A former West Ham hooligan has told how he first started fighting at football matches aged 12 and his tactics when facing the toughest rivals he came up against – arch rivals Millwall.

Bill Gardner, 67, said that after a tough upbringing he found his real family when supporting West Ham where other fans would look after each other.

During the 1970s and 80s when football hooliganism was rife in English football and fighting was rife between fans, Gardner's hard knuckle way of life gained him a notorious reputation.

He became so famous, in fact, that he was portrayed in the iconic football hooligan film The Rise of the Foot Soldier.

Bill told the Anything Goes with James English podcast that Millwall were the toughest hooligans he faced and how he would always go for the “lippy one” in a fight.

“I think Millwall [were the toughest], when I think of some of those games we played,” he said.

“More than 300 on each side, you know what I mean, when we went over there they used to all turn out and I’ve got nothing but respect for them, I think they are all alright.”

He continued: “It’s just a free for all really, like they say in the film Zulu ‘mark your target’ when they come, you know what I mean. You know the one you are going to have.

“I used to always go for the one at the front who was the mouthy one. I used to go for that one because I believed that you cut the tree at the bottom, the tree will fall.”

Bill told how he got involved in football hooliganism before he was even a teenager, having always had a violent life.

He claimed he was abused by his mother and that the last straw was when when she came at him and his father with a bread knife, and he knew that it was time to leave home.

Bill said he lived in a graveyard and began fighting in pits for money and got involved in football violence when he was about 12.

"It was pretty frightening,” he said. "I wasn’t new to it but it was different the atmosphere, there wasn’t one person in front of me there were lots.

"So I watched the people near me and what they were doing and just have a go. I was just a little boy at 12 years old but I was quite big, at 12 I probably looked 16 or 17, when I was 14 I looked 20.”

He admitted that he enjoyed scrapping with other fans and it was part of his life at the time.

"I enjoyed the fighting, I enjoyed competition,” he said.

"It was something that had to be done. It wasn’t a case of taking a backward step. If there were loads of them in front of us bouncing up and down then they didn’t bounce around too much, you know what I mean.

"Life was like that for a lot of us, for every team. I’m good mates with a Chelsea fan and he said the same thing it was our generation, every generation has something doesn’t it I think this current generation are all wired up on their iPads and their phones and then getting out their knives and sharpening them from what I can make out.”

But he realised after he was arrested in 1987 by police trying to crack down on hooliganism that he needed to stop.

"I thought if you carry on like this you are either going to end up dead or mad so I decided mad was the better option," he said.

"Once the adrenalin goes, anyone will tell you who’s involved in any fighting or sport, the adrenalin is what keeps you going and it doesn’t matter if you are hurt, you don’t feel hurt at the time because the adrenalin keeps you going.

“There is no one you will get here saying that they gave me a good hiding. I didn’t and I was always fair with people, if I beat them then that was it … I was strong, I was fit, I was fast and I had a punch like a hammer … but those days are gone."

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