Found this video on the TAL youtube channel.
Shows Anti-Fascist Action in Action.
Found this video on the TAL youtube channel.
Shows Anti-Fascist Action in Action.
I haven’t done an update since October. So here is a round up of what’s changed since!
This article discusses AFA and the IWCA’s strategy in displacing and replacing the far-right as the radical alternative.
The idea that voting alone will eliminate far-right and fascist politics is fundamentally flawed. Politics takes place in the hearts and minds of people; in their streets, communities and homes. The struggle against the far right is in part a struggle over the spatial articulation of and claims to authenticity in differing understandings of working class values. Authenticity, I argue, is primarily a politico discursive tool to which competing politics lay claim, perching on the ill-defined border between reality and artifice.
Transforming football stadia to political arenas is an old phenomenon, particularly, when clubs boasting a glorious past are involved. FC St. Pauli has certainly been instrumental to developments in its immediate environment though not so much for its success on the pitch, as for the socio-political views that its fans have been projecting ever since the mid-1980s. The purpose of this study, therefore, is to contextualize the same fan (and club) ideological background that has attracted worldwide attention in the light of the game’s contemporary transformation.
Since the 1980s, there has been a shift to the right on the curve of Italian stadiums. Livorno stands apart as one of the few Italian clubs to maintain a resolute Communist identity. They draw on a variety of Communist images and this helps define their actions. Through political protest, charity and matchday choreographies, Livorno fans reflect and resist specific aspects of football in a globalized world.
Visit the La Zineteca: Punk and Ska Fanzine Library, issues of Leeds United anti-fascist fanzines are now available here, The Big Issue revealed evidence of police infiltration of AFA, read what Class War had to say on Red Action and the IWCA and visit the fantastic anti-fascist resource blog called Lewisham ’77.
Liverpool based Cairde na hEireann have published a report on anti-Irish racism in 2012. I found a great article on Celtic Fans Against Fascism read it here and, lastly, I found an interesting article on Red Action and it’s support of the militant Irish Republican movement.
In the time since the last update an invaluable new resource for those wishing to learn about militant anti-fascism has been published. Largely an oral account, Physical Resistance by Dave Hann is now available. My thoughts on the book are also viewable here.
Lastly, since October we have received 35,000 more views taking the archives total page views to 85,000; from New Zealand to Mozambique to Chile to Kazakhstan to Ireland and Canada.
The Archive has also received generous donations and with these funds I am looking to move to a much better, custom website in the near future.
Interesting article from Big Issue North. Evidence that a police spy, Jenner, infiltrated AFA.
I now know the name of the Metropolitan Police officer who was employed to spy on the protest group in which I was one of the key organisers in the 1990s. Thanks to his former partner Alison (not her real name) and the Guardian it has been established that the man I knew during my time at the Colin Roach Centre (CRC) in Hackney as Mark Cassidy is Mark Jenner of the Met’s special demonstration squad (SDS).
Jenner’s name was revealed when Alison gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into undercover policing, his police role confirmed by the Guardian on 1 March. He is one of 11 undercover police officers publicly identified. Nine of them had sexual relations with activists mainly from environmental groups.
The officers’ actions began unravelling in 2011 when the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) dropped criminal proceedings against six people facing charges related to a conspiracy to sabotage a coal-fired power station at Ratcliffe-on-Soar, Nottinghamshire. The convictions of another 20 activists were later quashed after it was revealed that long-term police spy PC Mark Kennedy had acted as an agent provocateur within the environmental movement. Further allegations of undercover police officers acting beyond their authorisation then surfaced and we now know they were given the names of infants who had died many years previously.
The Metropolitan Police has now been ordered to investigate under Operation Herne how SDS officers created and maintained false identities while undercover.
After Kennedy became public knowledge I wrote a piece for The Big Issue in the North in January 2011 about the man I knew then as Cassidy. Although I had worked Jenner out many years beforehand it was only after he had been active in high profile campaigns in which members of CRC were involved. The centre was opened in 1993 and named after a young black man shot dead inside Stoke Newington Police Station in 1983. It combined a number of unfunded local groups, including the Hackney Community Defence Organisation (HCDA), which had uncovered serious corruption amongst the local police, with Panorama and World in Action undercover investigations confirming some officers were involved in drug dealing.
