Football Lads Alliance
| Inventing "The Other"|
|Fear And Loathing|
The Football Lads Alliance (FLA) and its offshoot the Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA) are far-right, anti-Islamic groups in the UK, with links to football hooliganism and other British far-right groups including the English Defence League and personalities such as Tommy Robinson. Since the FLA was created around June 2017, both it and later the DFLA have staged rallies and marches around the UK, with various speakers associated with the far-right, alt-right and anti-Islamic groups.
Initially they followed tactics similar to those used by the the earlier far-right, anti-immigrant English Defence League at its inception: attaching themselves to legitimate causes such as victims of terrorism, military veterans, and free speech. However, gradually their true character was revealed as racists associated with the far-right. They have been condemned by anti-racist organisations such as Stand Up To Racism, Hope not Hate, and Searchlight, and repudiated by the legitimate organisations they supported.
Football Lads Alliance
The Football Lads Alliance is the older organisation. It has its roots in football hooligan gangs (known as firms) — "football lads" is what members of firms call themselves. It was set up in June 2017 in the aftermath of the 2017 Westminster attack, Manchester Arena bombing, 2017 London Bridge attack, three attacks by Islamist terrorists in the UK. It was founded by former hooligan John Meighan who was the leader until early 2018. He resigned after a row with the British Legion over inappropriate use of the Legion's poppy logo. It promotes itself through private Facebook groups, and also sought to recruit from genuine football fans. It initially claimed to be not racist, not extremist, and not far-right, and originally prohibited all signs and banners from its marches. However, it increasingly moved to the far-right, with extremist speakers and racist rhetoric. Its members have called for London mayor Sadiq Khan to be hanged and threatened and ridiculed black female MP Diane Abbott.
Organisations such as Searchlight and Dream Deferred have chronicled its members' links to organisations such as the English Defence League and individuals such as former EDL leader Tommy Robinson. The FLA's marches initially attracted a mixture of far-right supporters and football fans who were not racist and were genuinely concerned about terrorism and extremism. The Premier League, England's top association football league, issued a warning to clubs in March 2018 about the dangers of the FLA recruiting at grounds.
The FLA held demos in London on 24 June 2017 and 7 October 2017. The first event attracted around 5000 people, and speakers included Toni Bugle, an anti-Islam campaigner, and Mohan Singh, an associate of Tommy Robinson. On 7 October, marchers threw beer cans and allegedly coins at anti-racists staging a silent counter-protest. Tommy Robinson was in attendance.
In late 2017 they tentatively branched out into Scotland. On 25 November, they marched in Edinburgh alongside Veterans against Terrorism: there were about 70 from VAT and 50 FLA supporters. Speakers included Toni Bugle, formerly of the English Democrats. It was opposed by Stand Up To Racism and representatives from the Labour Party and SNP.
By May 2018, the FLA seemed a spent force, with a march in Manchester proving a flop. However a new force was copying its tactics and stealing its supporters.
Democratic Football Lads Alliance
The DFLA arose out of the FLA following tensions within the movement over strategy and how overtly racist to be, with the FLA's no-banners strategy proving controversial. On 24 March 2018 the FLA and DFLA each held marches in Birmingham, England, both claiming to be opposed to extremism. Around 2000 people attended the DFLA march and rally, which was addressed by representative from Justice4the21, which campaigns for justice for victims of the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings, as well as Gerard Batten of UKIP and the more libertarian UKIP MEP Bill Etheridge. The FLA march attracted 3000 people, including Tommy Robinson, with speakers including Anne Marie Waters. The Times reported "threatening behaviour towards Asian bystanders and … speeches attacking Muslims in Britain". Stand Up To Racism staged a counter-protest.
The DFLA held a march in London on 6 May 2018. Anti-racism organisation Stand Up To Racism described it as a "'Day of Freedom' for racists and islamophobes in London". The other marchers included members of the White Pendragons, Generation Identity, English Defence League, football hooligan group Chelsea Headhunters (who are linked to neo-Nazis Combat 18), and others. In contrast to the earlier FLA marches, many carried flags with alt-right and far-right symbols.
On 6 May, they joined a rally organised by far-right personality Tommy Robinson allegedly in support of "free speech". Speakers included Raheem Kassam (editor-in-chief at Breitbart's London office, and a former aide to Nigel Farage with links to Donald Trump), alt-right superstar Milo Yiannopoulos, UKIP leader Gerard Batten, islamophobe Anne Marie Waters, Gavin McInnes (of Proud Boys, a right-wing group who were involved in the Charlottesville protests), comedian Liam Tuffs, Count Dankula (real name Mark Meechan, a YouTube personality convicted of hate crimes for antisemitic YouTube videos), Richard Inman of Veterans Against Terrorism, and via video-link Lauren Southern (a Canadian white nationalist who is banned from the UK for promoting racial hatred). Australian anti-immigration politician Pauline Hanson also sent a goodwill message.
