After the phenomenal success of independent publishing house Pennant Books with its stable of football fan culture, sporting legends and true crime titles regularly topping the best seller lists, the indomitable Cass Pennant has reinvented himself once again by forming Urban Edge Films which releases its debut feature length documentary Casuals this month with Pennant himself at the helm as writer and producer.
The film was originally conceived as a 25th anniversary follow-up to co-producer Ian 'Butch' Studdard's seminal Hooligan documentary which first aired on television in 1985 and charted the turbulent period of Pennant's life as a prominent leader of West Ham United's notorious Inter City Firm. The idea of "Hooligan Revisited" was to focus less on the violent rivalry of the terraces but emphasise the street fashion the gangs created that would ultimately unify them and seep out to a wider consciousness across the country as a whole; establishing Casuals as the last working class male street fashion coming from the UK, following in the tradition of Mods, Teddy Boys and Punks.
Pennant is no stranger to movies and has served as a consultant on many of the major motion pictures concerning both football violence and fan culture including the original version of The Firm and Green Street, along with the television series The Real Football Factories. In 2009 his vivid autobiography Cass was successfully transferred to the big screen so this transition to film production was almost inevitable.
It is obvious from the first moments of Casuals that this is going to be the definitive documentary and that Pennant and director Mick Kelly have meticulously interviewed all the leading authorities on the subject from Southern Mods to Northern Soul Boys. One of the enduring questions is exactly where did the Casuals movement have its roots? There is no easy answer but this extraordinary and insightful film strips away the myths and tells the truth about an indelible faction which revived the fashion industry to leave a lasting influence on today's label-crazy youth.
Mindful of the North/South divide both sides are equally represented with the likes of Garry Bushell recalling his days as a music journalist for Sounds magazine, commenting on the Casual band Accent's 15 minutes of fame when they played to the crowds at Chelsea's Stamford Bridge ground and Peter Hooton lead singer of Liverpudlian band The Farm, who also started the fanzine The End in the early 80s which was the first publication to regularly report on the Casual scene and has just been reissued by Sabotage Times in a single book volume; Hooton also voices the film's compelling narration.
With over 50 individual people interviewed the filmmakers had to make some cuts for time but luckily there is over an hour's worth of additional interviews that are included on the DVD as extras. Of the many passionate experts featured, author of the pictorial book A Casual Look and avid collector Nick Sarjeant probably sums it up best "It's not just about what you were wearing, but also how you wore it. Not just your clothes but your hair and even the 'manner in which you walked'. You had to have that 'attitude', saying like 'Here I am'." an attitude that is evident in every frame of this film as it tours the country meeting the key people for whom this was never simply a fad of fashion but a way of life.