CRC was burgled, with equipment vandalised and a computer stolen. Cash was left undisturbed
HCDA’s work overturned many convictions and a database of police officers known to have complaints or convictions against them was compiled. The Defendants Information Services (DIS) was registered despite objections from the Association of Chief Police Officers. On 23 December 1994, a day when HCDA had organised a picket of Stoke Newington Police Station to demand action over the death of Oluwasijibomo Lapite in police custody, CRC was burgled, with equipment vandalised and a computer stolen. Cash was left undisturbed. An HCDA spokesperson told the Hackney Gazette: “It was the work of Special Branch, whose real target was a new database service.” In fact DIS was run from a different location.
Early the following year a Liverpudlian who identified himself as Mark Cassidy came into the centre to say he had seen TV coverage of the annual commemoration event for those who had died at the hands of the local police. The 1995 guest speaker was civil rights lawyer Gareth Pierce.“Cassidy” quickly became active in most of the centre’s political life, including writing for our internal bulletin. When a magazine sold to the public was launched his suggestion to call it RPM – revolutions per minute – was agreed. He attended members’ meetings and was privy to confidential information on hundreds of people’s policing cases, including where police officers were charged with unlawful imprisonment and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
Jenner was privy to confidential information on hundreds of people’s policing cases
Graham Smith, a Manchester University lecturer, consultant on police complaints to the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights and an international expert on police accountability, says: “I am concerned that undercover officer Mark Jenner participated in an organisation that supported law abiding citizens who were involved in legal proceedings against the Metropolitan Police.”
CRC, with Jenner much involved, was also central to the campaign by businessman Malcolm Kennedy to prove he had not killed Patrick Quinn in 1990. Quinn had been battered to death – his injuries included 33 fractured ribs – in Hammersmith Police Station. Convicted of murder, Kennedy was released after his conviction was quashed when the World in Action programme, uncovered new witnesses in the police station, giving grounds for appeal.
At his retrial Kennedy was cleared of murder but convicted of manslaughter. After receiving the backing of 65 MPs when a parliamentary motion supporting him was tabled he was granted further leave to appeal. Kennedy lost his appeal in 1996 but as a free man he has continued to campaign to have his conviction overturned. He alleges that as a result he has suffered constant harassment by the police, making it almost impossible for him to earn a living from his removals business.
“This may have perverted the course of justice.”
Kennedy says: “I find it eerie that Jenner was involved at the CRC during the period of my 1996 appeal when he was privy to campaign strategies and confidential information. This may have perverted the course of justice. Without a proper investigation there is no way of knowing how much damage Jenner caused to me.”
Claiming to be a building worker himself, Jenner supported others victimised by their construction industry employers. The Building Workers Group (BWG) had decided to put pickets on workplaces where deaths had occurred. Three people a week were being killed on UK building sites and the aim was to damage the employers’ profits and force them to take action to prevent such tragedies. Where workers refused to cross a picket line it was maintained. However, where the majority went to work the others were persuaded to join them in order to prevent victimisation.
The initiative was a direct challenge to anti-trade union laws. Jenner attended picket lines, wrote for the BWG newspaper and came into contact with many union site representatives.
When UCATT officer Dominic Hehir sued BWG and union member Brian Higgins for libel over allegations he was failing to support members, a defence campaign was established – and Jenner became the chair. Although the campaign was successful the time taken up on Higgins’ defence meant there was little in reserve to picket sites. Those involved felt it was a hollow victory. Higgins, a blacklisted building worker, says: “I am appalled to discover ‘Mark Cassidy’ was actually an undercover police officer who used his cover as a building worker to infiltrate organisations the state does not like. It is like some Orwellian nightmare and it is surely time for decency, justice and democracy for blacklisted workers.”
Higgins is one of 3,213 building workers’ names on the Consulting Association (CA) database used by 44 building companies to vet potential new recruits over the last four decades. His file contained seven pages from RPM.
Many of those on the CA list were “not recommended for employment”. Their details were revealed after the Information Commissioner’s Office closed down CA and its owner, Ian Kerr, was found guilty in 2009 of breaching the Data Protection Act.
