I was moved by a film about gang and criminal violence. Cass is the latest in a series of films about the gang violence which affected British Football from the later 1970’s through to this day although it now exist only outside of major grounds because of the use of CCTV, memberships and seats.
Previous films have been The Firm 1988, Green Street 2005, and Rise of the Foot Soldier 2007, The Football Factory 2008, Cass 2008 and Elijah Wood is involved with the making of a new film 2009.
This is not the time to provide a detailed and comprehensive account of my unintentional encounters with the organised activities of these violent gangs, or the association some have with far right political, racists and homophobic groups, but for now I will mention that as a youngster and regular supporter of Crystal Palace I knew it was wise to take exceptional care when attending home games against Millwall because of the reputation of some of their fans for violence and when less than 1000 supporters of both teams attended games. The exception was games played over Christmas and Easter when rather like churches, the congregation swelled.
It was not until the late 1970’s while visiting Liverpool for a cup game against Everton that on the way home in a convoy of coaches we were attacked by children throwing clumps of earth and stones at the coaches, damaging some and where the local police were not in sight although I later learnt this was a regular occurrence as they route was a regular one and that there were hundreds of youngster involved.
However it not until the early eighties that I became aware of how the position had developed when encountering 100 young men in silence in groups of two and three in a side street as I left Chelsea football ground early and watched them form into a column when one man raised an umbrella and marched off in the direction of the sound of the away supporters as the match ended. Later still and further away from the ground as I thought I was walking to safety I encountered what appeared to be the same group on the run followed by police on horses and in cars and vans and even later still when at a station on the underground line over 100 young men and boys appeared on a platform and smashed their way into the train and started to fight individuals they had identified on the train and wrecking it to the extent it had to be taken out of service. In a subsequently visit to the capital I was on a train when men who I now assume were part of the group which was or became the West Ham Inter city firm smashed their way out of the train in which I was travelling in order to get onto a platform when the sound could be heard of another group battling with the police to get into the station and where a railway official told me as the train was taken out of service at the next station that the police was under siege from both groups at the station and had to call in for reinforcements.
During this period I also experienced two incidents of violence within grounds and one incident where the police were conducting a show for visiting officials and one young policeman lost his head.
As a consequence of these experiences and the correspondence, with the football authorities and government, and the official responses during the period I have been interested to watch the films which have all been created from the viewpoint of the gangs and individuals within them
They are all without exception dangerous recruitment propaganda for the gang culture. They also give the misleading impression that these groups only fought other like minded and behaving men and some boys. This is false as they organised or randomly attacked anyone they identified supporting other teams, did major damage to public property and were violent when confronted by the police. Their ability to travel around the UK and overseas also suggested funding from other sources, as well as less conspicuous organisations. The extent and nature of the problem was covered to some extent by the media but played down in order not to fuel the situation and to protect the interests and reputations of individual clubs and the sport in general.
The position changed only after major incidents of violence and death occurred and British Clubs were banned from international competition. We were all being punished for the failure of government and the football authorities to act earlier.
My own view at the time was that special arenas should be created in which the groups could fight each other to their hearts content. The alternative was to draft caught and convicted individuals into the infantry and ensure they were the first to be sent out of the trenches. Their exceptional aggression should be put to socially good use. I did speculate on the kind of marriage partners and parents these individuals would make.
Unfortunately the films are not historical reminders of something eradicated or under firm control although incidents within grounds only involve individuals and have become unusual. Information on the number of individuals arrested within grounds or in their vicinity before or after games are not published or accumulated figures of arrests in our city and town centres at the weekends associated with drink and drugs. A comparison between the figures in terms of type of offences could prove enlightening. In terms of the situation now my impression is that the accumulated harm to others is insignificant compared to that achieved by British bankers and investors. It is understandable that the older middle and upper classes should continue to protect their own while appearing to be more indiscriminate towards the young generation in general and the lower classes. Thus it has always been so.
Having said this I am concerned at the number of these films and that further films are contemplated.
The film Cass is no exception although there are aspects which were of particular interest to me. The film is based on the life of Cass Pennant who for some reason was Christened Carol(e) and this name was accepted by Dr Barnardo’s, his white foster parents and the educational administrators. Not having read any of his books I do not know if he ever responded to enquires from his biological mother/parents about him and in the film the letters remain unopened. He may have be able to established the reason for the name giving.
We are not told the circumstances in which he was placed in care. Dr Barnardo’s were only one of the British and other Worldwide independent Child Care Organisations that developed well intentioned but disastrous child care policies during the first three quarters of the last century. Such policies were developed out of ignorance of human nature, genealogy and ancestry, and misguided notions that if you placed children in ordinary families with ordinary people who had not undergone in depth and prolonged training substitute families would work. There had been an understandable reaction against institutional care and understandable acceptance that the primary thing a child needed was love. Without genuine affection for an individual being cared for or being helped nothing will work or be effective, but affection without understanding and skill is also doomed in any situation where the individual has been rejected, abused or become disturbed. Most care workers and step parents were being recruited without an assessment of how they cope under constant pressure, prolonged periods of over work and stress and in crisis after crisis. The model of practice within social work training was a million miles from the reality.
