Book Review : Running with the Firm by James Bannon

runningwiththefirmPlot Synopsis

‘Of course I’m a f**king hooligan, you pr**k. I am a hooligan…there I’ve said it…I’m a hooligan. And, do you know why? Because that’s my f**king job. – James Bannon’s response when asked by a fellow undercover officer if he was getting too involved in the violence.

Running with the firm tells the true story of police officer James Bannon detailing his two years undercover with the football hooligans that made up the notorious Milwall firm.


Some set ups for stories I find inherently interesting no matter what guise they appear in. Cops going undercover into a dangerous situation where one wrong move could result in their heads being kicked in or worse is one of those stories. Even better though in “Running With The Firm” the story is true.

“Running With The Firm” is a really enjoyable read.  James Bannon gives a warts and all, 3D portrait of himself and his work. Non-football/sports fans may not think this book is for them but I would argue strongly that this isn’t the case.

Football is really just the backdrop of Running With The Firm as the book is much more of a character study of someone under extreme pressure.

I don’t know if it is correct to call the main character in a non-fiction book the protagonist but what the hell. The protagonist in Running With The Firm is genuinely interesting.

Bannon admits that as he gets more and more involved in the life of a hooligan that there are things he enjoys about it. He talks frankly about the surges of adrenaline he gets in the moments before and during the violence. He talks frankly about liking some of the hooligans.

Bannon is open about how at times he pushes the envelope about what an undercover police officer should do. To gain the Firm’s trust he puts himself at the front of acts of violence and he is honest enough to point out the concerns some of his fellow undercovers have about this.

The book is about more than violence though. The most enthralling part of the book is the frayed relationship he enjoys with his girlfriend and the flirtation he has with the barmaid at a Milwall hooligan pub. To add some extra complications said barmaid is the sister of one of the leaders of the firm.

By laying out the temptations that assaulted him and explaining just how he made the decisions he did Bannon is able to give the reader some idea of what it must be like to serve as an undercover police officer.

As a point of comparison I read Donnie Brasko a few years ago and I didn’t come away with such a felling of what it must be like to be an undercover officer. Scared of what you are doing but also addicted to to the thrill of the danger

Political Ramifications

Perhaps the aspect that would make the book most interesting to non-football fans though is the political/moral issues that the book throws up.

Firstly, there is the issue of romantic entanglement with people whilst you are undercover. Bannon just about manages to avoid succumming to temptation. Recent revelations however have shown that undercover officers in far less dangerous positions that Bannon didn’t exercise such discretion. Bannon doesn’t pass judgement on this himself writing that such as choice must be up to the individual officers but does say that in his opinion ‘fraternisation’ should only occur when it presented the only viable way of gaining the target’s trust.

This is an interesting point though. Would it have been right for Bannon to get involved with a woman if he knew that doing so would get him in a position to get lots of intelligence on the Firm’s activities? I really don’t know but that of course is what makes Running With The Firm an interesting read. It is a book of grey rather than black and white. 

Secondly, Bannon is very honest in his criticisms of the police. He talks about travelling to a Milwall away game against Middlesbourgh (I could be wrong about the team) and how the home fans spent the entire afternoon hurling fistfuls of concrete at the Milwall fans. Meanwhile the cops did nothing. To make matters worse the police essentially join in with the home fans by wading into the crowd to beat and arrest Milwall fans for little to no reason. He is also very clear about how just generally incompetent the police forces as an organisation often were and likely are.

In light of the ongoing revelations about Hillsborough and other scandals this is particularly interesting.

The politics of it all brings me to my only reservation with the book. Since Running With The Firm is a personal memoir with a tight POV focus we never really get a sense of the wider politics of the football hooliganism. There is little sense of the larger picture of what was going on.

If, a bit like a Michael Lewis book, “Running With The Firm” had done this wider picture stuff as well as the personal stuff I would have no hesitation in declaring Running With The Firm to be a classic. As it is though it is just a very good book. I’d recommend it.



Review of Sunderland : A Club Transformed by Jonathan Wilson

sunderlandThis isn’t a long book and yet it took me three or four months to finish it (that should kinda tell you everything) and to be honest if I hadn’t been left on a broken down train with nothing else to read on a my kindle I doubt I would have ever bothered.

I picked up the book on the reputation of the author and out of the desire to get some sort of inside view of Roy Keane’s tenure at the Stadium of Light. Keane afterall took Sunderland from the relegation zone to Champions in less then a season. Couple that story with Keane’s notorious personality and there should be the makings of a good book.