The Blacklist Support Group has established that some of the information supplied by CA came from the police or security services. They have lodged a formal complaint to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal – the security services watchdog – and want an investigation about the possible involvement of MI5 and other sections of the security services in blacklisting.
Spokesperson Dave Smith says: “We now want to know why an undercover cop posing as a building worker turned up on picket lines and at campaign meetings, the details of which were discovered in the CA files. Were names of building workers or any information gathered by this police officer passed on to the CA blacklist? It sure as hell looks dodgy.”
I began to ensure his information-gathering opportunities were reduced
By the middle of 1997 I had become suspicious. Jenner had failed to recognise any Tranmere fans when I watched with him the games of what was supposedly his favourite football team. On a union delegation to Ireland he walked down the fiercely Protestant Shankhill Road even though he was a Catholic. He had volunteered to take his van to Ireland, despite knowing it would result in his details being recorded by the security services.
It was all a bit odd but, unwilling to challenge him directly, I shared my concerns with those closest to me and began to ensure his information-gathering opportunities were reduced. By the end of 1997 Jenner’s involvement in the CRC had lessened. He still attended some events but mainly to report on his activities within Anti-Fascist Action (AFA), a militant group that had successfully physically confronted the BNP. AFA member Patrick Hayes had been convicted of causing two explosions in the South East on behalf of the IRA in 1993 and the state was certain to be interested in preventing any such actions in the future. Hayes was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment and later released under the Good Friday Agreement. It may be that AFA was always Jenner’s main intended target.
A concerned Alison rang his workplace, only to discover he had departed a few years previously
CRC had closed by the time Jenner disappeared from his home with Alison in April 2000. In the months beforehand he had acted suspiciously and had slept on the settee in his clothes. Alison had discovered a credit card in his real name, which he claimed to have bought for £50 to obtain petrol dishonestly.
A concerned Alison rang his workplace, only to discover he had departed a few years previously. Yet he had continued during this time to leave for work at 6.30am. Visits to a counsellor to discuss his reluctance to have children were abandoned without him mentioning his family. We now know Jenner was married.
When she discovered my reservations about Jenner, Alison contacted me in 2001 to reveal she had checked his claim that his father had been killed in a car accident in Birkenhead in 1975. The deaths register showed this tale was untrue – one more lie in a very long list.
The Home Affairs Select Committee has asked to be updated every three months on Operation Herne and Theresa May, the home secretary, has promised the Independent Police Complaints Commission will “investigate serious and sensitive allegations”. This may include some from me as I am examining the possibility that a former girlfriend who I lived with may have been in the SDS.
Smith says: “In addition to an examination of past undercover policing arrangements it is important that an independent and impartial investigation is conducted into the purpose of undercover operations. If there is evidence that undercover police officers like Jenner and his superiors were engaged in a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, that evidence should be forwarded to the CPS, which will have to decide whether to bring criminal proceedings.”
Photo: Mark Jenner, or Cassidy, as he was known to the author and fellow activists
Unfortunately I am thousands of miles from my copies of Beating the Fascists, No Retreat and Anti-Fascism in Britain which I think would be extremely useful in a full and detailed review of Physical Resistance. I am having to make do with my computerised notes of Beating the Fascists, sadly I chose only to word process my notes after reading No Retreat and Anti-Fascism in Britain. Following reading Dave Renton’s review of Physical Resistance I decided to write down a few of my thoughts of the book and his review. My focus will be on the latter chapters as this is the period where I have mostly researched. I welcome any response and correction.
Physical Resistance: A Hundred Years of Anti-Fascism has given those interested in the study of in militant anti-fascism a wealth of important and interesting events which have laid undiscovered, exciting long oral accounts of former activists and a number of questions to attempt to answer. These long oral and written accounts are woven with Hann’s narrative. Sadly Dave Hann died before he could finish his work but his long term partner, who also writes the introduction, has stepped in and finished the book well with the circumstance. However, as Renton points out there are points in the book which are under-analysed and leave the reader asking for more detail.
