During my 3 years across 30 countries with Copa90, I’ve found myself in numerous scenarios where completely bewildered by the situation unfolding in front of me, I’ve looked around and questioned whether what I’m witnessing is reality or the hallucinations of some kind of fever dream.
There was the time I had to calm down a Bosnian Ultra frothing at the mouth because we were filming the 400 man punch up going on around us, the time I stood on top of our rental Fiat in the middle of a sea of sugar canes in rural Salvador, Brazil, trying to locate the nearest sign of civilisation, and of course the time I found myself playing FIFA in the most murderous neighbourhood of Houston, Texas, besides a guy I had never met who rested his M16 machine gun in his lap whilst stroking his 100lb Rottweiler. That was just the first year.
Yet despite all the bizarre, at times frightening, incomprehensible ‘how the f*^k did I get here’ moments I’ve experienced, the moment I always refer to as the craziest, actually happened in one of the most sophisticated areas, of one of the more civilised cities in the world, Bank, London.
It was December 22, and we were spending 48 hours documenting the life of Gordon Hill, aka ‘The Wealdstone Raider’ the internet’s latest viral sensation who had been candidly filmed getting into an argument with a fellow fan.
After multiple attempts at avoiding the limelight, Gordon, realising it would not be dying down anytime soon, decided to turn the unwanted attention into a positive, recording a song related to his ‘got no fans’ catch phrase and dedicating 100% of proceeds to charities related to children who suffered similar disabilities he suffered well into his late teens.
Just like his ‘viral’ video, the song was an instant success climbing up the charts to number 4. This meant our first day spent with him was an 8am start at Talksport’s studio in south London and a 1am finish in Alexandra Palace to the city’s far north. In between consisted of never ending interviews with everyone from BBC Cumbria to Channel 4, a lost Gordon amongst a mob of excited schoolchildren and endless taxis across the city as public transport was no longer an option for the former construction worker, who had now climbed to number 3 on the charts.
But it was around 8pm that day, in the bowels of a lavish restaurant in the city’s financial area that I experienced a moment ‘crazier’ than anything else I had experienced on over 100 different shoots.
Gordon had been offered a small fee to make an appearance at a ‘city boy’ Christmas dinner, most of which Gordon contributed to his charity fund (the rest was his income as his newfound fame meant his usual construction job wasn’t possible).
The deal was pretty straightforward. Come down, have a steak, sing the song and leave. As always in the world of ‘The Wealdstone Raider’ it transpired to be so much more.
As soon as Gordon and I, along with fellow Copa90 presenter David Vujanic walked into the room we knew we were in for something different.
Reminiscent of an extravagant opening scene of a Scorsese masterpiece, curvaceous, barely dressed women danced wildly with over-intoxicated suits, amongst tables of marbled steaks, French champagne and other miscellaneous substances that were no doubt responsible for the outlandish behaviour unfolding around us.
As the guests became more intoxicated they became more comfortable and heavy handed with Gordon, their requests for snapchats intensifying to screaming at him to repeat the lines over and over. Once the dancing moved on top of the dining table, steaks starting being thrown and champagne began spurting over across the room. Amongst the chaos, one banker picked Gordon up and imitated throwing him around the room. By this stage, the restaurant’s security, previously held back by one of the bankers leaning against the door, physically broke through a side door and ordered everyone out of the restaurant.
Police on the way, we hurriedly exited to the street, hopping straight into a taxi to Channel 4 studios where mega band ‘McBusted’ had send Gordon a personal invitation to join them backstage. Whilst Vuj and I were basically holding each other for reassurance that what we had witnessed really did occur, Gordon wasn’t even relatively disturbed.
For him, this had become the norm. He already had to have friends buy him his groceries, and a beer at his local pub with friends had become too difficult amongst the never-ending request for pictures. Yet that wasn’t even the worst of it.
Whilst at a bus stop one morning, the opportunity to ‘knock out’ the Wealdstone Raider was too good of a chance to miss for one bloke who left the 50 year old with bleeding on the brain.
Add to that the never-ending stream of unknown phone calls teasing, provoking and abusing Gordon about all sorts things that go beyond anything that could be considered ‘banter’ and this fun expedition had turned into something very dark.
What I couldn’t get over was that this whole scenario transpired from a video Gordon didn’t know was being filmed and didn’t approve of being uploaded to the Internet.
Despite the 16-hour day and the lack of sleep from those phone calls, Gordon was up at 7am on the bus to support the team away to Bath City, camera in hand, I joined him to capture another eventful day.
As the supporter coach entered Bath’s ground, it felt like we were the Real Madrid squad turning up to the Bernabeau for an El Clasico fixture, as a sea of fans were lined up outside waiting for a glimpse of the ‘Raider’.
Everyone wanted a picture; kids, parents, ambulance, stewards even renowned film director (and Bath City fan) Ken Loach. Gordon being Gordon couldn’t say no to anyone, so as the game kicked off and Gordon no closer to entering the ground, I left left him, to film some of the match.
I wouldn’t find him again until half time.
Gordon had been forced to hide in the bathrooms for a moment of peace and hadn’t even glimpsed a second of the match.
For the first time, I saw Gordon emotionally disturbed. The abuse, the absurd events, the media was one thing but the inability to watch the team he had supported home and away for decades had him holding back tears. I found myself going from cameraman to security guard, begging people to give Gordon space to at least watch the second half.
Gordon Hill, didn’t ask to be an internet sensation, he didn’t ask to be a running joke and he didn’t ask for the abuse, regardless, he accepted those were the cards dealt to him. So with it he used the fame bestowed upon him for good, raising tens of thousands of pounds for the Great Ormond Street hospital.
So to see the scenes that transpired at Whitehawk again on the weekend was deeply upsetting. The Gordon I got to know was the least likely to initiate any kind of trouble, especially after what the last confrontation put him through.
So before you come to any conclusions, or you come across Gordon at any of the National League South grounds he visits supporting his beloved Wealdstone, maybe refrain from the jokes and the provocation and just try to see beyond the ‘Raider’. Because what you’ll find is someone just like you, a dedicated football fan, and more importantly, a human being.
Words by Eli Mengem