I was hoping it would be something along the lines of Daniel Taylor’s “This is the one”. For that book Taylor was clearly covering Manchester United in real time and giving the presses view of the action. It was well written, exciting and had interesting football related insights. In short it was everything one might want in a football related book.

In “Sunderland : A Club Transformed” there is none of that. There are lots of dull match reports you could get online and little insight beyond that of the blog of a casual fan (yes I do see the potential for hypocrisy and/or irony). Instead much of the book is taken up with dull teenageresque prognostications about the role of football in a post-industrial society and “fun” facts about the city of Sunderland.

A real disappointment. Avoid unless you want to know that for much of the last 60 years Sunderland was the biggest city in Europe without a cinema. Spoiler alert at the end of the book it is revealed that in 2004 Sunderland finally got a cinema of its own!

Review of Pay as you Play by Paul Tomkins


From the outset it is fair to say that this is a book for football diehards only and even then it reads like more university essay/blog more than anything else.

As such despite the interest there is in seeing in statistical form that Sam Allardyce achieved his initial success on a shoestring budget and that money has got more and more crucial to achieving things in the Premier League (big shock I know) I didn’t feel there was enough to justify this being a book.

It might have been an enjoyable blog post but it was a slog to read as a book. If you want to read an fun and interesting book about statistics, money and sport try Moneyball.

Tottenham : Appointing Sherwood is a mistake

Appointment of novice suggests Levy has written this season off

Despite the negativity surrounding White Hart Lane over the last couple of weeks it is important to gain some perspective and take a look at the table. Spurs have one more point now than at at this point last season and are still in the fight for Champions League qualification. They are only four points off fourth.

With so much to play for in the league the appointment of Tim Sherwood as Head Coach until the end of the next season should disappoint all Spurs fans. By appointing a novice coach into the managerial hotseat Levy is taking a gamble that history suggests will explode in his face.

Most of the managers that do well in at the top level have significant experience of not just coaching but management at some level even if it is not Premier League. Out of the managers that have been given a chance at Premier League level with little managerial experience history has not been kind.

Paul Ince quickly got the sack at Blackburn. Paolo Di Canio failed spectacularly at Sunderland and with respect these were at clubs that are not as big as Tottenham. Experience in a manager is crucial. Considering that Daniel Levy just sacked a manager who was fast tracked from Porto to Chelsea where he failed and then quickly onto Spurs where he also failed. You would think Levy would have learnt the importance of experience.

Instead by appointing a novice footballing logic suggests that Tottenham can now only expect a period of transition at best as both the new Head Coach and the new signings bed in. This however, doesn’t seem fit with the aim of finishing in the top four that was AVB’s brief. At worse, and much more likely, Spurs will now struggle in the league and fail to challenge for European qualification of any sort.

Sherwood’s lack of experience has also been evident in his tactical selections so far. Against both West Ham and Southampton Sherwood effectively ceded control of the midfield to the opposition. The result of this was exciting games but a Spurs team that never looked in control of the match at any point.

Against better teams these tactical decisions will be exposed quickly. If Southampton managed to earn 57% possession against Tottenham and score twice imagine what Mourinho’s Chelsea or Pelligrini’s Manchester City will do.

By appointing a novice Tottenham have taken a gamble that will likely not pay off.

Five players England shouldn’t take the the World Cup

Ashley Young

A decent call for the worst Premier League player of the season and without a doubt the worse player in the Man Utd Squad. Watch Young play and there is a better than evens chance that he will give the ball away every time he touches it.

England struggle to keep possession at the best of times. Playing Ashley Young at the World Cup would

be like voluntarily handicapping ourselves. Plus there is that whole diving thing.

Michael Dawson

It’s hard to believe Dawson spent so long playing with Ledley King. A centre back who conquered his own lack of pace by being able to read the game becoming something of a master at the last ditch tackle.

I can only presume Dawson wasn’t paying attention because he has managed to combine two major flaws.

Dawson combines being slow with sudden and dramatic loses of concentration. If he was lightening quick then his pace would rescue his lack of awareness. Alternatively, if he was able to concentrate on his positioning for 90 minutes his lack of pace wouldn’t be disastrous.

As it is Dawson combines both. Opposition strikers would queue up to play against him at the World Cup.

Gareth Barry

Barry is enjoying something of a renaissance at Goodison Park this season. So much so that it seems unfair to include him here. In the end he has been. Although this is more because, of the weaknesses that Barry’s presence would compound than because, he is undeserving.

Never the quickest Barry seems to have lost perhaps another half a yard of pace over the last couple of seasons.

In an England central midfield that is already lacking pace Barry’s presence simply makes the engine room of the team to slow. At Everton this isn’t too bad as Martinez has surrounded Barry with younger legs leaving him to play the anchor man role. For England though he would likely be lining up with the post-30 somethings Gerrard and Lampard.