Firstly, Renton’s review; I believe it contained a number of factual errors. One such error is the statement of Hann being in the Red Action leadership, my research and interview with former Red Action members (and subsequent communication) did not give Hann as a national figure in Red Action but he was key to Anti-Fascist Action and Red Action organising in Manchester. Renton, disingenuously, says that Beating the Fascists finishes when it reaches the Battle of Waterloo in 1992. In fact, BtF continues for a further 100 pages which includes, amongst other events: the 1993 Welling demonstration, the conflict with Combat 18, the BNP declaration of “no more meetings, no more marches, no more punch ups”, ‘Operation Zero Tolerance’ and the development of the Independent Working Class Association. Furthermore, Renton comments that AFA decayed following the Battle of Waterloo, however, issue 3 of Fighting Talk (June 1992), the Journal of AFA, lists 22 branches by issue 12 (November 1995) the number of branches peaked at 38 until it began to fall.
Renton also says that Hann is a “little self-serving” due to almost all interviews being with militant anti-fascists. Perhaps the subtitle “A Hundred of Militant Anti-Fascism” would have been more apt, but, I think Renton does Hann a disservice. As Renton points out Hann gives kudos to the ANL and other non-militant successes and, even, gives the UAF laurels for the BNPs 2010 local election defeat. I think Renton’s short dismissal of BtF and AFA in this review opens him up to the charge of self-servicing his anti-squaddism.
Turning to the book itself, as I earlier commented I thought the book is under-analytical in places. One such area is the collapse of the National Front following the 1979 general election. A conclusion to whether Hann thought the ANL or Thatcher’s hard talk against immigration was the primary or most important cause for the NF’s demise is not offered. Another section where I was hoping for more evidence, detail and conclusion was the 1988 Red Action split; Renton also says most early Red Action members left. Further information and explanation would have been interesting; perhaps Red Action’s archives will shed some light onto this period. Similarly, the AFA split between Red Action and the anarchist elements is light on details and analysis.
One question I asked during my undergraduate dissertation research was on the divisions between AFA members, particularly women. One of Hann’s interviewees provides a glimpse of a division; that between “hit men” and “foot soldiers”. During my research I was convinced that a division between organisers and fighters didn’t exist, the organisers were also got their hands dirty. The division between the “hit men” and “foot soldiers” also, allegedly, manifested socially as well as tactically. Who were the “hit men”? Red Action members or simply the best fighters.
Regarding women, two of Hann’s female interviewees’ tales tell of a gender role divide of duties in AFA which seems to correlate to my results. That’s not to say the duties of ‘spotting’ or checking out a pub for fascists was looked upon as less brave in fact my results showed my interviewees thought these acts required much more courage than the fighting. Although, more investigation into this by Hann would have proved interesting I think, particularly when AFA and militant anti-fascism is often charged with chauvinism and machismo.
An interviewee also speaks about AFA’s support for the IRA. Although Red Action’s strong support for the IRA is openly known and AFA stewarded republican marches against loyalist and fascist attacks, AFA was supposed to be a single issue campaign. For this interviewee the extent of the IRA support was uncomfortable. To what extent AFA as an organisation supported the IRA is not dealt with in depth and it does raise an interesting point as to what people’s experiences of IRA support were within AFA.
Hann also gives an insight into the continuation of militant anti-fascism post-AFA. He accounts both No Platform and Antifa, and, I think, it gives the impression that Hann supported the continuation of a violent street strategy and a rejection of the IWCA’s approach of following the BNP off the streets and into the electoral arena. But his position doesn’t seem clear. Any comparison between the post-AFA movements and AFA is also lacking.
To more general points: I’m surprised no Red Action literature appears in the bibliography, I think it’s a shame footnotes weren’t used in the book, as they are so useful to students of anti-fascism, also, there are few details on AFA in Scotland which is a shame. Lastly, there are a few errors in the writing such as Tyne and Wear Anti-Fascist Association is listed as Tyne and Wear Anti-Fascist Action and the Kindle version is littered with hyphenated words in the middle of the page which I found annoying.
To conclude, the book is a valuable read for all those interested in the Communist Party’s role in anti-fascism, the British volunteers in the Spanish Civil War, opposition to the British Union of Fascists and the later history of militant anti-fascism. An excellent and unmissable source for students and those interested in British militant anti-fascism.
