In an extraordinary demonstration of cross-party action (for Croydon, at any rate), all three of the borough’s MPs, plus the council leader and councillors, have written to Crystal Palace Football Club to ask them to distance themselves publicly from the Democratic Football Lads Alliance.
In moves reminiscent of the dark days of the early 1970s, when the National Front and far-right organisations backing loyalist terrorist groups in Northern Ireland openly recruited from the terraces of London’s football grounds, the DFLA has been actively seeking to sign up Eagles fans to its organisation.
The DFLA has links to the former leader of the far-right English Defence League, Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, and to the Islamophobe Anne-Marie Waters.
Steve Reed OBE, the MP for Croydon North, and his Labour Party colleague, Croydon Central’s Sarah Jones MP, together with Croydon South’s Conservative MP Chris Philp, have all signed an open letter warning Crystal Palace that the DFLA has begun spreading its “message of racism, Islamophobia, anti-migrant sentiment and violence” at Selhurst Park.
According to a report in the Grauniad, “DFLA stickers incorporating the club’s logo have begun appearing across Croydon, including in the area around Selhurst Park stadium, activists say. On Facebook, a closed Crystal Palace DFLA group has almost 500 members.”
It is thought that the football club’s logo has been used without Crystal Palace’s knowledge or permission, not that the laws of copyright infringement seems to bother the DFLA. Palace, for their part, have a long and proud record of tolerance and diversity on the pitch and in the stands.
The MPs’ letter, which has also been signed by Fairfield councillor Chris Clark, a Palace season ticket-holder, says, “Stickers might be seen by some to be of little consequence but, if ignored, they are an effective way of spreading the insidious message that the far right use to sow division within our community.
“As, too, are leaflets, banners, the usage of the club logo and, of course, a physical presence within and around the stadium.
“This issue has been noticed by several people within our community and was brought to one of our MPs’ attention by residents who feel threatened by the presence of the far right using the good name of Crystal Palace FC to visibly advertise within their neighbourhoods.”
The letter calls on club chairman Steve Parish, manager Roy Hodgson and other officials and directors to “issue a clear and uncompromising statement saying that the DFLA are not part of the Crystal Palace community and that they, along with their divisive views and rhetoric, are not welcome at the club we all love”.
The DFLA says that its goal is to “combat terrorism and extremism” and to “bring to justice anyone who believes they are above the laws of this land and the values and traditions of our country”.
It says it rejects “far-left and far-right groups”.
Yet over the past year, DFLA members have joined demonstrations in support of Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (sometimes referred to as “Tommy Robinson”), who has well-known links to UKIP and the far right, and they have had speeches at their events from Waters, of the anti-Islam For Britain group.
Waters has been on the Croydon political radar in the past. In 2013, she provided an endorsement for Catriona Ogilvy, a former Lambeth Labour activist who was seeking selection as the party’s parliamentary candidate in Croydon Central.
As Andrew Fisher, now Jeremy Corbyn’s policy adviser, wrote for Inside Croydon at the time, “Waters, wrapping herself in the cloak of liberal secularism, vociferously makes the sort of ridiculous and divisive allegations that you might expect from the far right, including bizarre claims that Islam is ‘new to Europe’.”
And with the DFLA, there is often an undercurrent, or threat, of old-style football violence.
Last October, hundreds of supporters of the DFLA held a march through central London in which violent scuffles broke out with the police. Reports at the time suggested that dozens of DFLA began fighting officers, with, according to the Evening Standard, “one seen threatening a policeman and screaming: ‘I’ll kill you’.”
An official response from Crystal Palace FC to the cross-party Croydon MPs’ letter is still awaited.
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