The Football Lads Alliance (FLA) has now been with us for a year. If at first there was an ambiguity about their message, a year on the Islamophobia and racism at the heart of the project has been laid bare.
It’s now not just Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) and other anti-racists who are sounding the alarm about the group. The Observer and The Times newspapers ran exposures on the FLA while the Premier League has given clubs a warning about the FLA and its extremist links.
Despite recent splits and the resignation of the FLA’s founder John Meighan, the movement, along with the “Democratic” FLA (DFLA) represents a serious threat.
They have brought thousands of people onto the streets from an array of football firms, in numbers that the English Defence League (EDL) was never able to reach. Even in Birmingham in March where the mobilisation was far smaller than they expected, some 4,000 to 5,000 joined the FLA marches.
The FLA and DFLA have taken up an increasingly Islamophobic and racist agenda and have made links with political organisations that share their ideas.
The FLA emerged in response to the wave of terrorist attacks last year, particularly the assault in Borough Market and London Bridge. Its first outing, in June 2017, saw some 6,000 football lads take to the streets.
FLA founder John Meighan was at pains to express his opposition both to extremism and racism, claiming the movement was just a bunch of ordinary working class people demanding an end to the attacks and for the government “do something”.
But as the FLA has developed, Islamophobia and racism have moved up its agenda. Its now notorious “secret” Facebook page, which has tens of thousands of members, has become a forum for racist and Islamophobic postings.
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, who signed SUTR’s statement expressing concern about the development of the FLA, has been singled out for threats and abuse. One disgusting post argued for Abbott to be deported in order to spend more time with her “primates”.
The page has also seen support for Finsbury Park attacker Darren Osborne and his original plan to attack Jeremy Corbyn.
Meighan and the FLA increasingly expressed sympathy for extremist groups and events such as the Chelsea Head Hunters/National Front march on the East London Mosque last October.
And there has been a definite warming towards ex-English Defence League (EDL) leader Tommy Robinson. Meighan described Robinson as “upstaging” him on the recent FLA national demo in Birmingham.
The FLA’s demonstration in London last October attracted up to 20,000 people. But the threats against anti-racists at a counter-event organised by SUTR and the rain of beer cans thrown in front of the cameras did nothing for the FLA’s reputation.
In the run up to the march, the FLA’s links to far-right figures such as Toni Bugle, and a swathe of racist Facebook postings, was enough to see a major veterans’ charity pull its support from the event. Meighan was forced to admit that the site was full of racist postings and would be “cleaned up” (something that never happened).
Under pressure from anti-racists, facing accusations of financial irregularities and with a poor turn out in Birmingham in March, Meighan has now resigned from the FLA altogether.
In the run up to the Birmingham demonstration the FLA had suffered a split, from which the “Democratic FLA” emerged. In Birmingham, the DFLA looked a more professional outfit. While the FLA marched through the backstreets and were addressed by For Britain’s Anne Marie Waters, the DFLA held Victoria Square in the centre of the city, and were addressed by UKIP leader Gerard Batten. The DFLA look to be developing a close relationship with UKIP, who, facing electoral meltdown, seem to be aligning themselves with the street movement.
The DFLA now plan to join a march called by Tommy Robinson in London on 6 May, and the following month a demonstration in Manchester to mark the anniversary of the Manchester terrorist attack. Meanwhile the FLA, while still under Meighan’s leadership, opted to go to Manchester for the 19 May (Cup Final day).
The FLA looks to have increasing problems, with its social media operation in a mess and ongoing arguments about unity with the DFLA and threats to leading figures.
However, both the FLA and DFLA now have overt political agendas, aligning with Islamophobic and xenophobic political figures and embracing far-right activists such as Robinson.
While the FLA still makes occasional protestations against racism, its stated aim to organise a street army to “do something” while the politicians fail to tackle “radical Islam” is much clearer than in the past.
The focus against Muslims and the left (the DFLA proclaimed that a vote for Labour was a vote for child rape in Telford in the wake of the grooming crisis in that city) has obvious parallels with the English Defence League (EDL). The EDL transformed from what it claimed was a “human rights” organisation and the liberal media’s model of an outfit representing “white working class culture”, to physical attacks on trade unionists and the left.
Socialist Worker, Socialist Review and SUTR have been sounding the alarm about the FLA from day one, not because the organisation believes every football supporter to be an evil right wing extremist, but because of the movement’s very real trajectory.
The relationship between populist and racist street movements and fascist groups has arisen time and again across Europe. It’s clear that at least some at the heart of the FLA want to see the movement achieving the breadth of support and the breakthrough that the EDL failed to do.
SUTR is calling on anti-racists to mobilise and show their opposition on mass to the FLA when it marches in Manchester on 19 May. It is also urging anti-racists to oppose the DFLA’s demonstration in London on 6 May.