A new book detailing anti-fascism in Britain over the last 100 years is due out on the 25th January 2013.
Physical Resistance: A Hundred Years of Anti-Fascism by Dave Hann (co-author of No Retreat) is a history of large-scale confrontations, disruption of meetings, sabotage and street fighting have been part of the practice of anti-fascism from the early twentieth century until the twenty-first. Rarely endorsed by any political party, the use of collective bodily strength remains a strategy of activists working in alliances and coalitions against fascism. In Physical Resistance famous battles against fascists, from the Olympia arena, Earls Court in 1934 and Cable Street in 1936 to Southall in 1978 and Bradford 2010, are told through the voices of participants. Anarchists, communists and socialists who belonged to a shifting series of anti-fascist organizations relate well-known events alongside many forgotten but significant episodes.
Combining scholarship with the knowledge that can only come from political experience this is a moving memorial to the late author and those who have fought fascism in Britain for almost a hundred years. Detailed accounts, eye witness testimony and a non-sectarian approach make this an engaging and fascinating account that should be read by activists and historians of all kinds. Dr Hilda Kean
The following article is a re-post from Cedar Lounge Revolution
To download the above file please click on the following link: REDACTION
Recently Red Action posted much of their archive online, and this can be accessed here. That includes the above document, but since this was already acquired for the Archive and scanned in it seemed appropriate to include at least one example of the output of the formation (and as it happens we’ve been promised some more documents in the future with a specifically Irish orientation).
Red Action appeared in 1981 when members were expelled from the Socialist Workers Party for squadist activities. Consequently in outlook it positioned itself as an self-avowedly forceful response to the threat of fascism and racism as well as cleaving to a strongly working class centred position. In the 1980s it joined the RCP led Red Front (as can be seen in this document from the RCP in the Archive). Interestingly it transitioned into community based politics in the late 1990s and on into the 2000s, and former members were heavily involved in the Independent Working Class Association which went on to win council seats and only relatively recently became inoperative.
This document is of particular interest because while it demonstrates all the political approaches outlined above it furthermore relates to one key aspect of Red Action, that being an strong identification with Irish Republicanism – it is notable that in other documents available on the Red Action site Thomas ‘Ta’ Power of the IRSP, later assassinated by the IPLO, is quoted. The cover story notes that Patrick Hayes, an English born member of a PIRA active service unit, imprisoned for a short bombing campaign in England in the early 1990s, was a former long standing member of Red Action (for more on this see this from the UK Independent which gives a subjective but interesting overview).
As the editorial accompanying Haye’s statement at the Old Bailey on his imprisonment notes:
As an organisation, Red Action has from the outset supported the right of the Irish to bear arms in principle and supported the military campaign as a TACTIC. Where we see a synthesis between republicanism and revolution Trotskyism seeks only contradictions, and so while paying lip service to the principle of self-determination the middle class left has with a few exceptions been an unswerving critic of its implementation.
Of course no one in Red Action knew when, or precisely why, Patrick Hayes took the decision to join the IRA, but from his own testimony it is clear that he regards support for the military campaign and taking part in it more a matter of emphasis than some ‘quantum leap’. Pat never made the media inspired ‘graduation from being a weekend radical to becoming an IRA volunteer’. As in the case of Portinari [a Loyalist gunrunner] the explanation is quite simple. He never was a weekend radical. He is, and always was in whatever capacity a revolutionary.
In some respects these quotes also offer an insight into other aspects of Red Action, namely a strongly critical view of other contemporary further left formations, particularly those with a Trotskyist orientation – albeit it itself came from a Trotskyist heritage. It also held a strongly working class position that saw itself as deeply at odds with the middle class both in class and political forms or in its analysis that other further left formations were distorted by that class.
This combative stance is exemplified by a number of articles in the document on Trotskyism, including ‘Trotskyism’ with No Illusions which lambastes both the British Labour Party and ‘the Trotskyite Left [who] without exception line up with the bureaucracy in defence of the status quo, [whereas] we stand with the working class against the bureaucracy’ and within the working class; with the anti-racists against the racists.’. There is also an article which takes as its starting point the then recently published final edition of the SWP’s Tony Cliff’s final volume of his biography of Trotsky which is sub-titled ‘The Real History of the Fourth International’.