They have links with West Ham football club, based in east London, which has faced calls to condemn the group. Mark Phillips, under-18s coach, went on a DFLA march in October 2018. Greg Smith, who sits on the club's Official Supporters' Board since late 2018, is a supporter of the DFLA.
Supporters and allies
One of the notable tactics of FLA and to a lesser extent DFLA have been their attempts to ally themselves with legitimate-seeming causes and campaign groups ostensibly existing to oppose terrorism, including Veterans Against Terrorism (VAT) and Justice4the21. VAT were involved in the 24 March 2018 rally, and have admitted their close links to the FLA, making many question their legitimacy. Other more reputable veterans' organisations like the British Legion have distanced themselves. Justice4the21 were involved in the March 2018 Birmingham protests.
Hope not Hate reported in March 2018 that UKIP had been holding meetings with the FLA and DFLA, and with Veterans Against Terrorism, a group associated with the FLA, with the intention of recruiting them to UKIP. Justin Smith of the DFLA claimed they was helping UKIP with strategies and promotion.
While it has been condemned by anti-racism campaigners, the FLA has found support in various sectors of the right. One example is Brendan O'Neill who wrote in The Spectator claiming it was a "working class" organisation standing up for the "voiceless". It's unclear whether this represents O'Neill's naivete or the magazine's desire to position itself as the British home of the alt-right.
The FLA have also been accused of supporting Islamophobic terrorist Darren Osborne who killed a Muslim man, Makram Ali, in a van attack outside a London mosque.
- Football Lads Alliance: the far right march, plus six things you need to know, Tash Shifrin, Martin Smith and James, Searchlight Magazine, 11 Oct 2017, first published on Dream Deferred, 8 oct 2017
- Analysis: Tommy Robinson’s ‘Day for Freedom’ – a new turning point for fascism and the far right, Martin Smith and Tash Shifrin, Spotlight Magazine, 13 May 2018, first published on Dream Deferred on 10 May 2018
- Secret Facebook page reveals violence at heart of forum for ‘football fans’, The Guardian, 17 Mar 2018
- Football Lads Alliance: ‘We could have a civil war in this country’, BBC, 9 May 2018
- Are the Football Lads Alliance Another Far-Right Street Movement?, James Poulter & Simon Childs, Vice, 23 Mar 2018
- See the Wikipedia article on Football Lads Alliance.
- Football Lads Alliance scores a flop in Scotland – Sat 25 Nov, Edinburgh, Stand Up To Racism, 29 Nov 2017
- Bristol City FC stands up to racism, Stand Up To Racism, 11 Dec 2017
- UKIP forms alliance with hooligan-led street movements, Hope Not Hate
- Veterans Against Terrorism march in Newcastle: Charities distance themselves as organiser speaks, Laura Hill, ChronicleLive, 16 Feb 2018
- Football Lads Alliance: Inside the central London march of far-right linked group, Will Worley, The Independent, 7 October 2017
- Premier League clubs warned over ‘far-right’ Football Lads Alliance, The Times, 30 Mar 2018
- Eyewitness report from first FLA demo: Football Lads Alliance puts thousands on the streets, Martin Smith and Tash Shifrin, Dream Deferred, 24 June 2017
- Quick notes: FLA in Manchester, DFLA in Woolwich, Dream Deferred, 23 May 2018
- Birmingham Football Lads Alliance demo: Thousands march in city, BBC, 24 Mar 2018
- Rival demos by far right FLA factions in Birmingham, Dream Deferred, 24 March 2018
- 6 May oppose Tommy Robinson & the "democratic" football lads alliance, London, Stand Up To Racism, 16 Apr 2018
- YouTuber Count Dankula Convicted of Hate Crime for Video of Pug Making a 'Nazi Salute' by Jennings Brown (3/21/18 10:35am) Gizmodo.
- West Ham face calls to condemn Democratic Football Lads Alliance, The Guardian, 26 March 2019
- Hundreds armed with flags march through Newcastle for Veterans Against terrorism protest, Chronicle Live, 17 Feb 2018
- The Football Lads Alliance is a working-class movement – and the political class wants to ignore it, Brendan O'Neill, The Spectator, 9 Oct 2017