paradise, about revolution, about peace, about positivity. That night in 2013 was my revolutionary moment. Since then I’ve been trying to create my own ‘paradise’.”
“And yet, I’m not sure how I would do it, but if I were to come across those men now, I’d take my revenge. Making the right decisions remains a daily struggle. My tattoo and reggae music help me with that.”