The emphasis on Irish Republicanism is evidenced throughout the text with highly critical articles on the Troops Out movement (and which is also in passing highly critical of the RCP) and a page devoted to “Dispatches from a war zone” and which in this instance dealswith informers and pro-British agents.
There’s also a piece under the heading ‘Beyond the Pale’ for Red Action in Ireland, complete with PO Box. The accompanying article, ‘Guns, Drugs & The Community’, outlines the history of the development of the drugs issue in working class Dublin and how Concerned Parents Against Drugs (CPAD) became pivotal in ‘the fight against drugs’. The article notes that ‘The Left’s attitude to this genuine instance of working class people taking control of their lives has also been pathetic. From the SWM’s denunciation of CPAD as vigilantes, to the serious serious damage done to the anti-drugs campaign by the Workers’ Party’s allegations of addicts being kept against their will in France, the left in Dublin has been a hindrance to the CPAD. Sinn Féin are the only group on the left who can claim any credibility from the fight against the drug pushers. Contrary to the allegations of SF infiltration of CPAD, the SF activists actually belonged to the working class communities under threat and had every right ton involve themselves in the fight against drugs’.
In the latter there is the following reference: CPAD wants addicts to be sent to treatment centres where they might actually have a chance to get off drugs. CPAD have in the past sent addicts to the Le Patriarche centre in France but a Workers Party created controversy and lack of resources meant this could not be continued’.
Archivist: there are also some interesting comments on the original post which are worth reading.
See also: The Arrest of Patrick Hayes
When left-wing director Ken Loach agreed to make a film about Manchester United fans, it was widely assumed that he’d done so because this gave him the opportunity to work with Eric Cantona. Looking For Eric (2009), his uplifting revenge fantasy about a down-and-out postman played by Steve Evets (a former part-time bassist with The Fall), also deals with the fall-out from the Malcom Glazer takeover. In one memorable pub scene, fans argue between themselves about the merits of supporting breakaways FC United (‘the People’s Club’). But neither the enigmatic presence of Cantona nor the unresolved FCUM dilemma provides the main focus for the film, which is the idea that only through comradeship and solidarity can certain problems be overcome. Moreover, in the climax scene (‘Operation Cantona’), the film seems to suggest that the use of violence and the threat of violence are justifiable in certain circumstances – which isn’t wholly inappropriate for a film starring Eric Cantona. As Eric the postman tells Eric the footballer, regarding his reaction to the Crystal Palace fan who’d been hurling racist abuse at him, ‘That twat got what he deserved!’
Before looking at the film and its contexts in more detail, it’s necessary to look at the historical religious and political background of the Manchester derby. Angel Meadow (to the North-East of Victoria Station) was decribed in 1847 as ‘the lowest, most filthy, and the most wicked locality in Manchester … inhabited by prostitutes, their bullies, thieves, cadgers, vagrants, tramps, and, in the very worst sties of filth and darkness, those unhappy wretches, the low Irish.’ The Manchester Irish segregated themselves and were kept at arms length by the native English, who saw them as unclean and immoral. They shared rooms and cellars in the worst slums in the city (Angel Meadow, Ancoats and Little Ireland) and they were often willing to work when others weren’t. The boss of Newton Silk Mill (in Newton Heath) explained in 1834 what he did when his English employees were on strike: ‘I send to Ireland for ten, fifteen or twenty families … the whole family comes – father, mother, and children. I provide them with money … the communications are generally made through the friends of parties in my employ. I have no agent in Ireland.’ Predictably this led to resentment and it’s thought that whilst the presence of Irish labourers didn’t lower wages in Manchester, it probably helped keep them low.
