I had resolved not to review another hooligan movie, but Cass is not one of those hit-and-tell stories that glorifies football supporter violence. Instead, this gripping film shows how a young Black man rises above the hatred that surrounds him. In the case of Cass Pennant, hatred comes from many sources: his skin color, which he tries to scrub off as a child, the competition with supporter firms, and a meaningless life of toil, from which violence is an emotional escape.
Based on his memoir
The biopic is based on Cass Pennant’s memoir and tells how and why he became the leader of the ICF, West Ham’s feared supporters group. He actually wrote the memoir twice, because his first hand-written manuscript was confiscated by the prison guards. His second attempt became a best-seller in 2000.
Over 100 hooligan memoirs have been published since the late 1980s, with some contributing to the hooligan movie genre. But Cass Pennant’s story particularly stands out because in a fan culture that tends to be wildly White and racist, he is one of the very few Black men. His origin is even more unique, as he was a Black baby raised by middle-aged, working class, White foster parents in an all-White community. His given first name was Carol, which in addition to his skin color, resulted in constant bullying throughout his childhood.
From his admiration for Cassius Clay, he rebrands himself from Carol to Cass, and he learns to fight back. At 14, he starts street fighting with West Ham supporters, and as he reaches his adult height of 6’4″, he becomes a leader. Not only does the brawling community treat him as an equal, but he plans and leads raids against other clubs in order to establish the ICF as the top firm that wins front page headlines.
The film makes it pretty clear that Margaret Thatcher doesn’t like that hooligans rank second in English recognizability to the royal family. The government cracks down, and Cass is sentenced to prison for 4 years. While doing his time, he’s introduced to Black culture through his Jamaican cellmate. He realizes he will always be an outsider, and the only self-affirming identity he has is West Ham and hooligan.
Still, he doesn’t want to return to prison, and after his release, he gets a White girlfriend and tries to stay out of hooliganism. But he gets pulled back in to seek revenge for a vicious attack on his buddy. Cass is stabbed, and while he is bleeding, his girlfriend tells him she’s pregnant and begs him to stop his childish addiction to violence.
So Cass starts to become a man. He manages a door man security business, posting his old mates and cellmate as door men. He seems to be up and up, on the straight and narrow, until an Arsenal supporter shoots him in retaliation for a past beating. As Cass recovers, his friends find the perpetrator. They and Cass drive a hearse and casket to the supporter’s pub to exact revenge, but Cass instead walks away from the senseless violence. It is 1993, and now his life is in front of him.
I don’t usually write a synopsis, as I’d much rather that you watch the film. There are so many interesting points to Cass Pennant’s life, and I’ve only mentioned the main threads. The film is so much more powerful than any words I could write, so I hope you will all spend a little time and absorb what Cass and Writer-Director Jon Baird are showing you about being Black in a White environment. I also think this film, more than any other of the hooligan movies I’ve watched, gives a feeling for why hooligans do what they do.
The film of course, is also a little biased in maintaining that Cass’ type of hooliganism wasn’t necessarily criminal, it was just violent. Which maybe is just a reflection of the endemic level of violence in those communities. And unlike other hooligan films, this one doesn’t portray a lot of drugs, criminal gang connections, or any robberies. There are several gang fights but no sadism or torture. It does, however, adhere to 2 tenets of the hooligan movie genre: 1) there is no football in the film, and 2) there are several T&A scenes.
8 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 8