Magazine article The Spectator

Battle Stories

Magazine article The Spectator

Battle Stories

Article excerpt

Cass Pennant and his wife and son and son's girlfriend came round the other day for a cream tea. Cass used to be -- still is -- a top 'face' in the world of football hooliganism. When I was a kid I used to travel all over the country to watch West Ham and would sometimes see Cass in action at the front -- always at the front -- of the notorious Inter City Firm. It was a great comfort to know that this extremely violent individual (as he was then) was on our side. The ICF were often outnumbered, especially in the northern industrial cities.

But they were stylish, well-organised, ably led, and imbued with an esprit de corps.

And they were invincible.

Cass still goes to West Ham matches, where he moves around with the statesmanlike authority of a black Pope. I've got to know him only recently, not through football, but through his latest incarnation as a publisher. To see one of my adolescent heroes, 40 years on, seated in our sitting room, with one of our poncy Victorian armchairs straining audibly under his weight, was slightly odd. It isn't every day, either, that we have a chap who's been shot three times and run through with a sword, and who is the subject of a biopic on general release, eating off our best china.

Among other hooligan-related topics, we got on to the subject of Turkish football hooligans. I ventured the opinion that they were top drawer and more than a match for our boys.

Cass disagreed. 'They stab you and run away, ' he said, taking a sip of Darjeeling. 'They don't stand and battle like us. But they're close-knit.

Fighting them is a bit like fighting gypsies.

They don't give up. The young hotheads come at you and you sort them out. Then you've got the women trying to fight you. And then you look round and their old men are coming at you. In the end, the only way to get a result is to appeal for a peacemaker.' We went from the Turkish to the Sicilian hooligans. Last year West Ham drew Palermo in a European competition and the Inter City Firm, many of whom are now family men in their forties and fifties, flew out for a reunion. The Italian 'ultras', great students and admirers of English football hooliganism, were looking forward to testing the mettle of the famous ICF. …

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