Review of ~ Cass Pennant – Cass


“All four had blades but I didn’t care – I was going to rip them apart with my bare hands!”

All I really knew about Cass Pennant before I picked this up at a charity shop for £1.00 yesterday –  is that he was one of the leaders of West Ham Football Club’s notorious yet highly organised hooligan outfit the Inner City Firm. This autobiography does touch heavily on that part of his life however; it is so much more than a memoir of brawls within the football stands, scraps in pubs and details of fighting all over the United Kingdom whilst following “The Hammers”

(Note to American friends. Football in this review relates to what you refer to as soccer and “The Hammers” is West Ham’s nickname).

The book talks a lot about the state of racial affairs in Britain within the 70’s,80’s and 90’s when this narrative is set. Cass Pennant (his birth name was Carol but he soon changed that!) was a young back orphan raised by a white family in the 100% white dominated middle of London. Negro children were unheard of in this age and Cass found his school days initially distressing until he understood “stick and stones could breaks (his) bones but words could never hurt him.” During this stage he understood he wouldn’t get any handouts or easy rides in the working class London world so he fought his way through problems until he was respected. The racial undertones, slurs and difficulty he must have had throughout his whole life is presented at different stages, from youth, to being one of the only black men in a firm that was initially believed as being “Northern Front/ Racist” to how his race played a part during his experience in prison.

Due to his “no fuck’s given” attitude to fighting, the fact that he knew how to use his two fists admirably and that he was a giant for his age; he ran quickly through the ranks of the ICF to become one of the most known football hooligan’s in Britain. He frequently talks about his experiences in the fights and also the relationships with other firms. West Ham and Millwall fans don’t get on would you know? He then spends time in jail for his antics. He was the first football hooligan to be imprisoned as the government were tackling down on this cancer of the terraces and suffered 3 years in jail. That was not his only visit to Wormwood Scrubs Prison. A standout prison scene was him fighting in prison with crazed roommate Zulu who referred to him as being a “choc-ice” – a white man in a black mans body. Cass reflects that on the streets all people noted was that he was a 6’4″ black man and they couldn’t see past that however; in jail he wasn’t black enough to be fully respected by this specific prison race group.

The book also follows his time doing legitimate jobs as a taxi firm owner, a painter and decorator and also as a bouncer on the doors of the roughest clubs in London such as Kisses nightclub. This was known as being where ‘Devils Danced with Angels’ and one picturesquely violent scene is described when 40+ Rastafarians with axes and machete’s attack Cass and his bouncer friends at work. These tales on the doors are just as harrowing as anything that happened on the road as a football hooligan when they actively went out for the adrenalin kick on a Saturday afternoon. The incidents whilst working the doors includes him being shot three times by a young nobody who was drugged off his face. He offered his security skills when they were requested to celebrities including members of the Labour Party and he also built up a long lasting relationship with former heavyweight boxing champion Frank Bruno after Cass saved his life in a train station. Furthermore; he helped authors and screenwriters create Football Violence based projects, an example being one in which Gary Oldman asked Cass for advice on how to play his role as a hooligan convincingly.

Arguably the most notable and the most touching part of this book is his loyalty to his friends and his relationship with his family. After he gets shot he decides the life of the doors and the football violence are no longer suited to him. He could look for revenge but with his wife and children he analyses he now has too much to lose. He also goes on to find his birth mother and father which are some very nice and highly emotionally charged scenes.

This book comes across as being very true and legitimate and is polluted with London slang such as:
* Geezer – bloke
* Uncle Stan – Stanley knife
* Snouts – police informers
* Screws – prison officer…. etc….

Cass Pennant is a very intelligent individual and this book is written in stunning fashion. Some autobiographies are presented that an accompanying author/ journalist really has had to hold the subject’s hand to present the story but I don’t believe that is the case here. Cass is a very competent writer himself as can be clearly seen.

I recommend this book highly if you are into autobiographies that discuss violence, prison and racial discrimination. You should also check out the film which supports the same name.

“She knew that while a lowlifes bullets couldn’t break me, the tears of someone I loved so much would”

You have just read a review by James Tivendale. I.C.F – West Ham United


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