Imagine a midfield three including Barry, Gerrard and Lampard playing together in the humidity and heat of Manaus against Italy. It doesn’t bare considering.

Andy Carroll

In theory the presence of Andy Carroll in the England squad has a logic to it. The argument in late April/ early May will go something like this.

“Carroll’s been in good form in the second half of the season. His 13 goals were pivotal in keeping West Ham up. On his day he is unplayable, look at what he did against (insert a team who Carroll played fantastically against). You wouldn’t necessarily start with him but he offers a different dimension. He gives the team a ‘plan B’ for the last twenty minutes or so when you need to mix things up.”

Despite the rampant use of footballing cliches there is something to this. On paper. Unfortunately the history of watching England in the modern era shows that the gap between theory and reality is like that between a vicious hungry lion and a squashed tangerine.

The moment Andy Carroll, or any tall centre forward, comes onto the pitch all other English players will cease to attempt to pass the ball or get the ball wide. Instead the centre backs will launch a series of long diagonal balls up field aimed at Carroll. The opposing centre backs will quickly cotton on to this tactic and ensure they win every second ball.

Consequently, all the introduction of Carroll will do is offer England a quick and ugly way to lose possession. Even worse as England come under pressure for giving the ball away the long balls up to Carroll will increase in both frequency and inaccuracy. This will naturally increase the pressure even more. Until the inevitable happens and England concede. Bonus points are available for a frustrated Wayne Rooney getting himself sent off.

Joleon Lescott

When filthy rich foreign owners come into a football club there is a window of time where money is spent ridiculously on players who aren’t even conceivably worth the fee. Abramovich had Shaun Wright-Phillips for example. Man City’s owners have Joleon Lescott. The millions they have spent on Lescott in transfer fees and wages is hilarious but not actually funny.

There is a reason why both Mancini and Pellegrini have both seemed less than eager to feature the ex-Evertonian. It is because, at top level, International tournaments and Champions League games, Lescott’s lack of pace and game awareness are painfully exposed. If Lescott gets onto the pitch for England we will really be in trouble.

The loan system is distorting competition

If there is such a thing a karma Chelsea got a big fat dose of it on Saturday.

Drawing 2-2 against Stoke at the Britannia and pressing for the win Chelsea instead found themselves defending against a Stoke counter attack.

Stephen Ireland passed the ball out to Oussama Assaidi who wrong footed Branislav Ivanovic cutting inside and curling the ball into the top corner of the net. Que ecstatic celebrations in the crowd and manadtory booking for Assaidi taking his shirt off.

What makes this karma rather than just another upset in a Premier League season of upsets. Oussama Assaidi is on loan from Liverpool. Without playing Chelsea Brendan Roger’s boys just denied Chelsea at least a point.

This is karma for Chelsea because, they have made something of a speciality in recent years of loaning out unwanted squad players to get them game time.

At the moment Chelsea have got Victor Moses on loan at Liverpool, Romelue Lukaku on loan at Everton, Oriol Romeu on loan at Valencia, Marko Marin on loan at Sevilla, Thibaut Courtois

on loan at Athletico Madrid and a whole host of players on loan at Vitesse Arnhem who are now two points clear at the top of the Dutch Eredivisie. This of course isn’t counting the whole host of youngsters Chelsea have on loan in the Championship.

Chelsea of course are not the only team to loan out players witness Liverpool’s Assaidi scoring against them. They are however, perhaps the most egregious example.

Why does this matter you might ask?

Well these loan signings are having a huge effect on the top European leagues and competitions.

Take for example Everton flying high in the Premier League. This success is fuelled in large part by the loan signings of Gareth Barry from Manchester City, Romelu Lukaku from Chelsea and Gerard Delefeu from Barcelona. These aren’t Everton players they are players from other top division teams being loaned out.

It was one thing when youngsters were being loaned out to clubs in the lower leagues. This had a distorting effect on competition but, these were players looking to get some first team experience. Now however, clubs are loaning out first team players they don’t need or want to teams in the same division so that these players can help take points off rivals. This needs to stop before it gets out of hand.

Top 5 : Free transfers

Championship outfit Queens Park Rangers’ signing of Yossi Benayoun shows that there is good value to found on the free transfer market. For the club on a budget, here’s five players who are still available for free…

Mohamed Sissoko

Aged only 28, Sissoko should be at the peak of his powers. Instead, he is a free agent after leaving Paris Saint-Germain.

