In October 2017, up to 30,000 people demonstrated on the streets of London in response to the terror attacks in Manchester and at London Bridge earlier that year. The second demonstration of its kind in the capital, it was organised by the Football Lads Alliance (FLA). Its third demonstration took place in Birmingham last month. Self-described as a street-protest movement, the FLA encourages rival ‘football firms’ to put aside their acrimonious hostilities and unite against extremism and the perceived threat it poses to Britain and its way of life. Keen to stress it opposes all forms of extremism, critics have countered that the FLA is merely the latest incarnation of the British far-right.
To date, little is known about the FLA and those who are behind it. Its front man is John Meighan, someone who has described himself as “a family man with a good job…” who as a lifetime supporter of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, “…felt an overwhelming sense of emotion and helplessness” at what was going on around him. As regards the FLA, he said that “we didn’t want flags, chanting, drinking on the streets – the typical things that have probably hindered [other] groups…” before reiterating, “…when you’ve got guys that are drunk and acting loutish then it’s a carbon copy of something that’s already been”. While failing to elaborate what ‘groups’ he meant, a number of far-right street-protest movements have in recent years seen demonstrations blighted by aggression and drunkenness not least among the English Defence League (EDL).
While Meighan pointed to the coming together of rival football firms as being distinct, such is far from new within the far-right milieu in Britain. While the National Front and British Movement did something similar in the 1970s and 1980s respectively, it is worth noting that the EDL emerged from the football firm network, Casuals United UK. Calling on firms to put their rivalries aside in order to unite against ‘Islamification’, my own research cited one EDL lad at the time stating that:
“Hooligans from rival clubs are uniting on this and it is like a ready-made army…We are protesting against the preachers of hate who are actively encouraging young Muslims in this country to take part in a jihad against Britain”
While Meighan’s prefers football ‘fans’ to ‘lads’ or ‘hooligans’, the message is undeniably similar:
“this is about bringing different fans together and showing that rivals can be stronger together…[the FLA is] looking at terror laws and preachers of hate…I don’t think we as a country should be afraid to deal with radical extremism. We’re not focusing on religion now; we’re talking about radical Islamic extremism”
What else is known about the FLA comes from observing its three demonstrations. The first is a general receptivity to racist sentiments especially when targeting Muslims and Islam. Second is a severe dislike of left-wing politics and politicians especially Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott. Third is the unequivocal support for the British military including a lack of critical thinking about recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Much can also be made of a number of individuals that have been prominent at the FLA’s demonstrations. These include the former leader of the EDL and PEGIDA UK Tommy Robinson, Toni Bugle the founder of the organisation Mothers Against Radical Islam and Sharia (Marias), and Mohan Singh who has previously spoken at EDL events among others.
That the FLA remains relatively new and thereby unknown means that it is unclear exactly which direction it will go in coming years or how it will develop. As regards whether the FLA is a far-right movement however, the evidence would seem to suggest somewhat categorically that it is. From what is known about the FLA, there would appear to be a far greater sense of convergence with the far-right – in particular recent far-right inspired street-protest movements both in Britain and Europe – than there is divergence. Similarities in origin, networks, rhetoric and activity would seem to suggest too great a similarity for it to be a mere coincidence. In this respect, it is likely is that what is underway with the FLA is the reconfiguration of many of those elements that previously comprised the EDL whereby football firms and lads provide the initial feet on the ground (p.18).
Two points are worth considering in this respect. The first is that while its most recent demonstration in Birmingham was less well attended than previous demonstrations in London, that the FLA was able to attract up to 30,000 demonstrators in October 2017 is significant. Not only was it the largest support shown for any far-right movement since before the Second World War but so too does it suggest that the FLA has the capacity to mobilise ten times the support the EDL did at its height.
The second is that because of the fact the FLA is known to be actively recruiting ‘ordinary’ football fans through various football networks and online fan forums, it is possible that the FLA will be seen to have a sheen of respectability. Adopting a ‘march and grow’ strategy, this could afford the fascist elements within the FLA to become more confident and thereby harden the street movement and widen its targets.
For this reason alone, it is extremely important that we take the FLA and the potential threat it poses extremely seriously.
Associate Professor Chris Allen is a Senior Fellow at CARR, and is Associate Professor at Centre for Hate Studies, University of Leicester. See his profile at:
© Chris Allen. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors’ and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).