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.