How the movie ‘Hooligans’ turned this underrated London club into an ‘international brand’

From our special correspondent in London,

Did Frodo Baggins change the history of West Ham United ? One might wonder, both the American comedian Elijah Wood impressed by starring in the movie hooligans (green street in VO), only two years after completing the trilogy of Lord of the Rings, who elevated him to Hollywood stardom. When the film hit English cinemas on September 9, 2005 (nine months before its arrival in France), David Bellion He has just arrived on loan to West Ham.

“Honestly, when hooligans He left, there was no more talk about it at the club, says the former Manchester United striker. As a movie buff, I saw it and I know how quickly it became a cult thing throughout England, like this art universe. British worn by Guy Ritchie and Vinnie Jones [ex-poète au milieu du “Crazy Gang” de Wimbledon avant de jouer dans Arnaques, crimes et botanique, Snatch…]. There were no more discussions than that in our locker room around this job. »

The poster for this cult movie from 2005, with our Bovver on the far left. -RONALD GRANT/MARY EVANS/SIPA

The ‘longest-rooted in London’ rivalry between West Ham and Millwall

Why did German manager Lexi Alexander set her sights on West Ham supporters? “Because the rivalry between the West Ham hooligans and the Millwall hooligans is the one that has the deepest roots in London, it’s obvious,” he confides Leo Gregory, one of the main roles in the film. A volcanic animosity that former Ivorian international Guy Demel glimpsed during his four seasons at the East London club (from 2011 to 2015): “One day we had the bad idea of ​​going with three teammates to Dubai wearing West Ham tracksuits. The Millwall fans took the same flight as us and believe me, they made us feel the tensions and rivalry between the two clubs.

Shortly after landing at “London’s hottest club” according to him, Guy Demel learned of the untenable 2009 edition of this West Ham-Millwall, which resulted in multiple overflows and an invasion of the pitch, in the middle of the Cup match played at Upton Park. Violent sequences very close to the fiction seen in hooliganswho had just starred in an FA Cup draw between the two historic rivals.

Like his Harvard student character, Elijah Wood discovered the world of hooligans during filming.
Like his Harvard student character, Elijah Wood discovered the world of hooligans during filming. -RONALD GRANT/MARY EVANS/SIPA

Over $4 million at the worldwide box office

“When I walked into the locker room, Mark Noble [544 matchs avec les Hammers depuis dix-sept ans]whom we now call Mr West Ham, asked me if I had seen green streetGuy Demel continues. It echoed Millwall and the episodes of hooliganism between the two camps. These are ubiquitous in the film, both in pubs and around Upton Park. So much so that one wonders how the project ever got to the end, with several sequences shot in the stadium during Hammers games.

“The owners and directors of West Ham knew that an Elijah Wood football movie was being prepared around their club, but it stopped there, specifies Leo Gregory. They didn’t know it would be so violent. For the entire film crew, the surprise was discovering thathooligans it generated over $4 million at the worldwide box office. “We never imagined such global success,” says Leo Gregory. 17 years later, many people still consider green street like a cult movie. Recently, I still received hundreds of messages from fans who live in Indonesia. We made West Ham an international brand, and this without meaning to. »

Leo Gregory, director Lexi Alexander and Elijah Wood at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in August 2005.
Leo Gregory, director Lexi Alexander and Elijah Wood, at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in August 2005. – Sutton-Hibbert / Rex Faith/REX/SIPA

“With this film, West Ham financed my season following Spurs”

The interpreter of the barred role of Bovver knows what he is talking about, since he has always been a fervent follower… of Tottenham. “With this film, West Ham financed my season to follow Spurs,” he smiles. The funniest thing is when the Hammers pounce on me seeing me in their stadium for a derby. They yell “Bovver, Bovver” at me and ask for my autograph. I still sign THFC [Tottenham Hotspur Football Club], they are shocked and I love it. »

This funny, who now collaborates with the clothing brand casual weekend offender, was the link “hooks” of the film at the time. Lexi Alexander had also asked him to live for a month in Los Angeles with Charlie Hunnam (the great Pete in the film) “to immerse him in the world of hooligans and their codes”. But that’s not all, several hooligans attached to the West Ham ICF (renamed GSE in the film) participated in certain sequences of the shoot.

‘Incredible aesthetics and voices’ in Hammers games

And fiction has sometimes been trumped by reality in East London. “We had to interrupt a shoot once a fights with real Millwall hooligans, recalls Leo Gregory. I even gave him a right hand to the head. A fear that David Bellion did not feel during his brief stint with the Hammers, from September to December 2005.

In the 2000s, I knew that there was a branch of supporters who still considered themselves hooligans in West Ham, but like almost everywhere else in England. This is London’s ultra-popular club. The crowd was very close to us at Upton Park, but I was never afraid of the fans there. At West Ham, I mostly remember amazing aesthetics and chants at home. »

Among which the inevitable I’m always blowing bubblesthe club’s pre-match anthem, which any football fan who has ever seen hooligans he yelled outside the pub with his mates after a few too many pints. In the stadium, the intoxicating air is accompanied by huge bubble machines installed on the edge of the field.

“I’m forever blowing bubbles” released in the middle of a wedding

“Seeing all these bubbles fly through the sky always made us feel like we were going to live a festive afternoon in Upton Park,” recalls Guy Demel. It is taken over by the whole stadium, by the manager, and this great fervor inevitably galvanizes you. This festive dimension of the bubbles gives all these people a crazy emotion: it’s as if they are united for life, that they are one man for this club. »

This song even accompanied a wedding in Besançon in August 2020. Fallen under the Hammers’ spell in 1999, a winning night at Intertoto in Metz at the time of Ferdinand, Lampard and Joe Cole, Romain Parreaux (33) “crosses a level in your passion after seeing hooligans to the movies. His skyblog then relays the news of the unknown London club, now without a trophy for 42 years, to the point of organizing two or three trips a season to Upton Park. The creation of West Ham Francea group of about thirty active fans officially recognized by the club, followed him in 2011.

Romain Parreaux and his friends from West Ham France, here during a match at the Olympic Stadium, London.
Romain Parreaux and his friends from West Ham France, here during a match at the Olympic Stadium, London. – West Ham France

“The club has always stayed away from the film”

“Every time I hear this song in the stadium it brings tears to my eyes, although it lost a bit of its charm with the departure to the London Stadium,” says Romain Parreaux. She is a part of my life and she transcends everyone from kids to ultra tough guys with shaved heads. Finally, 17 years later, what link remains between the film and West Ham United, which for this reason moved to the London Olympic Stadium in 2016? Not far from there, on Wednesday night at The Carpenter’s Arms pub, Jermaine, Matt and Joe, three young Hammers fans, laugh, confiding that they saw him “at the age of 5”. All while he savored Karim Benzema’s hat-trick against Chelsea with a beer.

Leo Gregory played a central role, throughout the filming of the film
Leo Gregory played a central role, throughout the filming of the movie “Hooligans”, to ensure the realism of this fiction. – REX/SIPA CHARACTERISTICS

They consider that ” green street It is part of the club’s history. A frustrated story, according to Leo Gregory: “The club has always stayed away from the film. Imagine, it is impossible for him to promote violence in this way. Later, although obviously we are no longer in the 80s, there is always fights and informal rankings of the best hooligan clubs in London. Boys will be boys, you know. ” Not better.

Leave a Comment