By Les Crang @morethanagame66
On the 4th of June, 2017, John Meighan created the Football Lads Alliance (hereby called the FLA) and by the 24th of June over 10,000 marched in London for the organisation. By October, at a second rally, 40,000 came to London. The FLA describe themselves thus:-
In making a safer environment for all our children and grandchildren.
In being inclusive and acceptable to all colours, creeds, faiths and religions
In holding our politicians accountable to bring about a change in anti-terrorist legislation in
Order to safeguard all our communities now and in the future.
Searchlight (2018) has stated that the ‘FLA is only opposed to “Islamic extremists” and not to Islam itself.’ Searchlight (ibid) also underlined this was something similar to what the English Defence League (hereby called the EDL) had said on its inception in 2009.
This short article will take a look at the FLA and the impact of politics within football fandom historically and presently and how the FLA is unique organisation, I would argue. This is part of my research on a longer paper for an academic journal on the FLA and just my initial findings and readings.
Before looking at the FLA, one needs a historical context of football fandom and the idea of identity. One also needs to see the importance of the political affiliation. Even though Meighan has said they have neither left or right wing, the organisations twitter account a retweet from their website can be found Below:-
— LTH🇬🇧london (@LTHlondon) December 3, 2017
Tweets are more often cited from right-wing politicians, Such as Nigel Farage and Donald Trump, whilst disparaging one’s are more often via labour, be it Tony Blair & Diane Abbott. I would point out, again, these are initial findings, therefore citing one or even a few retweet in this text cannot be taken conclusively that the FLA are a right wing organisation.
Firstly, the full name of the FLA is Football Lads Alliance. My first perusal at the organisation made me smile as I felt it was slightly a misogynistic title, in identifying with masculine culture. Thornton (2003) in his book ‘Casuals: The Story of a Terrace Cult’ noted:-
If you were a ‘lad’, you were also one of the ‘boys’, shorthand for a hooligan.
This is not to say that the FLA are a hooligan ‘organisation’, but the use of ‘lads’ in the name, certainly suggests the appeal was to football fans from the hooligan element and is not unusual within the context of British fandom. Searchlight [ibid] suggested that:-
[The] FLA has also succeeded in boosting its numbers by pulling in some ordinary football fans, although the bulk of the marchers were clearly attached to hooligan firms.
I’m quite open to suggesting this statement is a little disingenuous of Searchlight, as no data is given to suggest ‘hooligan firms’ were there at all. It is interesting though the affiliation with hooligans and anti-islamic sentiments are utilised together to suggest an almost uneducated mass.
Hooligans or football fandom have often been seen as people to use as a bastion of right-wing policies on areas such as race. This is not to suggest that football fandom has not been also used by the left in Italy (Doidge, 2015) and England (Riach, 2015) in recent years and football ‘fandom’ is the bastion of the right.
The close affiliation of football with the right is not unusual. For example, in Italy Testa and Armstrong, (2010) have looked at the politicalization of the Ultra’s in Rome, especially with the right-wing politics. Within Britain, much work has been written on the affiliation of football fans with the right, especially with such early work by Robins ‘We hate Humans’ (2011) and more particularly Dunning et.al (1988) research on hooliganism termed ‘the Leicester School’. Although dated (and often questionable in it’s definitions of class structure), both still have something significant to add to organisations. I will also be utilising the extensive work done by Steve Redhead at the Manchester School on football fandom in my future research.
So, who and what are the FLA? Quite simply they are a street protest which ‘The Atlantic’ defines as (Naím, 2014) :-
Often, the grievance quickly expands to include a repudiation of the government, or its head, or more general denunciations of corruption and economic inequality.
Therefore, what is the grievance? Quite simply, Islamic extremism. In looking at ‘Islamic Extremism’ I have been much influenced by Busher’s excellent ethnographic book ‘The making of Anti-muslim protest : Grassroots activism in the English Defence League’ (2015). Although, the FLA have tried to distant themselves from the English Defence League (hereby called the EDL), the appearance of the former leader, Tommy Robinson (Worley, 2017) and other members at the first march has meant that some association has seen to have existed from both organisation.