This state of affairs is hard to fathom when the Mali international’s club career is looked at. Sissoko has graced the turf for Valencia, Liverpool, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain and Fiorentina, playing 200 league games and winning La Liga, Ligue 1, the FA Cup and the UEFA Cup.

A combative presence in midfield, there aren’t many clubs whose squad Sissoko would not improve.

Valeri Bojinov

Bojinov’s career has never really bounced back from the knee ligament injury he sustained whilst playing for Manchester City in the Manchester derby. Up until that point, he was a decent bet for stardom.

Still, even if he isn’t in the class of one of the game’s greats there should be enough talent to interest someone. Bojinov been capped 42 times for the Bulgarian national side and his career has taken him to Fiorentina, Juventus, City, Parma and Sporting CP. Plus, he’s also only 28.

On a free transfer, you’ve got to think that somebody could make use of a talent like Bojinov.

Gabriel Tamas

Released on a free by West Bromwich Albion, Tamas has the pedigree to improve many defences.

Capped 63 times by Romania and with 68 appearances for the Baggies under his belt, Tamas is no fool and, at 30, he is hardly over the hill. Tamas could do a job for many sides.

Alexander Madlung

Capped twice for the German national side and with almost 250 Bundesliga appearances,
centre-half Madlung stands at an imposing 6’4″.

Released by Wolfsburg at the end of last season, Madlung’s experience could be vital to any number of teams. Considering his strong aerial ability and physical presence, Madlung seems like the perfect fit for any number of teams scrapping for Premier League survival.

Sylvan Ebanks-Blake

Free agent Ebanks-Blake is working on his fitness with his old club Wolves as he seeks to come back from a broken fibula.

Although he didn’t quite cut it in the Premier League, his scoring record in the lower leagues is impressive.

Twice top scorer in the Championship, Ebanks-Blake’s goals were instrumental in Wolves’
title push. Even in last season’s relegation year, he netted 14 times. At Championship level, his 72 goals came in a very respectable 167 games. He certainly knows where the back of the net is.

A proven goalscorer available on a free, you’ve got to think Ebanks-Blake would be worth the gamble for any number of Championship sides.

New Dawn for Wolverhampton Wanderers

Last season Wolves achieved an ignominious first. After getting relegated from the Premier League they followed this up with relegation from the Championship. Becoming the first team to ever drop from the promised land of the Premier League to the third tier of English football in successive seasons.

The malaise at Molineux was summed up by the performance on the final day of the season last year. Still not mathematically relegated Wolves played Brighton’s Gus Poyat away. Needing to win with other results going their way. Survival was a long shot but at least a possibility.

The eleven men that Wolves sent out played one of the laziest 90 minutes of football ever seen. Playing more like a team safe in mid-table and nothing to play for rather than one fighting for survival. Big name signings like Jamie O’Hara won the ever lasting dislike of the Wolves faithful.

Fast Forward six months and the picture looks far rosier. Second to Leyton Orient only on goal difference Wolves are six points clear of third place and on track to bounce immediately back to the Championship.

Unlike many so called bigger teams who have found life tough in the lower divisions Wolves have adapted well finding ways to win the scrappy games and only losing two all season.

Almost more encouraging then the league position is the new look of the squad. Expensive deadwood like Roger Johnson and Razak Boukari have been cleared out on loan allowing exciting young talents like Danny Batth, Zeli Ismail and Matt Doherty to take their chance in the first team and prosper. Adding to this former fringe players like Leigh Griffiths have come back to lead the promotion charge with Griffiths finding the net 11 times in the league.

There is a long way to go in the season yet but there is good reason for Wolves fans to be optimistic that at the very least the worst is over.

Five Best Premier League Players of the season

With a third of the season gone, it’s a good time to see which new Premier League signings have delivered the goods so far this campaign. So, without further ado here’s five signings who have been as out of this world as Thunderbird 5

Loic Remy

Newcastle brought in only one signing in the summer transfer window; Loic Remy on loan from QPR. Fortunately, for Alan Pardew and co, the promise he showed last season in QPR’s relegation campaign has begun to be realised for the Toon.

Acting as the spearhead of the distinctly French Newcastle attack, Remy has netted eight times in ten league appearances. Included in these strikes were match winning contributions against Cardiff, Chelsea, Spurs and Norwich. From these goals alone he has earned his team 12 points.

The biggest problem for Newcastle is that Remy is only on loan for the season. If Remy keeps this sort of form up there will be no ending of suitors looking to meet his reported £12 million release clause fee.

Mathieu Flamini

The last time Arsenal looked capable of launching a title challenge in the 2007/8 season Flamini anchored the midfield. I vividly remember a friend who was an Arsenal man bemoaning Arsene Wenger’s unwillingness to stump up the cash to meet Flamini’s contract demands.