In 1867, three Irishmen were executed for their part in the murder of a police officer during a raid on a prison van containing two prominent members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (‘Fenians’). The execution took place outside the New Bailey Prison (in between Salford Central train station and the River Irwell) and the ‘Manchester Martyrs’ became legends, providing the inspiration for the Fenian anthem ‘God Save Ireland.’ The Orange Order was also prominent in Manchester and in July 1888, according to accounts in the Manchester Guardian and the Liverpool Mercury, they were the victims of a ‘pre-meditated’ sectarian attack by Irish Catholics in Ancoats. It’s often claimed that sectarianism wasn’t as big a problem in Manchester as it was in the port cities of Liverpool, Glasgow and Belfast, and this is probably true – but we shouldn’t ignore the fact that it is still a big part of Manchester’s history.
Into this heady mix came the two football clubs: Newton Heath were the works team of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railwaymen, whilst Manchester City had their roots in the (Anglican) church. When Newton Heath decided to change their name in 1902, ‘Manchester United’ was only narrowly chosen ahead of ‘Manchester Celtic’ – an indication that even back then, United were regarded as the team of Welsh, Scottish and Irish immigrants. The man thought to be behind the new name, Louis Rocca was the son of Italian immigrants raised in Ancoats. The fact that he was so closely associated with Newton Heath during their period at a new ground in Clayton (1893-1910) suggests a support base within the nearby Ancoats Irish/Italian immigrant communities.
United moved to Old Trafford in 1910 and became the natural choice of club for the Salford dockers, many of whom lived in nearby Ordsall, and workers in Trafford Park, Europe’s largest industrial estate. These were areas which would develop a reputation for industrial militancy and even links with communism, perhaps best symbolised by Yuri Gargarin’s visit in July 1961. Incidentally Maine Road, City’s ground from 1923, was in the heart of Moss Side, a heavily Irish district, which suggests that the South Manchester Irish (now spread out through Chorlton, Levenshulme and Burnage) would be more likely to support City.
As United’s chief scout, Rocca apparently set up a scouting network of Catholic priests to search for the best young players. More importantly he kept in touch with Matt Busby (who played for City from 1928 to 1936) through the Manchester Catholic Sportsmen’s Club and was a key figure in Busby’s appointment as manager in 1945. Busby was a practising Catholic of Lithuanian descent from a mining village in North Lanarkshire. His assistant Jimmy Murphy, also a practising Catholic, was from the Rhonnda Valley (although his father had emigrated from Ireland presumably to look for work in the coal mines). Their club captain Johnny Carey was from Dublin and had begun his career playing Gaelic football.
In an October 2003 article for the Manchester Evening News on the rivalry with Rangers, Stuart Brennan claims that United ‘were perceived as Manchester’s ‘Catholic’ club’ in the 1950s just as Celtic were in Glasgow. Similarly Ed Vulliamy writes in a Guardian article in May 2012: ‘Tensions between loosely Catholic Irish United and loyalist City have dissipated over time…’ This may have been because of the signing (and indeed the success) of Protestant Northern Irish players such as George Best, Sammy McIlroy and Norman Whiteside. However this only really serves to explain why United developed a much broader support base abroad. Within Manchester itself, they were probably still seen as the Irish Catholic team or (bearing Rocca in mind) the team of immigrants in general.
Sectarian tensions re-emerged in Northern Ireland after the attacks on Civil Rights marches in 1968 and the deployment of British troops in 1969. The Birmingham pub bombings of November 1974, attributed to the IRA, increased anti-Irish sentiment in England and many club football fans in England began identifying with the loyalist slogan ‘No Surrender to the IRA.’ The same period also saw the rise of the far right in English towns and cities, starting with Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of blood’ speech in 1968 and culminating in the Battle of Lewisham in August 1977 between the National Front and their anti-fascist opponents. One of the best accounts of the period is ‘No Retreat: The Secret War Between Britain’s Anti-Fascists and the Far Right’ (2003) by Dave Hann and Steve Tilzey, both of whom were involved with the Socialist Workers’ Party but eschewed the more mainstream student-oriented nonviolence approach of the Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism for a form of direct action resembling football hooliganism and gangsterism in its ultra-violence.
