Thousands of British football fans have flocked to a new group created to fight racism and counter the increasing prominence of the far right in the UK.
The Football Lads and Lasses Against Fascism (FLAF), created just three weeks ago, already has more than 9,000 followers on Facebook, and even its own range of stickers tailored for different football clubs.
Lee Stevens, one of the group’s founding members, said he was spurred on to take action after seeing demonstrations from the Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA) and the Free Tommy Robinson campaign, both relatively new movements accused of stoking division and racial tensions.
“What we fear is that the far right is a real threat in working class areas, the areas that we live in and come from and I think they are divisive,” Stevens, 50, told HuffPost UK.
“We are all football fans... we know where they are coming from and we come from the same communities.
“We understand the people they are talking to and we want to try and intervene there because we think that people are naturally anti-racist and naturally want to get on with our neighbours and build communities, rather than divide them.”
Relatively older far-right groups like Britain First and the English Defence League (EDL) are still active in the UK but both have recently failed to attract significant support.
In contrast, the DFLA, founded in 2017 by John Meighan as a self-proclaimed “anti-extremist movement”, has held demonstrations attracting thousands of supporters.
But it has become strongly associated with the far right, with the Premier League issuing a warning to clubs about its activities, and accusations it is using fans and stadiums to push an anti-Muslim agenda.
In response, the FLAF is encouraging football fans from around the UK to fight fascism and racism among their own supporters and to counter far right rhetoric at matches.
“Words have consequences,” Stevens, who lives in Glasgow, said. “They [the DFLA] can talk about free speech all they like but their words have consequences when they put people in fear and alarm in the areas that they live in.”
Stevens accused groups such as DFLA of trying to “drive a wedge” in working class communities, which he says have traditionally been “amongst the most integrated communities in Britain”.
But the DFLA has hit out at FLAF, writing in a statement posted on social media that it was “against all forms of extremism”.
The post continued: “We do not see the colour or religion of the criminals, we march for justice and for an end to such brutality.
“So where is the wrong in standing up to such evil?”
FLAF has designed and printed club stickers for local supporters to plaster them around their areas and over DFLA logos.
The group has already gained support from football fans from clubs such as Liverpool, Everton, Southampton, Bristol Rovers and Manchester United.
Lee said that the group’s ultimate goal is to persuade people over to their cause. “We would like to win some of the people around them that are taken in by the rhetoric,” Stevens said.
“First and foremost we would like to win some of that periphery towards progressive politics and try to highlight the stupidity that they are involved in and try to highlight the need for solidarity rather than pour scorn on communities.”