Tim Holland speaks to author, actor and director Cass Pennant about the changing nature of football, writing in prison, the Cass movie biopic, and his documentary ‘Casuals

How did you come to support West Ham?

How did you come to support West Ham?

The first time I saw a live game was when I was 8 years old. Football fever had gripped the whole country because England had won the World Cup or rather West Ham had. Our neighbour’s eldest son was a season ticket holder and offered to take me along. I’d already spent my pocket money that week but was given it again so I went and watched Hurst, Moore, Peters and co and never looked back.

Who was your favorite player growing up?

Although I was a massive admirer of Alan Devonshire and Billy Bonds it was definitely Trevor Brooking for me. Brooking was class and I mean class, even the press would put names like majestic and elegant in front of his name. It always felt as though Brooking was England’s mistake as they overlooked him for so long in the early part of his career but he proved them wrong. There were games he played when I really did believe that famous banner that appeared at Wembley that said “Brooking walks on water”

You wrote your first book, which went on to become a bestseller whilst in prison on football charges. How did that come about?

At a young age I was made an example of for the epidemic of football hooliganism that the country was in the grip of. I received three years in prison when nobody expected it but the charges were serious enough and I went down in a blaze of publicity that continued afterwards with debate in the newspapers and on the radio etc. For the first time in my life I questioned who I was and what I had become. I was disappointed to let the very few people down who believed in me but also being just 20 years old at the time, I still had a lot of anger.

Feelings that I was misunderstood were all still there. I also had a wake-up call when in prison, I saw so many cons I felt were in need of help rather than incarceration. I had so many questions in my head about the gang, society and of my own actions but I wasn’t in position to answer them in my head so I began to write about my life and who was I in order to find my own answers. 23 years later it became a book published by John Blake, well two books because there was mine and the firm’s book about the ICF that had its origins starting out in those prison exercise books.

The books have personal meaning because they remind me of where I was when the journey started and how I never gave up with the ambition I had to put a book out there long before these books were ever fashionable.

It was turned into a well received film. What was that process like?

The film was a three year process and came from a chance meeting with Jon S Baird after the film wrap shoot on Green Street which he was a credited producer and I had cameo role in. He wanted as much authentication as a film will allow so I was involved in all ends of making the biopic of my life – Cass. He allowed me to put three generations of West Ham fans as extras in the film, some are people of interest such as Bill Garner, Charlie Magri, the Geggus brothers from Cockney Rejects band and even Frank McAvennie did a cameo.

Nonso Anozie who played me was immense and the public reaction to my film has been good, even rivals through gritted teeth have said the same. So I owe Jon Baird because he made the film we wanted to make and it was also his first directed film. Now he is about to release ‘Filth’ his next film that could elevate him to a film director of note. I guess we owe each other in the inspirational stakes for today as I am also a credited writer, actor and producer working in film industry .

Your first documentary “Casuals” looks at football fashions. Can you tell us a bit about that?

As an author and publisher of a number of football hooligan books and also someone who is connected to a number of films on same subject matter, I just felt it was getting to the point where too much has been made of sharp end of all this culture, the violence. To me there was another scene going on that involved a mass male age group of 12-25 year olds that has left a lasting legacy that you can still see in the high street today.

This is the impact of the football casual when football days were football, fashion and music. To me everyone involved in going to the footie was going in one direction and the film industry was going in the other. It’s the only time you hear geezers on par with women talking about shoes is when mentioning or seeing a pair of classic trainers, Borg Elites in my case. It’s a serious subculture too that’s been over-looked, so to give it respect I set out to make a documentary.

I travelled the country and smashed the divide and rivalry surrounding it because everyone said this is a story that needs to be told. Casuals: The Real Story of The Legendary Terrace Fashion has been well received and out is out on DVD. It even got on TV this year and was screened at the National Football Museum in Manchester. I’m very proud of it.

What’s your take on modern football compared to that of the 1970s and 1980s?

I still like to watch old VHS tapes and buy DVD’s of football from the 1970s and 1980s for the simple reason of seeing things you rarely see in the game today, the art of beating a player with just skill, one on one’s, simple drops of a shoulder etc. These can be like art and are amazing to watch, the likes of Rodney Marsh had no pace, and he’d take the ball and walk past you. Our own Dev would beat two players whenever he had ball at feet and you’d scream “too many Alan” when the third tackled him but he’d win it back and just for you beat the three again.

Today the Premier League has players built like Marvel comic book heroes and they all stop to a man whenever a player stands in front of them and just pass the ball back. It’s all pace and power today, to the point now when defender could easily play up front. Just as we have lost dribbling, we have also lost the art of defending; players in the 1970s and 1980s skills had to read the game, other players’ minds and learn to anticipate the game, like Bobby Moore would. How many players can you see that can actually read the game today?

On the business of football, as a West Ham fan I think we have sacrificed what I call the football fan experience just like most Premier League clubs. I’m not talking about the violence of 1970s and 1980s, I mean the overall experience of going to the football. For me it was about all being together on a coach or train and coming back together all talking of the same story of the day, standing with your mates and making new mates along the way. It’s all different now, if you go to a Premier League match today, even home games, it’s a complete operation and stressful in parts to just go and support your team.

Road rage to get parked, trains always changing with weekend travel, train stations closed, health and safety in grounds now over the top, staff jobsworths, away matches when the bars are closed, the moan list goes on and you only come to see a game. Add to that the kick off times; I think when one season started we only had one match scheduled on a Saturday. It’s all changed.

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