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Former Millwall Undercover Football Hooligan Opens Up About Most 'Frightening' Moment Of Operation

Jack Kenmare

| Last updated 

Former Millwall Undercover Football Hooligan Opens Up About Most 'Frightening' Moment Of Operation

Featured Image Credit: UNILAD/Alamy

A former police officer has told a number of stories about his mission to infiltrate Millwall football hooligans while undercover in the late 80's, including his most frightening ordeal at an Arsenal game.


James Bannon, 52, grew up in South London, left the police cadets at 16 and joined the regular force when he was just 18-years-old.

After working alongside a 'plain clothes' Sergeant, who saw something in Bannon from the start, he himself started to work in plain clothes from early on.

Within 18 months, he was working for the crime squad.

"I think I was probably the youngest officer that had done that, certainly at that time," he said.

"You have to be really good at lying, and to convince people that you're something that you're not. You also have to have a massive ego, in order to put yourself in an environment where you think you can survive.

"You've also got to be pretty confident and quite bright, so you can think on your feet quite quickly in order to get yourself in, or out, of situations."

Image credit: Alamy
Image credit: Alamy

One of the biggest jobs given to James throughout his time in service was to infiltrate Millwall football hooligans between 1987 and 1989.

"At the time, the police's aim was to try and rid of that hooligan culture and get in with the people that were organising and creating the issues and the problems and the fights that would evolve," Barron says.

"There are certain clubs that attract a hooligan element. So Millwall, Leeds, West Ham, Chelsea were clubs that had a bigger attraction to football hooligans and Millwall was just one of the top clubs. And it was a reputation that they deserved. They were a force to be reckoned with."

Bannon did everything in his power to fit in with other hooligans. He researched as much information about Millwall as he possibly could in a short space of time.

"You've got to remember. I was suddenly appearing from nowhere," he says. "They're quite a tight knit group of people and suddenly this new face or these two new faces appear.

"You need to try and put yourself in the best position that you can in order to to progress yourself further up the ranks."

Image credit: Alamy
Image credit: Alamy

After being given a business card with another alias, he made his way to a local pub in a bid to make himself known.

"We weren't given a great deal of help when we first started," Bannon says. "And my legend, when I initially started, was a business card.

"I was Jim Ford. I worked for Spectrum Decorating and I had an address which was an accommodation address in Croydon. That was it. That was my legend. I made out that I was from Wandsworth and that I was a painter and decorator.

"But we learned very, very very quickly that we needed a little bit more. So we started to go into a Millwall pub. We used to go in at lunchtimes, and then because no one went in there, you would befriend the bar staff.

"We went in for three months solid, pretty much every lunch, every lunchtime. So we became regular fixtures.

"When we then turned up at football in September, you would walk in and the pub would go quiet and everyone would look at everybody as they came in 'cause it was that sort of pub.

"We walked in, everyone looked at us and obviously the barmaids who were behind the bar recognised us and called us out. And as a result of that, everyone accepted us because obviously the bar staff had accepted us."

Image credit: Alamy
Image credit: Alamy

Bannon would soon attend games after gaining their trust.

A number of games stand out, but he names a clash against Arsenal in the fourth round of the FA Cup as "the most frightening" fixture of the operation.

"At that stage, we were quite 'well in' with some of the hooligans and me and the Sergeant ended up sitting in the North Bank, which was the away end of Arsenal," he says.

"We went in and were right in the middle of it... so if you can imagine it, we were standing there. There was 15 of us. We were surrounded by 8,000 Arsenal fans, and I'm standing there thinking, 'This is not good.'

"One of the guys picked up on it. They were a lot older than me and said, 'Look, don't worry. Everything's gonna be fine.' He opened his jacket and showed me. He had a six-inch stiletto knife.

"So I'm now thinking, 'This is gonna get really problematic here.' And I'm standing there, singing along, thinking, 'No one likes us,' but actually within me, I'm thinking, 'I'm gonna f**king die here.' They realised who we were very, very quickly.

"So the crowd moved out and one of the Arsenal guys came running towards me because I was the youngest and probably the smallest. Then, one of the other guys just stepped out and hit him straight on the nose."

Image credit: Alamy
Image credit: Alamy

Bannon added: "The guy did a complete 360 and crashed onto the concrete terraces. It went completely quiet and everyone, including us and all of the Arsenal supporters, just went, "Ooh!" And then these two little guys just appeared from nowhere and the crowd sort of opened up.

"They then grabbed this guy by the legs and pulled him back in. He just sort of disappeared back in and the crowd closed and then it all kicked off. And one thing you learned very, very quickly in that environment is that you don't go down, you stand up. 'Cause the minute you go down, you're in all sorts of trouble.

"And so I was just kicking and punching and ended up out on the pitch and got arrested. But the guy made a bit of a mistake - instead of leading me to the tunnel where they take you down, he led me this way which took me towards 10,000 Millwall fans.

"As we were leaving, I could tell by the way he was holding me that he was starting to get quite nervous and he'd started and he now couldn't stop. So we started to walk towards the 10,000 Millwall fans and I saw my chance and he wasn't holding onto me tight.

"As we got closer to the crowd, I managed to break free. We threw a couple of coppers and then dived in the crowd. And from then on, I was well and truly accepted. I was absolutely s**tting myself but the adrenaline is absolutely huge.

"I was absolutely petrified but at the same time, it's unbelievably exhilarating and you're trying to get yourself in a position to safety. And when you do and you survive, it's quite euphoric. You just have to get used to it."

Image credit: Alamy
Image credit: Alamy

Bannon also remembers the worst situation of the operation – an incident on a train.

"It was early on into the operation. We were travelling to London with a target that we'd just got to know," he explains.

"There was a guy sitting on the train opposite with his wife and his two kids. And he had a Crystal Palace lapel badge, just a little badge on his jacket. The guy saw it, he leaned across and he punched the bloke squarely in the face and then hit him three more times in front of his wife and his two kids, who must have been aged four and six.

"I stood up on the seats and started singing 'no one likes us' in order to try and detract attention. And it worked 'cause he stopped.

"The look from the two little girls who were now crying and the wife and him, but particularly from the two girls who were looking at me, standing up singing 'no one likes us', I'll never forget. Everything within me and the Sergeant just wanted to arrest him. But I couldn't.

"So we had to endure the rest of that train journey with this guy, bleeding from the nose, being comforted by his wife, and his two kids crying until we got off at London Bridge, hoping that he would report it and that at a later date, the guy could be arrested and he could be held accountable for his actions, but he never reported it."

You can watch the full video of James Bannon's story on LADbible TV's YouTube channel HERE. It's well worth a watch.

Topics: Football, Millwall, EFL Championship

Jack Kenmare
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