The special features attached to the DVD includes Cass talking at length in his own words about being black, about being called Carole and going to prison. The films does not give enough attention to these issues which separates him from those who become submerged in the gang culture and never recover and the few who find a different kind of life for themselves because of an inner strength and drive.
Cass, a black ,boy was placed with an older white family in an all white neighbourhood and school environment. The evidence in the film is that Cass was genuinely treated by his foster mother, and foster father as their chid and they regarded him as their son despite his subsequent behaviour and imprisonment. Although they treated him no differently, they were unable to protect him from the harassment and bullying he received at school because he was black in an all white world, where prejudice flourished through all social and occupational classes. Worse still there was a major slip up later in his school life when a new master had not been briefed and insisted on the girl called Carol(e) identifying herself. The story is puzzling because for some reason the teacher did not work out that the number of girl’s in the class was one less than the number of pupils with girl’s names. While he is supposed to have realised his mistake, the damage was done and became life lasting.
I have understanding and sympathy with the predicament of Cass having been brought up by spinster aunts one of whom was revealed as my mother and only given a false cover story about my father when I was in my early teens. It was very difficult being illegitimate in the 1940’s but fortunately the negative aspect of feeling different and outside the norm lasted only until going to Ruskin and then taking child care social work training.
The film suggests being accepted by the West Ham group, regardless of his colour or background made Cass feel immediately at home and led to the involvement becoming his way of life. That he chose a violent outlet given the respectability and care provided by his substitute family is not fully explained. I say this because I suspect our basic personality make up is similar but in my instance it was the combination of being brought up by women who were devout Catholics which drew me towards peaceful protesting and the sense of being part of a movement and an alternative culture to that of my upbringing, but in which I felt I belonged, for a time. I was also fortunate to receive an education which promoted individuality, social and personal achievement.
There are also similarities in that my activities and those of others in the movement were also increasingly condemned in the media as we became an even greater threat to the exiting order of the state than the football mobs and heavy prison sentences began to be handed out leaders and public personalities to make examples and deter others. Going to prison became a badge of honour although he prison system was a shock but led to some recognition afterwards.
The film touched on aspects of the induction process into prison which Cass then described at length in his interview, explaining his natural resistance to yielding to a process designed to make first timers feel as uncomfortable as possible to discouraging them from returning while accepting the reality of the professional criminal. Interestingly he also felt an outsider within the system, not being a professional criminal, being black but not regarded as black by other black prisoners. He was given the usual special treatment as a newcomer by prison officers until he learnt how to fit in. I used some of my income ( only a few pence a week I think), to buy tobacco in order to then exchange for better underpants from those officially issued and which were extraordinary. I cannot remember if an eighth or a quarter of an ounce was required. We were given a hard time by some officers because we could leave at any time and this continued until we refused food for one day following the announcement that the death penalty had been imposed on someone. For the first time individual officers asked about why I was there and what I hoped to achieve. We were also not punished for refusing South African oranges, even after the black inmates joined in.
I have no idea if Home Secretaries and other national politicians have ever woken up to the fact that Prison Governors manage the prison officers while self appointed criminals and official trustee run the prison. Failure to understand this difference in the past led to major outbreaks of violence including wrecking prisons and attempts to burn them down. In my day the currency of power was tobacco whereas today it is drugs.
Because he was the first of the football mob leaders to be made an example and because of the experience of prison, he knew his position had significantly changed after prison having become a target by other gangs, the media and officialdom.
He also was fortunate to find a girl who became his wife and together they had two children. He then provided a door security service for a well known local professional criminal. The film mentions that taking drugs had the effect of providing an alternative outlet for some young men who had become addicted to violence.
It is admitted in the film that he became involved in further acts of retaliatory violence and which led to his near execution one evening when calling to check on the security arrangements at a club. With the help of his employer a retaliatory execution was organised which included arriving at the pub where the intended victim was drinking with a fully escorted hearse. The film states that he withdrew at the last moment, an event which was the turning point in his life after which he commenced to write about his experiences again and seek publication. I say again because he had written a book when in prison which he was not allowed to bring out with him. The rule was that official permission had to be requested and was only granted if the work did not relate to the offences which had resulted in the imprisonment. I felt that his was not end yet story.
I watched the latest episode of 24 with an even more ludicrous storyline than before. It could back the cause of women in senior positions in government.
I enjoyed a piece of steak with a stir fry for the main meal and a small chicken hot pot as I need something more than a salad to cope with thee weather turning cold. It was only one degree when I got up and a day for staying in.