To lead is to foresee, someone once said. This applies to phenomena such as the Football Lads Alliance (FLA), covered in Socialist Review last month. Too many either ignore the FLA or have a complacent attitude to what is a serious matter.
As Weyman Bennett and Brian Richardson noted last month, the FLA has cleverly constructed itself. The FLA march due to take place on 7 October is set to have military service veterans leading it and will again lay wreaths to remember those killed in recent terror outrages.
The FLA is also approaching services charities to work with. Great play is being made by the FLA that its supporters are “not left or right, but centre, anti-extremist”.
It’s good that the FLA leaders have made public statements discouraging fascists from attending their marches, though many will likely still be there on 7 October, as they were on the previous march in central London in June.
However, after the bomb on the London Underground at Parsons Green in September, the FLA’s rhetoric shifted. John Meighan, the FLA’s initiator, said it was time for the left to “winde [sic] its neck in and do one, because enough’s enough”.
Not the far-left; “the left”. Does this include Jeremy Corbyn and supporters, trade unions, anti-war campaigners?
Posts openly condemning and insulting Islam are now more frequent on the FLA secret Facebook page. Some FLA supporters have even mooted “civil war” and called for “Burma-style” assaults on Muslims. The page is heavily administrated, so why do such posts get through?
In contrast, posts on the FLA page condemning the British soldiers arrested last month for allegedly being part of banned Nazi group National Action are very hard to find.
This shift in tone since September has caused some of those initially attracted to the FLA to change their minds.
Several black and minority ethnic football fans have said that they are no longer going to attend the FLA march. Reasons include, “The FLA is in danger of going far-right, out of the control of the FLA” and “the FLA said they made mistakes having far-right speakers in June, but people like Bugle are still FLA members, why so?”
Toni Bugle, who spoke at the June event, is a virulent Islamophobe and former member of the British National Party who has been involved with the English Defence League.
So there will be black faces on the march, but there is clearly already a growing degree of unease among some who were drawn to the FLA.
A proposed wreath-laying by the FLA at Finsbury Park mosque marking the terror attack there in June was cancelled because many FLA supporters didn’t support it. The FLA was aware that unsavoury elements might come to the fore, such as Frank Portinari, a convicted gun-runner who led the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) group in London.
The FLA leadership know there is a hard racist element within, which may yet cause serious problems for them.
Anti-racist fans have leafletted a number of grounds raising questions about the FLA. The response has been overwhelmingly good. Islamophobia is not popular among fans, for good reason. Battles over racism and fascism have been fought and often won on the stands, and many fans aim to keep it that way.
Stand Up to Racism (SUTR) has kept up the pressure by raising concerns about the involvement of far-right and Nazi activists, as well as the racist comments on the FLA’s Facebook page. The charity Walking with the Wounded, which raises money for veterans, decided to pull out of working with the FLA after hearing SUTR’s concerns.
Anti-racists must continue to put pressure on the FLA to denounce and kick out the Nazis who attend their events.
The day after the FLA march in October will see much commentary, but what anti-racists do now, and in the future, matters. Trade unions, anti-racist football bodies and other organisations must unite against attempts to demonise Muslims for the crimes of a few. Already one union branch has passed a motion voicing concern about the FLA. More must follow.
Anti-racist football fans can play a key role here and with attacks on the left from the FLA, working class unity will be vital in resisting any revived racist street movement.