Other signings may have been flashier but there is little doubt that in buying Flamini the Gunners patched up a hole in the squad. The only other defensive midfielders being Mikel Arteta, who has at times been injured, and the inexperienced Emmanuel Frimpong. It is doubtful they would be top if Frimpong had been protecting the back four as opposed to Flamini.

Gareth Barry

If there was a doubt about Roberto Martinez it was that his sides were defensively lacklustre. Wigan won many plaudits with their slick attacking football but ultimately, defensive weaknesses cost them their top-flight status.

By signing Barry on a season long loan, Martinez has given the Toffees some much needed
defensive rigidity. Barry has been exemplary. His goal-line clearance against Chelsea was vital in getting Everton a 1-0 win, and his single goal against Hull City helped lead to a 2-1 victory.

Given Barry’s form, and England’s lack of defensive midfielders, it isn’t fanciful that he could find himself with the England squad in Brazil. Who would have thought this was likely after the disaster against Germany four years ago.

Dejan Lovren

Southampton’s success this year has been built on the joint meanest defense in the league. Conceding only ten league goals in 13 games.

This is quite a turnaround from the Southampton side that leaked 60 goals last season. Key to this turn around has been Dejan Lovren. With his defensive partner Jose Fonte he has constructed perhaps the most formidable defensive partnership in the division.

Alvaro Negredo

With seven goals and three assists from eleven starts and a further four goals from the bench, Alvaro Negredo has made himself an undroppable name on the Manchester City team sheet.

Negredo has performed for City in the big games, setting up two against arch rivals Manchester United, netting a hat-trick against CSKA Moscow, and supplying the winning goal in the 6-0 hammering of Spurs.

Costing a reported £16.4 million Negrodo is undoubtedly the Spanish import of the year. It’s hard to believe he cost £10million less than Tottenham’s Roberto Soldado.

Five most underwhelming signings of the season so far

The Premier League is big business. Hundreds of millions of pounds are spent on players every transfer window. The five players below cost around a combined £91.5 million.

Yet for every success story there is a failure. For every Ozil there is a Veron.

The list below is the five players who have so far failed to live up to their price tag since completing summer switches to England.

Erik Lamela

Replacing Gareth Bale is not an easy task, and to be fair to Lamela he is just one of the raft of players that Spurs spent the Bale money on. Still, last season Lamela scored 15 goals for Roma in Serie A making a reputation for himself as a creative goal scoring winger.

Compare this to his performances for Tottenham and you can almost wonder if it’s the same player. Except for one good game against FC Sheriff in the Europa League, he has drifted anonymously through games playing so poorly that he has only one league start to his name.

Tottenham must have thought they were getting more than this when they paid Roma
nearly £26million.

Ricky Van Wolfswinkel

When Norwich pulled off the signing of Van Wolfswinkel from Porto for around 10 million Euros it seemed like an inspired piece of forward planning.

Norwich had struggled to score goals all season and in Van Wolfswinkel they had signed a player who in two years at Sporting had scored a goal almost every other game. Surely Wolfswinkel would bring some of this form with him to Norwich?

It started well enough with a goal on debut. Since then however Van Wolfswinkel has not only
failed to score but averages a pitful 1.5 shots a game and zero successful dribbles.

Its not just that Wolfswinkel does things poorly its that he doesn’t seem to do much at all. Norwich are not a club that can afford to spend such money for so little return.

Marouane Fellaini

Marouane Fellaini cost Manchester United £27.5 million. He was the first and so far the only major transfer of the David Moyes era.

Expectations for Fellaini were high – he often dominated games for Everton but at United the most memorable thing he has done is get sent off in the Champions League at Real Sociedad.

Indeed Fellaini has been so poor that the defender Phil Jones now seems to be ahead of him in the pecking order.

Iago Aspas

Liverpool should be thankful that Luis Saurez failed to manufacture a move away from Anfield for his understudy Iago Aspas has hardly looked up to the rigours of the Premier League.

Restricted to a handful of appearances Aspas has failed to score, and his only contribution has been a single assist against Stoke.

This sort of return is not good enough for someone who cost almost £8 million, and it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see him slide out of Liverpool in the same manner as Fabio Borini.

Stevan Jovetic

It seems harsh to put Jovetic in this list. He has only made one start and two substitute appearances all year.

I don’t get to see him train, but it’s entirely possible that his training performances deserve this. Plus it can hardly be said Manchester City are struggling to score.

Still anyone who saw him play for Fiorentina knows that he was a player capable of scoring
sublime goals; a real talent. To see City pay £22 million for him and then not play him is just depressing.