With the rise of far-right street protest groups, like the English Defence League (EDL) and Football Lads Alliance (FLA), the media have latched on to lazy stereotypes of working class football fans being racist, uneducated and obsessed with Tommy Robinson. This is nothing new. Since the days of Thatcher, football fans have been vilified by the press, over-policed and criminalised. Journalists have perpetuated inaccurate portrayals of typical fans being lager louts, who cause destruction wherever they go, smashing up anything in their path.
The narrative regarding football fans in popular discourse has been monopolised by a very small, but very vocal minority on the far right. It’s time that the imbalance was re-dressed. That’s where Football Lads and Lasses against Fascism (FLLAF) come in. A direct response to the growing issue of the far right and fascism creeping back into football, the FLLAF said in their mission statement that:
“Football Lads and Lasses Against Fascism is about building a progressive alternative to the recent far-right revival among football firms in Britain. The page is run by football fans, for football fans. We oppose all forms of racism & discrimination.
It’s time now for those supporters who oppose the revival of the right among football fans to stand up and be counted.
The basic message is: football, anti-fascism & working class unity. It’s the things that we have in common that bind us, at our clubs and in our communities, that’s what differentiates us from the haters and those who seek to divide us.”
For them, football and anti-fascism goes hand in hand. They plan to counter far-right football marches/demos, hand out leaflets and show that there is no place for discrimination or exclusionary behaviour in our football grounds across the country.
To give context about the creeping fascism and racism permeating football, it would be helpful to understand the groups responsible. Initially, the FLA were a response to a score of terror attacks on British soil, and the group marched to ‘show support for the victims’, as well as to show their opposition to extremism. They claim to oppose extremism “of any form” yet they were only really vocal about Islamist extremism, largely ignoring events like the Finsbury park attack on a mosque. It quickly became clear they were happy to cherry-pick the types of extremism they opposed, to further their Islamophobic agenda.
With many former EDL members, and Tommy Robinson endorsing their cause, it was not surprising the FLA quickly became a right wing movement. Witnesses claim to have seen members shouting abuse and throwing missiles at openly left-wing protesters, some of whom were actually marching with the FLA. But they were told by those on the extreme right that they weren’t welcome, had “scum” chanted at them, and some were even assaulted.
Their premise of football fan unity caused some well-meaning fans to join the protests. Therefore, it would be disingenuous to suggest all Football Lads Alliance members are racist or indeed part of the far right. I know of many fans who attended, that are largely apolitical and don’t espouse such extreme beliefs, purely out of a sense of duty to unite and show their support against terror – and because the FLA were the only group of their kind.
However, this is what is most worrying about the far-right. If they have the ability to bring together previously disenfranchised people, provide them with a collective identity they might previously not have had, then there is potential for radicalisation.But Football Lads and Lasses Against Fascism will hopefully counter this, and show such well-meaning fans that actually, there is an alternative. You don’t have to join ranks with extremist groups to be part of something and benefit from working class solidarity. In doing so, the FLLAF will challenge the idea that football fans are a politically homogeneous group.
So far, for a newly formed group, FLLAF have been a total success. In just under a month since being created, they have garnered almost 8000 followers on social media, where they regularly post club badges, which are modified to reflect the working class and anti-fascist ethos of the group. Most British clubs are represented, across the various leagues, and the community has fostered a culture of unity, positivity and inclusion, at a time when many of the most vocal and politically-charged football supporter groups are motivated by fear, hatred and exclusion.
FLLAF continue to grow, and I suspect will gain more traction as the season continues and their presence builds, not just at games, but when they inevitably counter-protest the FLA. It has never been more important for the Left to mobilise and come together to counter the surge in extreme-right rhetoric, not just in football but in society as a whole. The far-right now attempt to position themselves as the true representatives and champions of the working classes. This just isn’t the case.
Recently, in Birmingham, striking care workers took to the streets to protest working conditions. Britain First members, who were protesting nearby caught wind of it, attacked their stall, kicked over fundraising buckets, chanted “scum” at them and physically assaulted members. It’s time for the working classes to remember just who has advocated and stood up for them from day one. It has never been more crucial to show that the far-right, Tommy Robinson, and his band of merry racists, do not represent us all.