Separated by Violence, Reunited by Faith - by Simon Pinchbeck
The story of Renton Baker and Simon Pinchbeck
“When the lord takes pleasure in anyone’s way, he causes their enemies to make peace with them.” (Proverbs 16:7, NIV)
Its 2 May 1982 at Arsenal’s Highbury football stadium. More than 20,000 fans crowd into the North Bank terrace for the Arsenal vs West Ham United game. On one side is Renton Baker, aka ‘Chopper’, an infamous Arsenal football hooligan, on the other Simon Pinchbeck, aka ‘The Walrus’, a renowned Metropolitan Police officer.
The West Ham hooligans, known throughout the UK as the ICF, or Inter City Firm, had surrounded the Arsenal boys, known as The Herd. They had let off a huge red smoke bomb, and vicious fighting ensued across the terraces of the North Bank. The game was stopped as the crowd spilled onto the pitch. In the middle of the smoke, Renton was fighting against the ICF thugs, and Simon was fighting hard to separate both sets of fans, and bring order so that the game could take place. Outside the ground, a young Arsenal fan lost his life after he was stabbed to death.
Renton and Simon were sworn enemies – Renton and his hardcore hooligan mates trying to outfox the police, and causing havoc at every Arsenal home game, and Simon and the Metropolitan Police attempting to catch them in the act. There were no CCTV or camera phones in those days, so the battles often took place inside the grounds, with the police stuck in the middle.
Out of control
As the years passed, violence was still a way of life for Renton, who had built up a vicious reputation in his hometown of Luton. Twice he had planned to take someone’s life, the second time stepping over his injured son, who was lying on the floor bleeding, so that he could take revenge on the guy that had assaulted him. Renton was married, with three boys. This was his way of protecting his family because it was all about him and his reputation. He was an incredibly selfish man.
As for Simon, he was still serving in the police; he too was married, with two boys, but also very selfish. In fact, so selfish that he left his wife and children at a time when his wife’s mother was terminally ill with cancer.
One time, Simon had a fight in a nightclub with an off-duty police officer, knocking his teeth out, and ended up on a serious assault charge. Some 18 months later he received a not guilty verdict at Woolwich Crown Court; his violent actions were attributed to the PTSD he suffered at the football match mentioned above. He then left the police and embarked on a career of a very different kind – as a criminal.
Meanwhile, Renton Baker’s violence was in danger of spiralling out of control. He was having to become increasingly more vicious just to keep up his reputation. He would fill a lemon squeezy bottle with ammonia and spray it in people’s faces before attacking them.
It was at this time that his wife became a Christian. Her grandfather was a great man of faith, and at his funeral, Renton was challenged by the minister to accept Jesus. He felt like a finger was pointing right at him. He rejected this offer very rudely, but a few days later went to see this guy, confessing all he had done, and accepted Jesus into his life.
On a roll…?
Renton’s old enemy, Simon, had left the police, and had started training with a group of villains in a local gym. He had been searching all his life to feel complete, and he thought that money and material things were the way. He started out doing some low-level debt collecting, then he and his new colleagues would smash into places and take lumps of cash. He could now buy big SUV cars, have expensive holidays and designer clothes, but he found out that this did not satisfy him. He wanted more and more money. In the end, his greed saw him ripped off for a large amount of cash he had put into a ‘get rich quick’ scheme initiated by his new mates. He went over to Spain to get it back, but it had gone. He couldn’t argue with these guys, as they would come after him and his loved ones. So he was left feeling that he was caught between the police, who were following him, and the villains who did not trust him. In fact, Simon believed he was going to end up in a shallow grave or doing a very heavy prison sentence.
Renton, however, was on a roll with his new Christian faith, leading Christianity Explored courses. He also went to Tanzania building houses, and would tell everyone on the building sites where he worked about Jesus. Then one night, one of his boys was in serious trouble in a local pub with a guy that owed him money. Renton rushed to help, but as he did so the old Renton returned. Entering the pub armed with a large kitchen knife, he set eyes on his intended victim, who was being escorted by two men dressed in black. Renton attacked the guy in the middle, only to find out that the other two were plain clothes police officers. He was arrested and charged with the attempted murder of a police officer.
Simon was, by now, an angry man, plotting and planning how he was going totake revenge on the people who had taken his money. But God was about to throw him a lifeline.
As he stormed out of a gym one Saturday afternoon, he saw a guy on a running machine; this man had been very violent, a feared man in his day, but he had turned his life around through his faith in Jesus Christ. There was a peace in this man, and Simon realised that he needed to know more about that.
They went for a few breakfasts, and Simon discovered that this guy was also an Arsenal football thug in the 1980s – and he remembered Simon as The Walrus.This man took Simon to his church, Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB), where Simon said a prayer with vicar Nicky Gumbel, and accepted Jesus as his Lord and Saviour.
Simon’s faith was greatly helped by the Alpha course at HTB. He got back with his wife, and learned about forgiveness and a relationship with God through Jesus. Simon then joined a group of guys called Tough Talk; men who lifted weights and told people their life stories.
Renton was bailed to appear at court to answer the attempted murder charge. He was looking at three to five years in prison. Then, while on bail, he was invited to a men’s curry night at a local church, where he met one of his Arsenal mates, who in turn invited him to a Christian men’s breakfast where Tough Talk were speaking. There, his Arsenal tattoo became a talking point with Simon. Hearing Simon’s testimony, Renton realised he was The Walrus, and there was an immediate bond between the two former enemies through their shared faith.
Renton received a two-year prison sentence, suspended for two years, and people started to ask Simon and Renton to share their amazing stories, so they started to go into prisons.
Two visits stand out for Simon and Renton. One was at Lincoln Prison, where guys refused to take their tea break to hear what God had done between these two, with many making a decision for Jesus. Then, at Rye Hill Prison, three young Muslim men from the East End sat, arms Folded, as the guys started to speak. But at the end they could not believe the change in Simon and Renton, asking many questions on faith, one saying, “I am going to shake this copper’s hand – something I thought I would never do in my life.”
Working at an event with Christian Vision for Men in Plymouth, there were more than 20 responses to the call to accept Jesus, and a local church leader said, “That was the best outreach that I have been to in nearly 30 years of being a minister.”
At Luton Christian Fellowship, an ex-Arsenal hooligan came, expecting to see them make fools of themselves. He left in tears, giving his life to the Lord.
Life can still be a struggle for these two very changed men; they both still have pride and anger issues, and struggle with stuff around their families – but now they don’t struggle alone; they have each other to do life with. Most of all, they have Jesus.