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