Filed: Sunday, 1st May 2005
By: Graeme Howlett
Prior to the recent launch party for Bill Gardner's new book - 'Good Afternoon Gentlemen, The Name's Bill Gardner' - KUMB caught up with Bill and co-author Cass Pennant for a quick chat. Firing the questions for KUMB was Graeme Howlett.
KUMB: Bill - first of all, thanks for taking the time to do this. For people who don't know what the book is about, can you give us a brief overview?
Bill Gardner: It's the book of my life not only as a football fan but as a person. It's something that I wasn't going to do, but Cass persuaded me to do it. Six other books have come out on football culture slagging me off and I felt it was time to have my right of reply.
KUMB: To address the balance, as it were?
Cass Pennant: At last count there were 49 books of this nature, and Bill's the biggest name in football.
KUMB: That kind of leads on to my next question - why did you leave it until now before telling your side of the story?
BG: I was quite prepared to be quiet about it - I didn't really want to do it, he's [Cass] been on at me for ages to do it. At the end of the day I picked up the Manchester United book by the Red Army general and to be fair, that really swayed it for me. I was in two minds about it really, even half-way through it. I wasn't totally certain that we were going to do this but when I saw how this muppet was making me out it was only fair that ... people were making money on the back of me, you know what I mean? I thought that was a bit unfair and just thought we could come up with the true story.
And this is the true story - there's no ifs, ors, buts ... the things I'm saying in there are true.
KUMB: Why did you decide to make it the story of your life as opposed to just about the football?
BG: It's a true reflection of not only one person's life but football supporters. People of my generation can look at this and think 'that happened to me too' - certain situations, scenarios, will be the same.
People were making me out to be the sort of person with no heart - and you couldn't get further than the truth. I've been with my wife for 21 years, we've got two kids - I'm a strictly family man. Football turns me into a different sort of person than I am in normal life. The person at football is not the person at home, is it mate? [to Mrs.G]
I've always been an animal lover; they used to call me Dr.Doolittle because I used to take sick animals and look after them. But people don't want to really know that; when you do these sort of football books they don't want to read that, they want to read what they've put here [points to cover notes of book]. Cass will tell you, we didn't want this on there but this is what sells books. The woman goes in the shop, she looks at that - ''worst nightmare', got to have it' - but we didn't want that, I didn't want that - but this is what sells books.
Also, the cover - we didn't want this piece about the ICF because I've never regarded myself as having been in the ICF. And once you read the book, that comes out. But that's what people want to buy, to start with.
CP: Never judge a book by it's cover.
KUMB: But that's like your book Cass, where you had Bill on the front?
BG: But when people read it they're like 'it's a good story, we know Cass but we didn't know that about him', you know what I mean? And that can only come from biographies if they're told honestly. I've always said when I read one I'm a bit disappointed because it'll be like a football player, or film star or someone and they tell the good bits, the good days but not the dirt, you know? We're not football stars - we're not sports stars, we're not boxers, so it can only be warts and all with us. It can only be an honest biography.
CP: You can have ten biographies of the same person but only one life story, warts and all. The thing with Bill is that he's got such a name he's become legend and become myth. You're only going to know the real Bill from Bill. You know, this is the Bill from the pub talk, this is the Bill you hear of from other teams, this is the Bill you hear of on the terrace grapevine - who is this man, so much is said about him.
KUMB: This is it, everyone's got a story to tell about Bill Gardner, or about Cass Pennant - you sort out the wheat from the chaff but you'll only know the true story when it's coming from yourselves?
KUMB: So the book, was it something you wrote together?
CP: It's Bill's story, it's from his heart and from his mouth, yeah? You could look at me like a producer.
KUMB: Having had the experience of having written a couple of books before?
CP: Experience as an author, also experience as a friend - someone's who's been there with him. Someone else might not understand the football culture, wouldn't have the trust to get it out of him like Bill said, but the hardest thing for me is I've always portrayed the man as he is and that's what a lot of writers don't do, they don't know their subjects. They think they're putting over a certain image but it's someone else. The most important thing is that Bill's picked this up and gone 'yeah, it's my story'.
It's the first football book that I know of the 49 that mentions the team or the game. George Best was the only footballer I had in my book. But when we came to Bill, it was a totally different thing. It's the first terrace culture book that mentions the game as told from the heart of a fan - because at the end of the day he always was a fan.
KUMB: You talk to a lot of people Bill and they say if you had to pick West Ham's biggest fan there aren't many they'd place above you, aside from everything that happened on the terraces and all the aggro - you've always been a big football fan. Going on that theme, when did you start going - remember your first game?
BG: The last two games of the '58 promotion season with my Dad - he's a Tottenham fan. He took me somewhere crazy like Middlesbrough, yeah my first game was in Middlesbrough I think. You know what I mean, crazy place to go!
KUMB: A nice local one then?
BG: Yeah, I used to go alternate weeks with my Dad, Tottenham then to here. But I always liked it better here. Tottenham had a great team in '61, they won the double - but this always felt like home.
KUMB: How did that go down with your Dad, being a West Ham supporter?
