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DURING the first few years of their existence, City of Liverpool FC were presented with a problem that transcended any of the footballing challenges they faced as they began their rise through the divisions.
This wasn’t an issue of adapting to new leagues and new challenges on the pitch or encouraging support off it, but an issue related to the rise of certain far-right political groups within football support across the country which go against everything City of Liverpool FC stand for.
Some of these elements had been around for some time, unbeknown to the rest of the members and supporters of a club built on socialist values.
When far-right groups and individuals began to make themselves known at games and via comments on social media, it was evident that there had been attempts by this scourge on football and society to infiltrate the club.
City of Liverpool FC were formed in 2015 around core values of democratic ownership, equality and diversity.
The club isn’t just about football, as regular readers of this column will know, and have been as active during the Covid-19 pandemic when there has been no football, as they would be in the midst of a hectic mid-season fixture pile-up.
These values aren’t just written down in a manifesto or included on the pages of a club website, they are put into action each and every day. They are at the heart of how the club functions, and allow it to do so.
Prior to the pandemic, COLFC in the Community hosted bi-weekly football sessions for refugees, running alongside initiatives such as Social Footy and walking football at weekends. The aim of the sessions is to be open to as many people as possible.
The club has always been active in promoting anti-fascism and anti-racism movements, as well as raising awareness of the city’s black history and encouraging these stories to be told to a wider audience.
Inclusion is at the heart of this club, so what happens when this is compromised by the far right?
In March 2019 the club moved to resolve the problem which for the most part had been simmering below the surface but had begun to reveal its true colours.
“To remain inclusive, to provide a community venue where nobody feels threatened because of, for example, their ethnic origin or minority culture, we must use every tool at our disposal to repel those who seek to exclude and discriminate,” read a club statement at the time.
“To this end, the club’s AGM will vote on resolutions intended to provide robust governance measures, including banning the far-right Football Lads Alliance, Democratic Football Lads Alliance and any derivative or associated groups from the club.
“These measures will protect the values at the core of the club’s operation, enhancing our ability to be the inclusive club that we must be if we are to succeed in representing our great, diverse, city.
“By necessity, our inclusion cannot be extended to, and abused by, those who would seek to exclude.”
City of Liverpool FC were well equipped to deal with this issue thanks to the core values around which the club were founded.
They had the political identity and direction that meant these far-right intruders were made fully aware, not least by the club’s actions in the community and the matchday experience, that this wasn’t the club for them.
Other clubs might not be in such a position. Some may lack the identity, constitution, resolve or simply the numbers to oust such elements and, as a result, can end up being passive, helpless hosts for these parasites which have attached themselves to the game.
In the current climate where non-league sides are struggling due to no money from gates and no football being played, clubs could be especially vulnerable to what can at first seem like kind gestures but are actually a way in for these far-right organisations.
It’s for this reason that all clubs need to be politically aware even if they are not necessarily politically active.
That March 2019 statement from COLFC also references one of the biggest clubs in the world, Borussia Dortmund, who have a lengthy statement on their official website detailing their political stance.
“The political side of the story is inextricably linked to the sporting side because sport is not a politically empty space,” it reads.
“We all decide the conditions under which it takes place, especially as fans. It is therefore important that we do not stop pointing out the things that go wrong off the pitch.”
These values are even listed in Dortmund’s company statutes, a section of which reads: “The association promotes the function of sport as a connecting element between nationalities, cultures, religions and social classes.
“It offers children, youths and adults a sporting home regardless of gender, skin colour, origin, belief, social position or sexual identity.”
As a result of this, one of Dortmund’s messages to supporters states: “Those who do not share these values are not part of our association. That is why people who carry discriminatory ideas into the stadium have no place at Borussia.”
This reflects City of Liverpool’s stance that: “Those who would turn a blind eye to far-right elements in the name of ‘neutrality’ and ‘keeping politics out of the game’ must recognise that such apparent neutrality allows prejudice to fester.”
It’s an important stance for a club built on the values of inclusion to take, and also serves as a warning to others that being passive politically can be damaging.
Keeping politics out of football can have a detrimental effect because, as Dortmund say, “the fact is that even in the 90 minutes at our club we are in reality, as much as we might wish to take a break from it.”
It is important that clubs follow the lead of City of Liverpool, Borussia Dortmund and clubs like them and take a stand, not just with words, but also with action. Not just in these times, but at all times.
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