The new Howler is out. You can get it from Freedom Books, Newham Bookshop and Housemans. Please contact us if you would like copies. Here is an article written for the Howler by a Clapton Football Club supporter.
Clapton Ultras: Football fans shaking things up in East London
This is an edited version of an article that appears in the current edition of Strike!
Before 2012 there were no Clapton Ultras: over the space of only three seasons, a group of left-wing anti-fascist football fans have, with their passion, noisy songs and a fondness for smoke flares in support of Clapton FC, a club in Forest Gate in east London, shaken up the staid, parochial county league that the team plays in.
What is happening in Forest Gate is a reflection of a growing trend amongst an increasing number of football fans who are tired of paying £50 or more for a match ticket, or simply cannot afford to, just to watch a game with no atmosphere or spectacle. At Clapton FC, most fans also support a League side, but have adopted a local team, one with a long and rich history but forever at the fringes of football, because it means watching with friends for only £6, a beer in hand, without oppressive policing or officious stewards insisting everyone remain seated. For many, this is what has attracted them to switch to non-league football, or to return to the game after often years away from regular attendance at overpriced Premiership and League fixtures.
There is something else, however, that makes the Clapton Ultras noticeably different from other groups of football supporters: their absolute opposition to the often boorishly sexist, homophobic and right-wing sentiment and behaviour tolerated at many larger clubs. This has been coupled with the adoption of the best elements of a continental anti-fascist Ultras’ culture that is strengthened by the presence of many Italian, Spanish and Polish fans.
This attitude extends to the club’s place in its local neighbourhood, one of the poorest in London and the most ethnically diverse in the country. Acts of solidarity organised by the Clapton Ultras include distributing rights cards on the powers of immigration enforcement teams, organising food donations for a local project supporting asylum seekers with no access to public funds, raising cash for local group supporting victims of domestic violence and turning up in numbers to support campaigns around homelessness and evictions. At the end of the last season, on a truly magical day involving rainbow-coloured smoke flares, we helped launch an appeal that eventually succeeded in raising funds to keep open Newham’s only LGBT youth group, which faced closure because of council cuts.
For many of us, this kind of community organising is just as important as the football: the Ultras bring together, in significant numbers, a group of like-minded activists with years of campaigning experience who can make a real impact locally. This extended to encouraging more local people so Clapton FC better reflects the community where it is based: just recently, we held a stall at the local Forest Gate Festival simply to remind local people that the club still exists and is far more welcoming and family-friendly than many might imagine. It’s a real necessity because, perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority of working class football fans remain white, straight and male. Constantly reaffirming our opposition to all forms of discrimination is slowly encouraging a greater level of diversity as the number of supporters increases, but not as fast as we would like.
Fundamentally, though, the Clapton Ultras remain just football fans, who happen to have created a safe, supportive space for others like themselves on the radical, largely unaligned left. It’s somewhere to have a laugh, make new friends, temporarily forget what a massive cockwomble David Cameron is and still enjoy an outpouring of emotion at away game in a tiny village somewhere out in the wilds of Essex.
You can find the Clapton Ultras online at claptonultras.org, on Facebook at facebook.com/ClaptonUltras and on Twitter at @ClaptonUltras
The Clapton Ultras fanzine, Red Menace, is at redmenacefanzine.wordpress.com
The Clapton Ultras podcast, The Old Spotted Dogcast, is at theoldspotteddogcast.wordpress.com
On Oct 21st international property developers, and local developers and politicians meet at Olympia for their annual fair (MIPIM). According to the organisers themselves it is a gathering of ‘the most influential international property players, looking to close deals in the UK property market’.
Join the Radical Housing Network is organising a protest outside Olympia at 9 am.
On Thursday, Oct 15th at the GMB Union – 22 Stephenson Way NW1 2HD at 6:30.
The new edition of the Howler will be out in a couple of weeks. There will be articles about Poplar Harca and the Chrisp St market campaign, an interview with a member of the Boleyn Development campaign and an article written by a supporter of Clapton Football Club, the Clapton Ultras.Here is the front page editorial.
Proudly East London
The current struggles in East London are part of a long tradition. We take pride in this tradition of solidarity, struggle and community. We remember the Match Girls Strike, the dockers’ and tailors’ strikes, all in 1889, the Wapping print strike in 1985, the squatting movement in the late 60s and early 1970s. We remember the Battle of Cable Street, Sylvia Pankhurst and the Women’s Suffrage Federation, Rudolf Rocker and the Worker’s Friend, the struggle against the National Front in the 1970s. We are reminded how East London Irish and Jews united to oppose the march of Mosley down Cable Street in 1936.
East London has been the birthplace of many progressive movements and inspired many books. For some writers East London means the Abyss, Darkest London, Outcast London, miles and miles of slums. For us the traditions of struggle and community are what counts.
What also counts is the fact that East London has been a haven for people fleeing from persecution and massacre. Take the Huguenots, French Protestants who had to leave France after more than a million were slaughtered and who ended up in the East End. Take many Jews from Eastern Europe, forced to leave there after vicious massacres and persecution. These waves of immigration to the East End were followed by the settling of immigrants from Ireland, many of whom worked on the docks, and from Bangladesh and Somalia in the 20th century.
Being Proudly East London doesn’t mean we oppose new incomers to the area as long as they’re not rich yuppies or property developers who are attempting to destroy our communities and drive us out. East London has a tradition of sheltering those fleeing from persecution and poverty, and it is one we also proudly celebrate.
Every year the ExCel Centre, owned by a Qatari multi-national, hosts a major arms fair. As in past years, protesters will aim to shut down the fair and raise awareness of the horrendous consequences of the trade in weapons. There will be events leading up to the fair (Sept 7- 11th) and also the week of the Fair, starting with a musical protest on the 12th of September from 2pm – 5 pm on the footbridge leading up to the entrance. Nearest transport: Custom House DLR and then follow signs to the ExCel Centre.
The Excel centre is privately owned and will try and exclude protesters, another example of the privatisation of the city.
On Saturday, after the stall at Queen’s Market, supporters of the campaign for 100% social housing on the Boleyn Ground went to the Clapton football match. We distributed leaflets for the campaign as well as The Howler (its headline Keep the Rich off our Pitch was popular!), and publicity for the 19th of Sept march against evictions and for social housing. These were well-received by fans. During half-time, we did a collection and were inspired by the fans generosity. The supporters of the team, known as the Clapton Ultras, are certainly special! It was a great atmosphere and we thank them for their welcome.
The event at the week-end (see previous blog post) was a great success with both the walk and the assembly attended by a variety of campaigns and individuals, all keen to get involved and work together to fight gentrification in all its forms and against the way public space is being taken over and privatised. Stop the Blocks- a network of different campaigns in the borough- is to continue meeting and planning joint actions. There will be a meeting of Stop the Blocks after the protest at the Jack the Ripper Museum in Cable St. The controversy around this museum is related to the general concern about the way in which Tower Hamlets is being taken over as a place to make profit and not for the the benefit of the local community. What should have been a museum to celebrate the struggles of working class women in Tower Hamlets has been revealed to be yet another glorification of Jack the Ripper as a means of attracting tourists and making money.