BG: Oh he didn't mind, as long as my old lady let him go to football that's all that mattered really! I used to go to West Ham but I'd f*ck off and go to the lads and they used to pass me above their heads - they'd have a job now!
And then I used to meet him afterwards, because if she'd known he'd let me creep off she wouldn't have let him take me to watch football. But he wanted to watch the game so he was quite prepared to let me creep off. At Tottenham I never did it because it never felt like home.
KUMB: Where did you used to stand in those days?
BG: Chicken Run. The old Chicken Run, yeah, or the North Bank.
KUMB: Over the years, what would you say was the worst place you have visited?
BG: Worst place? Millwall. The old Millwall ground. Stoke used to be a rough place, Man City was quite a rough place. In the old days all places were rough! You could go to a tinpot place like Lincoln which could be a naughty place. You know what I mean, all those places. Always not what you'd think; always the ones you think are going to be naughty aren't, and the ones that you think will be are a walk in the park.
KUMB: That kind of applies today really doesn't it - like at Wigan last year, for example?
BG: Yeah, where that poor old boy got hit? Disgusting.
KUMB: Moving on to more recent events, one of the big problems we've got now at West Ham is with the crowd - things came to a head last week at Brighton, I don't know if you guys were there?
KUMB: There's this video doing the rounds, of the crowd's reaction after the game which I think shocked a lot of people, seeing West Ham fans turn against their team like that. What was your opinion of that?
BG: I don't like seeing players slag off the crowd, then again the crowd have had to put up with a lot this year. I think six times we've let in goals during the last five minutes of a game. Something's got to be wrong, somewhere along the line the motivation isn't there. This bloke [Alan Pardew] doesn't motivate players enough, and I don't believe the players respond to him. I don't like seeing it because we are West Ham 'United' - and that's how we should always be.
CP: I think it's total frustration. People are fed up, the players have got slagged off. One was the goalscorer, both were goalscorers. I think the people that did the slagging, they don't hate those players - what they hate is everything that's gone on around recently. It's not even where we are now, because we've never been winners - we can take losing. It's the whole thing that's going on around that Club, and having your heart ripped out. Like today, you watch Joey Cole, Lampard, anyone - hurts even more. And that frustration all comes out when you see these players that you can't name, they don't seem to be giving it in the shirt. We've had players that have never been that good at West Ham, but proper Club players playing to the best of their ability - and you can see it. That's a big difference and the frustration comes out.
BG: What you need is hope and a bit of ambition. That's it. Even if the Chairman says, 'look, I haven't got any money but I want us to do well, we haven't got the funds to compete but we'll try our hardest' - we can handle that, we could handle the losing if everyone was pulling their weight. But we don't think they're pulling their weight.
CP: The difference is, when they got abused - can you imagine for one minute Julian Dicks or Billy Bonds?
KUMB: But we wouldn't have done it.
CP: Can you imagine that reaction? 'Oh they'll get over it, oh well, it's just a job to us - what's their problem?'. Dicks, Bonds - they would have give it back. Surely they should have gone 'what, we're doing our best' - but there was no reaction. The only reaction was from the plonker, the mercenary.
KUMB: Tommy Repka?
CP: Repka, yeah. He started before he was even abused! But all them players? Heads down and off.
BG: My mate played against him in a friendly and he gave him a dig. He reckons that for rest of the game all Repka wanted to do was go after him, he wasn't interested in the game at all. You know? Look at how he reacts, and yet he could be one of the best defenders in the entire league. He could hold his own in the Premier League with anyone. He got voted top defender in Serie A, didn't he?
KUMB: Don't you think he's sorted his act out a little bit this year though?
BG: He's calmed down a lot; he's calmed down a bit because he probably doesn't care as much.
KUMB: Because he knows he's off soon?
KUMB: In OLAS recently, there was a story concerning you raising a large amount of money.
BG: For West Ham AFC you mean?
KUMB: Yeah; is that still a possibility?
BG: It is still a possibility.
KUMB: Is it something you're still thinking about?
BG: Obviously there's a lot of work involved but if Wimbledon can do it, West Ham can do it. And to be fair, although it's a viable proposition it was done more as a scare tactic to [Terry] Brown than anything else.
KUMB: To show him there are alternatives out there?
BG: Yeah, because at the end of the day you want to have a team that you can go and watch play in claret and blue that's called West Ham. Lads that are trying, all honest lads. And have people there that want that team to do well, that could pull a few supporters in. That situation or scenario can only happen if we get administration or if we're on the brink of collapse. Then that will will take off, that will happen. Believe me, that would happen.
Most non-league clubs would love to ground-share with somebody that's pulling in the sort of crowds that we would. Wimbledon get 3,000; we'd get 4 or 5,000, I think. I definitely believe that it would be successful. What we would do is have people democratically elected for each job, and get the right people in there.
KUMB: How do you think it's all going to go? There's obviously talk of several consortiums poised to make summer bids for the Club?
BG: I think we'll have to take administration before we can move forward.
KUMB: And what about our promotion chances - have we got any?
