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Inside Move: Pirated DVD boots up buzz for soccer hooligan pic

Brits' illegal preview of 'Football' may hurt or help pic

Talk about keeping an eye on the ball.

The widespread DVD piracy in England of anew film about soccer hooliganism has generated a cult following that may hurt box office prospects — or inadvertently prove the perfect guerrilla marketing strategy.

“The Football Factory” follows the boozy battles of a hardcore band of Chelsea supporters and is based loosely on the real-life exploits of the Chelsea Headhunters. Gritty pic is written and directed by south Londoner Nick Love (“Goodbye Charlie Bright”) and based on the cult book by John King.

Pic was financed by private investors including vidgame outfit Rockstar Games (“Grand Theft Auto”), marking its first foray into film.

Love denies claims that the black-market copy, which has been sold in pubs and soccer stadiums across the country since last August, was leaked deliberately to generate pre-release buzz. “The pirate that is out is a messy early edit, and I’d be mad to let that sneak out,” he says.

But the bootleg has been anything but disastrous. “It has replaced your underground, word of mouth, pre-release screenings and acted as an extraordinarily effective awareness builder,” says a source close to the production.

Producers are now working to limit damage to the pic’s theatrical release: They’ve distributed 200,000 leaflets encouraging fans to shun the pirate version and see it on the bigscreen. And they’ve moved the hardtop release up to May 14 from September.

But the timing is problematic for authorities. The new date is just a week before Millwall — which has a history of some of the worst hooliganism — plays Manchester United in the FA Cup final. And it’s just a month before thousands of English fans depart for the European Championships in Portugal. The pic’s ad line, “This is England’s worst nightmare. Enjoy it!” will calm few nerves.

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