Like the EDL, the FLA has utilised certain flashpoints to underline what its core policies. The two main ones are as follows, they are against ‘Islamic extremism’ but not racist. For example, an EDL banner said ‘Black and White unite against religious extremism’ (Busher, 2016) whilst the FLA strap line is ‘Unite against Extremism’. Jon Meighan was also quick to underline they were not racist just against Islamic extremism. Both organisations also have similarities in that they came after major terrorist attacks in mainland Britain. For example, Busher (2015)cites the growth of Isis and 07/07 attacks in London, whilst Meighan said he had created the FLA after the attacks in Manchester in may, 2017. This obviously needs further research, but initially it is an area of interest.
These are just opening finding, further research needs to be looked into the impact of the use of social media such as twitter for the growth of the FLA. Dr.Daniel Kilvington (2014) book Sport, Racism and Social Media and other research is presently being very helpful (and who kindly sent said articles to me), as well as James Treadwell et.al (2016) and his work in the area of these political organisations certainly has much to say. It would also be good to speak to the FLA for a set of interviews. But these are just initial findings and are presently being researched more fully.
Les Crang has finished his Msc in Sport Management & the Business of Football at Birkbeck in which he is writing up his dissertation on CS Lebowski, which he has discussed here previously as well as writing previously on the football collective website on #Sky25 – Sky Sports as a Disruptive Technology – And is Sky being disrupted?
Please feel free to contact Les on email: firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter to chat.
*The Football Lads Alliance will be on a march in Birmingham on the 24.03.18. Les will be attending as an observer.
Ball, J. (2018). Post-Truth : How Bullshit Conquered the World. 1st ed. Biteback Publishing.
Busher, J. (2015). The Making of Anti-Muslim Protest: Grassroots Activism in the English Defence League. London: Routledge.
Doidge, M. (2015). Football Italia: Italian Football in an Age of Globalization. 1st ed. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
Farrington, N., Hall, J., Kilvington, D., Price, J. and Saeed, A. (2014). Sport, racism and social media. 1st ed. London: Routledge.
co.uk. (2018). The Football Lads Alliance. [online] Available at: http://www.footballladsalliance.co.uk/ [Accessed 4 Jan. 2018].
Murphy, P., Williams, J. and Dunning, E. (1988). Football on trial. 1st ed. London: Routledge.
Naím, M. (2014). Why Street Protests Don’t Work. [online] The Atlantic. Available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/04/why-street-protests-dont-work/360264/ [Accessed 5 Jan. 2018].
Redhead, S. (2017). Football and accelerated culture. 1st ed. London: Routledge.
Riach, J. (2015). Forza Clapton! The non-league club taking a stance against racism and homophobia. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2015/sep/10/clapton-ultras-anti-fascist-essex-senior-league-football [Accessed 5 Jan. 2018].
Robins, D. (2011). We hate humans. Wrea Green: Milo.
(2018). Football Lads Alliance: the far right march, plus six things you need to know. [online] Available at: http://www.searchlightmagazine.com/2017/10/football-lads-alliance-the-far-right-march-plus-six-things-you-need-to-know/ [Accessed 4 Jan. 2018].
Testa, A. and Armstrong, G. (2010). Football, fascism and fandom. 1st ed. London: A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Pub.
Thornton, P. (2003). Casuals. 1st ed. Lytham: Milo Books.
(2018). LTH🇬🇧london on Twitter. [online] Available at: https://twitter.com/LTHlondon/status/937254859383955456 [Accessed 5 Jan. 2018].
(2017). WATCH: Who Are the Football Lads Alliance?. [online] Available at: https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/j5g7px/watch-who-are-the-football-lads-alliance [Accessed 5 Jan. 2018].
Winlow, S., Hall, S. and Treadwell, J. (2017). The rise of the right. 1st ed. London: Policy Press.
Worley, W. (2017). Inside the Football Lads Alliance march through London. [online] The Independent. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/football-lads-alliance-inside-far-right-march-london-edl-lond