26th September 2003


West Ham v Millwall (Sunday, 12 noon)

Former hooligan Cass Pennant, a member of West Hamís notorious Inter City Firm of
the Eighties, on what makes Sundayís first derby with Millwall for a decade so special

West Ham against Millwall is like no other derby in football. The two clubs play each other for the first time in 10 years on Sunday and itís a blessing for the rest of society that such meetings are so infrequent. All football clubs have local rivalries, particularly in London, but Millwall v West Ham is on a different level. The atmosphere of hatred is unreal and thatís why so many people talk about it and are intrigued. Iím not scaremongering, thatís just the way it is.

Itís different to any other derby Ė itís all about the communities surrounding both clubs. Theyíre incredibly similar Ė very hard communities where being able to handle yourself is all-important.

To be honest itís got very little to do with football and games just provide a platform for the hatred. A lot of the people whoíve been to past games cannot even remember the score!

Itís not about football and the attendances tell you that. London derbies always get the highest crowds, but for Millwall versus West Ham they are a lot lower. People know the history and choose to stay away. It shows itself through football but isnít really a West Ham versus Millall thing, itís an East End against South London rivalry. You wonít see West Ham on Sunday, youíll see the East End. You wonít see Millwall, youíll see South London. There are the same ingredients in other derbies, like Portsmouth versus Southampton, but nowhere in the country are there two areas so rich in hardness.

These communities are full of hard people, and not just the hooligans. During the Second World War, the East End stood up to Jerry and itís the same in the south. Every person there can handle themselves, whether itís upright citizens dealing with Jerry or the underworld mobsters.

Theyíre like two brothers, but only one of them can be king. They have the same blood but would kill each other to take the throne. They are two like-for-like cultures and people and all that separates them is the Thames. Itís like theyíre looking at a mirror image of themselves. They have the same kind of outlook and it all amounts to looking after yourself and being able to back it up. That explains the intensity.

Thereís no starting point and itís been there through history. You can point to the underworld and rivalry between different dockers but itís just an animal, tribal instinct. What makes it special is the depth and range of people that can back it up. In other parts of the country itís just a small section of the community but in the East End and South London itís a huge part. Itís a show of force by the community as a whole and everyone wants to take part.

No one can put their finger on one incident, citing revenge from one particular game or another. Itís always been this way. You can go back to medieval times, Victorian times or the time of the Krays. The hatred has always been there. We had the Krays so they came up with the Richardsons. Before that there was the dockets and their cross-river rivalry.

Thereís always been a rivalry around the areas where the football grounds are located. Itís only the young men and hooligans that want to have a fight but big chunks of both localities take an interest.

A lot of it is about the past. Football gives the violence expression, but itís far deeper than that. We want to put one over the South London gypsies and they want to put one over on the Irons. Since I was a kid we always thought we were better than them.

The violence is not as intense as it was because peopleís lives have changed and theyíve moved away. Thereís a difference between fighting for the community you live in and the one you feel you represent. Itíll never be as intense as the past. There were some ferocious battles in the 1970s that will never be repeated. Having said that, Sunday afternoon could still be fairly lively. Parents should think very carefully before allowing their kids to go.

Football has changed over the last 10 years but some leopards canít change their spots. Some of the past ugliness will resurface, but the good thing is the police are expecting it. The police presence will be very large and Iíd expect them to control it. Thereíll be more officers than away supporters, which tells you something.

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