Cass: The True Story of an East End Thug


Boris Johnson has pledged to rid the capital of the “scourge” of knife crime, as London’s stabbing trend spirals out of control. The fatal knifing of a man in May, in broad daylight, in one of London’s busiest streets, has further fuelled public fear. 

A FILM that glamorises street violence hardly seems appropriate in today’s current climate. Especially one that is set in our already scarred and sensitive capital, and sees a power-hungry football thug rise the ranks of a hooligan gang to become its influential leader.

This controversial movie set in London is being released today despite the hype about our capital’s critical crime rate. Cass tells the true story of an orphaned Jamaican baby who grew up in the 1950s, before political correctness, when he was forced to endure racist bullying until years of pent-up anger saw him seek the respect he never had as the ringleader of West Ham’s infamous Inter City Firm.

Cass Pennant (a charismatic Nonso Anozie) grew up on the harsh streets of East London in the ‘70s; an adopted black child of white parents who was an outcast because of his race. The opening credits roll out in a storm of expletives as Cass is shot outside a New Cross nightclub at point blank range. We then backtrack to his childhood as a boyhood fan of West Ham United, through the so-called ‘heyday’ of football-related thuggery in the ‘70s and ‘80s, during his prison term for violence and ongoing feuds with an Arsenal footie gang.

The true story of Cass’s biographical drama is strong enough to triumph over the rather slow pacing and flimsy acting. On the night of this particular preview screening the theatre is filled with expectant East Enders who look like they’ve stepped straight off the film set. Onscreen there are cameos from boxing legend Frank Bruno, West Ham ex-footballer Frank MacAvennie and World Champion East End boxer Charlie Magri.

I love watching films about London, and Cass depicts the Thatcher years so accurately it’s almost nostalgic. Baird has done a meticulous job of recounting the ‘80s with the now comic musical score and dated fashion. It’s a low budget endeavour, but the moving, underlying themes make for quite an extraordinary story.

At the film’s premiere in London’s Leicester Square star Anozie spoke out about its positive lesson about gun and knife crime: “I think the message for me is, in light of all the gun crime and violence that is out there, I think it will tell people that however dark the situation you’re in you can make a choice that is positive.”

First published on The London Word, August 2008.
© Abbey Stirling