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Hooligans and Undercover Cops: James Bannon on Running With The Firm

4 February 2014 Charlie Kenber

"Trying to pretend that you are something that you are not for 2 years at 21 is trust me as daunting as it sounds"

James Bannon’s play – Running With The Firm – about his experiences undercover with Millwall football hooligans in the 1980s debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe last year. We caught up with him in the lead up to its Soho Theatre transfer…

London Calling: What can you tell us about the show?

James Bannon: The show is a one-man play based on my experiences as an undercover police officer infiltrating Millwall football hooligans from 1987 to 1989.

LC: Why did you decide to turn your experiences into a play?

JB: I saw Howard Marks do a stage show of his book Mr Nice and having watched that thought along with my director and collaborator on the show Dermot Keaney that it would be interesting and a challenge to see if we could bring a version of RWTF to the stage.

LC: How did living undercover for two years affected the way you live your life?

JB: It was all encompassing and different things at different times. It was scary, sad, funny, brutal, drunken…very drunken…but above all things and most importantly it was my job.

LC: Why do you think it is that Millwall in particular has such a bad history of and reputation for hooliganism?

JB: They are not alone but they do have a fearsome reputation and with good reason. I think the Luton riot in 1985 cemented their reputation as it was all played out live on television.

LC: How has football hooliganism changed since the late 1980s?

JB: It is not as prolific as it was but it still goes on. It will never go away but with the advent of CCTV and better organisation by the Police, FA and the clubs it is definitely in the grounds at least not as prolific as it was in the mid to late 80's.

LC: Do you have any particular memories from being undercover when you felt threatened?

JB: Lots. Trying to pretend that you are something that you are not for 2 years at 21 is trust me as daunting as it sounds.

LC: Who do you think the show particularly appeals to?

JB: The demographic of the audience has been the most surprising. It appears to appeal to a much wider audience than I had ever expected and I think its success is that it is not what people expect. I am very proud of what Dermot and I have managed to achieve as one-person plays are very hard to pull off and I think we have achieved something pretty special.

LC: What have you got planned for the future? Is there another show in the pipeline?

The show will go back to Edinburgh for the festival where it was first premiered and then on a national tour in the autumn supported by Off The Kerb.

James is performing his one-man show ‘Running with the Firm’ at the Soho Theatre from 10th - 12th February. Tickets from £10, available here.

The book Running with the Firm by James Bannon (Ebury Press) £14.99 hardback is available from all good bookshops.

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