Mitch Mitchell writes on Saturday’s march of the self-described “anti-extremism” group the Football Lads Alliance. Photos by Steve Eason.
On Saturday, October 7, a group calling themselves the Football Lads Alliance (FLA) held a march from Park Lane to Parliament Square. The organisers said beforehand that their intention was to march against violent extremism and to honour those who died in recent terrorist attacks in Manchester, Westminster and London Bridge, and those injured in the attempted attack at Parsons Green. Fairly significantly, not much was said about the racist attack at Finsbury Park Mosque.
Estimates of the marchers’ numbers on the day varied. At a rough guess, some 15000 assembled at Park Lane and another group, reckoned at between 8000 and 10000, marched down Whitehall. This was the second large demonstration held by the FLA. On the first occasion, Tommy Robinson, formerly of the far-right English Defence League, was barred from taking part, but this time, he took part and, at times, marched at the head of the procession.
Around 100 people held a static counter demonstration opposite Downing Street. They were mainly, but not exclusively, members of the Socialist Workers Party and Stand Up To Racism. Kevin Courtney, one of two General Secretaries of the National Education Union, also attended and spoke. Some of the anti-racists attempted to leaflet the FLA march itself. The leaflet distributed asked why the FLA allowed known racists and fascists to speak at its rallies, whilst describing itself as non-racist. This question was not well-received – a health worker reported that her leaflets were snatched from her hands and thrown back at her.
The marchers were largely white and middle-aged, and in many cases drunk. It would appear that they were mainly former hooligans, now middle-aged but still on the look-out for some sort of action or violence. A rumour went around that some of the FLA marchers intended to attack a pub in East London frequented by the Clapton Ultras, the left-wing football firm, but this turned out to be false.
As the march passed by the counter-demo, the first few ranks were relatively quiet, but after a while, marchers at the back of the FLA group began throwing water bottles and beer cans at the anti-racists. There was a fleeting moment when there did not seem to be enough police to contain the FLA, and it seemed possible that they would rush the counter-demo.
However the march was headed by three black police vehicles, which may well have contained armed police. At the back there followed at least 15 or 16 white police vans which bunched the marchers up and made numbers difficult to estimate. In fact, overall it was the most heavily policed march I have seen since Lewisham in 1977.
That the FLA chose a weekend when no Premier League or Championship matches were to be played is significant. The next “International break” will be in mid-November, when a series of friendlies will be played between national teams; that will presumably the next moment at which to look out for FLA activity.