THE DAY THE FAR RIGHT CAME FOR WEALDSTONE
When we set up the social media profiles for Bandwagon, I think it’s fair to say that the last thing on our mind was that one day we’d end up receiving coordinated messages from far-right accounts because we’d showed solidarity with another National League club.
I always agonise over doing anything ‘political’ with the account. First and foremost, the fanzine is there as a community project to share our experiences of Solihull Moors and other tinpot football. We don’t want any supporter to be put off unnecessarily. There are fanzines out there which are more explicitly political (SHAG at Wrexham, anyone?), but that was never our purpose, and, frankly, Moors don’t have the fanbase to justify a mag for fans of both the club and Karl Marx. We are of course actively anti-racist, anti-bigotry, pro-inclusion, but those aren’t really political stances. Since it’s me on the social media most of the time, I have to try to balance that when issues come up. PsychoMouse and I have broadly similar political beliefs, and neither of us is actively ‘party political’ (though you may have guessed we don’t like the Tories much), but anything like that has to be relevant in some way to Solihull Moors or the National League.
One area where there can be absolutely no compromise is when it comes to fighting bigotry and discrimination in football. Someone’s ethnicity, sexuality, identity, etc. has no bearing on their football, and oughtn’t be a barrier or a justification for abuse. While general physical differences might preclude mixed-gender teams at a professional level, gender has absolutely no bearing on someone’s ability to understand, follow, and enjoy football, or their capacity to perform as an official or member of staff. That all goes without saying. That is why we stand in solidarity with Ryan Gondoh, Wealdstone FC, and the seven other club members there, who have been receiving extremely ugly, threatening, targeted racial abuse over the past 48 hours.
For those who missed it, Ryan Gondoh did a silly thing. He filmed himself remonstrating with a homeless woman who had called him a “greedy n…” for refusing her request for change. She continued to fire off slurs at him, and he kicked over her change cup. He then filmed himself coming back with a bottle of water and squirting her. It all went up on his Instagram. So far, so juvenile. Some of his followers commented with the suggestion they’d go and find her and give her a piece of their minds too (though there’s absolutely no evidence they actually meant it or followed through), and it was picked up by masters of racially-charged, dog-whistle clickbait, the Daily Mail. From there, well…
Naturally, in this age of social media, lots of people feel they need to have an opinion on absolutely everything and share that with any person seen to be involved, however tangentially. Gondoh and Wealdstone were soon inundated with replies and messages, some justifiably critical of his behaviour, many horrendously abusive. While we can’t condone Gondoh’s actions, the abuse he and his club have received is disgusting beyond comprehension. The fact that Ryan Gondoh has been involved in violence in the past also does not justify the passing thought of racial abuse, let alone committing it to text and sending it his way. What is clear from looking at the range of European Neo-Nazi accounts sending the abuse, and what is most chilling of all, is that this is all being coordinated by far-right groups.
Of the comments we received, there was a common trend. They all came from accounts with something very conspicuous in common. They were all followers and enthusiastic advocates for a group called Patriotic Alternative. This group were founded by Neo-Nazi and former BNP man Mark Collett. They recruit aggressively on platforms such as YouTube and Twitter, targeting children and young people. As a group they stand for white supremacy, aggressive homophobia, antisemitism, and the “traditional family values” (for which read: the subjugation of women and the withdrawal of reproductive rights). They believe that there is a global conspiracy to replace or subjugate all white people and what they consider “white culture”. They have been known to organise on the messaging platform Telegram, and two of their number who were recently arrested have had their devices seized for analysis. That couple were previously members of the now-banned far-right terror group, National Action.
It seems to me that there are strong grounds to suspect that a UK far-right group has used this incident as a pretext to mount an organised campaign against a National League football club. I’m struggling to believe I just wrote that sentence as I read it back, but here we are. In 2021, on the same day Marcus Rashford received a barrage of abuse and plenty were quick to write it off as ‘virgins in India’ or, more despicably, made up to deflect from his own performance, a white supremacist group and their allies have been targeting a non-league football club. We cannot be in denial about this. It is abhorrent. Kick It Out have made a visible statement on Marcus Rashford, and rightly so. They have said nothing about what has happened to Wealdstone.
Why is this important? After all, most reasonable people aren’t going to believe that a new world order is pushing for the destruction of White Anglo-Saxon Protestants via immigration and promotion of LGBT+ culture. However, every time the rainbow laces campaign comes around, you get the same voices complaining about how “they’re shoving it down our throats” (oo-er, missus!), which some otherwise reasonable people might find sympathy with. Otherwise reasonable people have taken issue with players kneeling before football matches, considering it a revolutionary political statement when it in fact has roots in black civil rights activism dating back decades. People complain that footballers are “out of touch”. Well, yeah. The top English leagues are two of a number of global elite competitions, in which what matters is how well the player does, not their ethnicity, nationality, origin, etc. Football has begun, on the pitch at the highest level at least, to resemble something of a meritocracy where an African player can be far more valuable and welcome than an English one in the same position. Meanwhile, in wider society, ethnicity, nationality, and other markers of identity and difference continue to have a real impact on people’s relative status, with direct consequences for how people are treated.
The point is, we need to be vigilant. We need to be open. We need to be understanding. It’s not too long ago that we had some pretty extreme homophobic chanting in our end at one of our away games. It’s not too long ago that Jamie Reckord had 90 minutes at Maidenhead of being compared to an exotic fruit because he has afro hair (which, naturally, no Maidenhead fan I spoke to after the game considered in any way dehumanising or racist, because, well, you could sing it to a white player, right? That song that specifically mocks an African feature. To a white player. Yeah. Well, no, we’ll admit we’ve never actually heard it, but…) – hell, when Nathan Vaughan played against us for Worcester City in the year before he signed, someone in the Tuck Shop End screamed “get back to ISIS!” at him when he made a save. All of it is disgusting. All of it is completely unacceptable. But it happens, and sometimes people bend over backwards to justify it rather than just saying, “Mate, stop that, you’re making a tit of yourself and it’s not welcome.”
I could write a whole second article about how empire and slavery shaped the modern world and the structures of inequality and prejudice we’ve inherited today, as, unlike some of the white supremacist accounts on Twitter, I’m actually a historian of early-modern empires and don’t have to pretend to have done a PhD. I could go on and on about the incredible cultural weight of the N-word, how leveraged in that way by a homeless white woman, it was an assumption of power, a massive middle finger saying, “yeah, I might be on the streets, but I’ll always be better than you, be your superior, be more human than you, because your skin has more colour than mine”. Hell, if I was asked to teach two subjects that explained the modern world to an alien, I’d go with empire and slavery and then probably the French Revolution – part of the reason the UK has such an identity crisis is because it views its own history through the distorting lens of the World Wars rather than the forces that created it. But, regardless, this is all irrelevant to the main point, which is that none of us should stand by while hate groups target the sport we love, and none of us should stay quiet when we see someone acting up.
I strongly encourage the Metropolitan Police in the course of their investigation to look deeply into the links between Patriotic Alternative and the abuse and threats Wealdstone players and staff have suffered.
We stand with Wealdstone FC.