Chim chiminey chim chiminey chim chim cher-oo, the Lord of the Rings star loves claret and blue.
Yes, it’s a full-on mockney alert as Frodo Baggins talks about his precious – West Ham
What would Bilbo Baggins think?
The hobbits, they tell us, are humble, peace-loving creatures who inhabit the Shire in Middle Earth. So why on earth would his nephew Frodo be standing surrounded by hate-filled West Ham fans in the visiting supporters’ end at Millwall’s New Den?
The answer lies in a yet-to-be-released film called, aptly enough, The Yank, starring Frodo alter’s ego, US actor Elijah Wood as an expelled Harvard student who finds himself flung headlong into the midst of West Ham’s notorious hooligan crew. But little did Wood realise when he read the script, that life would soon be imitating art.
“Matt, who is my character in the film, comes to London and having met a bunch of West Ham supporters, he becomes a fan,” explains the 23-year-old Wood, whose portrayal of Frodo in the Lord of the Rings trilogy made him a worldwide star. “So in preparation for filming I decided to go to a game to get a feel for the real experience.”
It’s amazing what a 4-2 victory over Crewe Alexandra can do to a hobbit, but having grown up on a less than atmospheric diet of American sport through his cable TV, the 30,000 fans inside Upton Park electrified Wood. “I was in the Bobby Moore Stand, with the real fans, and that atmosphere had the most profound effect on me,” he says. “The passion and kinetic energy I felt was staggering, truly amazing. I know Crewe wasn’t the best of games to go to in terms of importance but we kicked their ass all the same.”
The football bug had well and truly bitten. “Usually when I have a break during filming I head back home to cut myself off from my work for a while,” Wood explains. “But West Ham stole my heart. I was hooked, I couldn’t wait for the next match.”
And he became something of a lucky hobbit, seeing the Hammers beat Watford and Gillingham as their play-off push gathered pace. But home games against against middling Division One teams weren’t enough for a man who had taken on – and beaten – the Dark Lord Sauron. The newly confessed football addict craved a more intense atmosphere. He could have called on Rings co-stars Dominic Monaghan and Sean Bean for tickets to Old Trafford or Bramall Lane respectively, but Wood wanted more of a Cockney knees-up. What he got, though, was a near-riot, Bermondsey style.
“I dearly wanted to go to the Millwall away game because I’d heard so much about the rivalry and there was a lot of anticipation,” he recalls. “To be honest, I wasn’t even aware of the hooligan element in football until I read the script to the film but when I got to the ground I soon realised that this was for real – you could almost taste the hatred between the fans.”
“The original plan was to go along with the rest of the West Ham fans but when I was informed of the dangers, I decided to catch the minibus.”
When he got there, he found out why. “It was amazing to see over 1,000 police at one single game. But some of our fans took the result [a 4-1 mauling] real bad, and when I saw one of them trying to jump the fence to get at the Millwall supporters, I quickly began to understand why they were there. I wasn’t involved but [attempts Cockney patois] I still shit meself when I fawt it would kick off. We was pony!”
He may be a Johnny-come-lately, but at least Wood has rejected the prawn sandwich brigade. “I’ve seen those guys in the VIP suites with their suits on and sipping champagne, but that’s not for me,” he says. “Being in the crowd you get the real deal, all the chanting, all the swearing! And when I’m not watching West Ham, I’ll go and catch a game in the pub when I’m in town. Told you, it’s gripped me!”
But with West Ham losing to Crystal Palace in the play-off final and resigned to losing more of their best players next season, is he not tempted to indulge in a little glory-hunting? After all, the more cosmopolitan charms of Arsenal and Chelsea are only just around the corner – surely that’s more the place to be seen for a Hollywood superstar. “No way,” he insists. “I was aware of these teams and Manchester United before I came to West Ham, but you can’t change, can you? Once you’ve made your choice, that’s it. I didn’t get into football for the glory, it was for the togetherness, the unity. And the West Ham fans really have that.”
And with that he’s off to complete one of the final scenes of the film. “I’m going to be street fighting,” he explains. “We have a co-ordinator in the film who’s taught me the basics. I haven’t been hurt, which is good, and some of the moves will serve me well in life, I think.” Or down at Millwall, perhaps, should the mood take him one more time.