BG: Well we're capable of beating Watford, but look at it from the other side - if we go up we'll be down by Christmas and we're stuck with two more years of Brown, so it might be better not to go up. He may think 'I'll go on my boat for the rest of my life' and maybe we'll get somebody else to come in here. Once they see the green light there may be someone who takes it on.
KUMB: That's the whole dilemma I guess - do we go up and take the £30m that comes with it, or stay down here for another year and hope that somebody takes it on?
BG: What would you rather do?
KUMB: I think I'd rather stay down and start again.
BG: So would I.
KUMB: To go up would only be prolonging the inevitable at the end of the day?
BG: Too many years of hurt now. My boy is 21 now and he's never seen us win anything.
KUMB: Going back to the hooligan scene, what do you believe killed it all off?
BG: CCTV; better surveillance by the Police all round. If there was no CCTV it would still be as rife today as it was then.
KUMB: Technology, basically?
BG: Technology, without a doubt. Before that technology existed they couldn't catch a cold, and I do believe that if we didn't have the cameras now they'd be in the same boat. They've not got any more intelligence, it's just that people are a bit more wary now - they look up to see where the cameras are ...
CP: The law changing; it's so one-sided now, so biased and unopposed. The hoolies were always in front, whatever they came up with the hoolies always felt they were in front. After Heysel they knew it was going to turn, they all got together - before that they were all blaming each other. The football clubs said it was a Police problem, the Police said it was a Government problem, the Government said it was the football clubs' problem. After Heysel they all got together; from that moment the hoolies would never ever be in front again.
Things like Heysel, Bradford, all them disasters that happened in the same year - that brought all the bodies together, before that they were all competing with each other. You know, if they'd all been together we wouldn't have been able to make a move. It was that easy, you know? But never again, because they're all together.
BG: But we never rated them, did we?
CP: No but the technology, backed up with the law changes, has now gone too far.
BG: We never rated the Old Bill at all, we regarded them as like the Council! That's what it was, like dealing with the Council wasn't it? We were always two steps ahead of them, all the time - they were mugs. But once they got a few cameras and started to get a few people on the firm - we actually had Police in the firm, in our firm, right in there. The Police were tipped off about a lot of things that were going on. But what happens is, you move on. There was the Teddy Boy era, the Mods and Rockers, skinheads, football culture - moves on. You've still got muppets who are trying to get it going again now but it's like inventing the wheel again - it's been done. We've been there and done it, you know what I mean? Somebody will come up with something else but it's a different type of world now.
KUMB: Obviously the organisation is totally different now, what with mobile phones and websites - and any trouble is generally away from the grounds these days?
BG: It still goes on but not to the degree it was. I mean, I've seen 500-a-side - like something out of The Last Samurai, you know! Now, you just get the odd incident at a railway station or a coach park. But it can still be naughty or hurtful for the people involved. Basically - and I don't like to say it - but I think the day of the hard man has long gone. Now a 14-year-old can come and do you with a blade, and the loyalty and the honour are not there any more. In my generation there were unwritten rules, codes of conduct - but there aren't any rules any more.
KUMB: Do you think that extends to football as a whole? Coming back to what we were saying about the crowd at Brighton last week and how that wouldn't have happened back in the day, do you think that's just the way society is going these days?
BG: Situations like the girl who got raped at Regents Park - I've got this in the book. People see things happening now and walk away. They turn their heads and say 'It's not my problem'. But it's everybody's problem. If somebody's screaming and being raped or a kid is getting beaten it's everybody's right to say 'hold on, what are you doing?' - but nobody does. That's what we've got now. A 'not my problem' culture. Whether it's right or wrong, it's beyond me.
The neighbour, who's an absolute pain in the arse with his music up - noisy, banging, slamming, shouting and screaming - if you don't say anything it gets worse and eats away at people until it explodes. Nip it in the bud - bang, knock on the door 'turn your music down' - if he doesn't turn his music down kick his door down and give him a good hiding. Now that might seem harsh, but at the end of the day, in the long run, it's the best solution. Because it just gets worse and worse, you know what I mean?
But football culture is different now, different type of people go to West Ham now.
KUMB: This is another point; back then everyone was local - but my family moved out to Essex, you've moved out to Surrey, we get people coming from places like Milton Keynes ...
BG: I used to live in Green Street but now live about 50 miles away in Surrey. You don't want to bring your family into situations; I want them to grow up with a good education and to be able to go out at night with their clothes on, nice clothes and come back in the same condition.
KUMB: Well thanks for your time Bill, Cass - much appreciated. Good luck with the book - a final word on that?
BG: Like I said it's a book on my life, and a few of the things in there might shock a few people but it'll certainly make you laugh, there's a few funny bits in there. I've always regarded myself as a humorous character.
KUMB: I think we all need a bit of a laugh at West Ham at the moment.
BG: Well you do supporting them don't you, eh? If you don't have a sense of humour supporting West Ham then you've had it!
'Good Afternoon Gentlemen, The Name's Bill Gardner' (Blake Publishing) by Bill Gardner and Cass Pennant is now available on Hardback. You can order a copy here.