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

From our special correspondent in London,

Does Frodo Baggin’s History? West Ham United † You might wonder, so much the American comedian Elijah Wood impressed by playing in the movie hooligansgreen street in VO), just two years after completing the trilogy of lord of the rings, which elevated him to Hollywood stardom. When the film arrived in UK cinemas on September 9, 2005 (nine months before arriving in France), David Bellion has just been let to West Ham.

“Honestly, when? hooligans came out, the club no longer talked about that, assures the former Manchester United striker. As a cinephile I’ve seen it and I know how quickly it became a cult all over England, like this artistic 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 debates than those in our dressing room around this work. †

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

The ‘most entrenched in London’ rivalry between West Ham and Millwall

Why did German director Lexi Alexander target West Ham supporters? “Since the rivalry between the West Ham and Millwall hooligans is the one most rooted in London, it’s obvious,” he said. 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 club in East London (from 2011 to 2015): “One day we had the bad idea of ​​leaving for Dubai with three teammates in tracksuits from West Ham Millwall supporters took the same flight as we did and believe me, they made us feel the tension and rivalry between the two clubs.”

Shortly after landing in “London’s hottest club”, Guy Demel caught wind of the unstoppable 2009 edition of this West Ham Millwall, which resulted in multiple overflows and an invasion of the field in the middle of the cup game played at Upton Park. Violent sequences very close to the fiction seen in hooliganswho had just staged an FA Cup tie between the two historic rivals.

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

Over $4 million at the global box office

“As I walked into the locker room, Mark Noble . noticed [544 matchs avec les Hammers depuis dix-sept ans]who we now call Mr. West Ham, asked me if I had seen… green street, continues Guy Demel. He repeated Millwall and the episodes of hooliganism between the two camps. These are ubiquitous in the film, both in the pubs and around Upton Park. So much so that you wonder how the project could have come to the end, with several sequences shot at the stadium during Hammers matches.

“West Ham’s owners and managers knew that a football movie with Elijah Wood was in preparation around their club, but that’s where it stopped,” said Leo Gregory. They didn’t know he would be so violent. For the entire film crew, the surprise was to discover thathooligans generated over $4 million at the worldwide box office. “We never imagined such a worldwide success,” says Leo Gregory. 17 years later, many people are still considering: green street like a cult movie. Recently I received hundreds of messages from fans who live in Indonesia. We’ve made West Ham an international brand, without wanting 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 Fe/REX/SIPA

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

The performer of the barred role of Bovver knows what he’s talking about, as he’s always been a staunch supporter… Tottenham. “With this film, West Ham financed my season to follow the Spurs,” he laughs. The funniest part is when Hammers jump on me when they see me in their stadium for a derby. They yell “Bovver, Bovver” and ask me for an autograph. I’m still signing THFC [Tottenham Hotspur Football Club], they are shocked and I love it. †

This funny guy, who is now collaborating with the clothing brand ordinary Weekend offender, was the “crochet” band of the film at the time. Lexi Alexander had also asked him to live in Los Angeles for a month with Charlie Hunnam (the brilliant Pete in the film) “to immerse him in the world of hooligans and its codes”. But that’s not all, several hooligans associated with the West Ham ICF (renamed GSE in the film) took part in certain sequences of the shooting.

‘Incredible aesthetics and vocals’ at Hammers games

And in East London, fiction has sometimes been overtaken by reality. “We had to interrupt a shoot once because of… fights with real Millwall hooligans, Leo Gregory recalls. Even I took a right to the head. A fear David Bellion didn’t feel during his brief stint with the Hammers, from September to December 2005.

In the 2000s I knew there was a branch of supporters who still considered themselves hooligans at West Ham, but like almost everywhere 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 especially remember great aesthetics and chants at home. †

Including the inevitable I’m blowing bubbles foreverthe club’s pre-match anthem that every football fan has seen hooligans yelled out of the pub with his mates after a few pints too many. Inside the stadium, the intoxicating air is accompanied by huge bubble machines installed at the edge of the pitch.

“I blow bubbles forever” launched in the middle of a wedding

“Seeing all those bubbles flying away in the air always made us feel like we were going to have a festive afternoon in Upton Park,” recalls Guy Demel. It is taken up by the whole stadium, by the coach, and this great zeal inevitably gets you excited. This festive dimension of the bubbles gives all these people a crazy emotion: it is as if they are linked for life, that they are only one man for this club. †

This song even accompanied a wedding in Besançon in August 2020. Under the spell of the Hammers in 1999, an evening of victory at Intertoto in Metz at the time of Ferdinand, Lampard and Joe Cole, Romain Parreaux (33) “exceeds a level ” in his passion after seeing hooligans In the cinema. His skyblog then relays the news from the obscure London club, now 42 years without a trophy, to the organization of two or three trips per season to Upton Park. The creation of West Ham Francea group of about thirty active supporters, officially recognized by the club, followed in 2011.

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

‘The club has always kept its distance from the film’

“Every time I hear this song in the stadium, I have tears in my eyes, even if it lost a bit of its charm with the departure to the London Stadium,” says Romain Parreaux. She’s part of my life, transcending everyone from kids to ultra-tough guys with shaved heads. Finally, 17 years later, what link is there between the film and West Ham United, which therefore moved to London’s 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 by saying they saw him “at the age of 5”. And all while enjoying the hat-trick Karim Benzema inflicted on Chelsea over a beer.

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

They think that ” green street is part of the history of the club. A thwarted story, according to Leo Gregory: “The club has always kept its distance from the film. Imagine, it is impossible for him to promote violence in this way. After that, even if we’re clearly not in the eighties anymore, there are always fights and informal rankings of London’s top hooligan clubs. Boys will be boys, you know?† “Not better.