In his review of ‘No Retreat,’ far right commentator and sometime contributor to Press TV, Peter Rushton describes Manchester as ‘the capital of militant anti-fascism.’ The National Front were unable to sell their newspapers in Manchester city centre or outside the football grounds for fear of attack. A South Manchester branch of the BNP was closed down after the organiser decided it wasn’t worth making enemies with these people. It doesn’t come as a huge surprise considering the city’s history that there were close links between local Irish Republicans and militant Anti-Fascism. Manchester United fans were widely seen as more left-wing perhaps because of the club’s historic Irish Catholic links, perhaps because it was the dock workers’ club (note that many of the main left-wing clubs in Europe: Marseilles, Livorno, Feyenoord, St. Pauli, AEK Athens are linked with the dock workers).
Issue 12 of the Manchester United Anti-Fascist fanzine Red Attitude (available online at the Anti-Fascist Archive) contains an interview with Dessy Noonan, which covers the period and the politics. It should be remembered that Manchester in the late-1980s and early 1990s was more famous for its music scene, which began to overlap with the inter-locking gang wars of Salford, Cheetham Hill and Moss Side (which gave the city its nickname ‘Gunchester’). Noonan, whose brother Dominic was head doorman at the Hacienda, gave a TV interview (shortly before he was murdered in 2005) in which he boasts of having ‘more guns that the police.’ [The same programme, A Very British Gangster, features scenes of kids in United shirts playing football in Ringley Street, Harpurhey.] When asked by Red Attitude how Anti-Fascist Action had been able to prevent organised fascist groups from operating in Manchester, Noonan replies: ‘Quite simply because year after year we have out-violenced them. If they can’t operate politically without being attacked then they will struggle to attract anything more than losers and punchbags.’
In November 2004, Spike Magazine interviewed Hann and Tilzey, the authors of ‘No Retreat.’ The interview provides a useful context for the film Looking For Eric. When asked about the people they’ve ‘fought alongside,’ Hann notes: ‘We’ve had lots of football hooligans. Some of them just started out from the standpoint that they didn’t like the way the NF and the BNP were bullying people on the terraces.’ [The villian in Looking For Eric isn’t linked with the far right but he does bully Eric the postman.] They also claim that there is talk of a film being made based on the book, ‘a Ken Loach style thing.’ Whether or not Loach was ever approached about such a project, and we can assume that he may have been, Looking For Eric seems to have been heavily influenced by the idea of United fans coming together to ‘out-violence’ others for a good cause.
In the climax scene ‘Operation Cantona,’ a gang of United fans wearing Eric Cantona masks invade the villain’s house and ‘re-decorate’ it with red paint. After forcing the villain to acknowledge ownership of a gun that he’d been trying to pretend wasn’t his (and destroying the gun with a hammer), the leader of the gang, John Henshaw’s character Meatballs, tells him:
‘You don’t go near that family. You don’t go near them. You don’t look at them. You don’t talk to them. You don’t even think about them. Because you known what’ll happen? … We’re gonna turn up here with ten coachloads and we’re gonna take this house apart, brick by fuckin’ brick … And if you try and run away to some bolt-hole in Blackpool or some rabbit-hole in the Outer Hebrides, we’ll find ya. I’ll find ya – you know why? [raises hammer] ‘Cause I’m a fuckin’ postman!’
At this point, the gang of Cantona-masked intuders break into a round of applause and Meatballs (wearing his FC United shirt) predictably leads them on in a rousing chorus of ‘Ooh Aah Cantona.’
The film’s message is not anti-fascist, it is anti-bullying. But it does raise some interesting questions: Did Ken Loach consider making a film about Anti-Fascist Action? And to what extent was he influenced by the links between the United fans and AFA? I would imagine Loach, whilst sympathetic to the aims and achievements of AFA, probably feels more comfortable with the Ghandi-inspired ideal of nonviolence. Whilst it is incredibly violent, ‘Operation Cantona’ is ultimately a comic scene and Looking For Eric is hardly a left-wing version of The Football Factory.
Meanwhile it seems left-leaning United fans have abandoned the Glazer-owned club for FCUM, where a red-and-black Sandinista banner bears the Anti-Fascist slogan ‘No Pasaran.’
By Tom Riley
This article is from In Bed with Maradona.
This post will list materials relating to Brighton Anti-Fascist Action.
I have received a series of fairly heated letters between Tony Greenstein of Brighton AFA and Gerry Gable of Searchlight. They reveal tense relations between t he two.