The Clatpon Ultras have carved out something of a spectacle in East London at the Old Spotted Dog football ground, whilst managing to espouse progressive class politics and having fun at the same time. Clapton FC it should be noted has had something of an illustrious social history (see Walter Tull and clubs history) but the team is a historical non-league club. Their gates are hitting a considerable following after having something of a cult status, and they’re now regularly getting mainstream press attention, which is not bad considering they’re in the 9th tier of English football.
But with the unprecendented ‘success’ has come attention from the far-right and a fair few criticisms from the left of them being poseurs….
One AF comrade had chance to pick the brain of an anonymous Ultra.
Q. Whats the story behind Clapton Ultras? Where did it all start from?
Well it kind of come from two angles really. It was when some of us got together who have a love for football, football fans culture across the world, lefty politics and drinking. It stemmed obviously from attending matches and bringing your friends. Then went on to some tongue in cheeks stickers, online posters and flags. From there we began to get a lot of support from the non league community, an already established Clapton supporters group called Friends of Clapton and a lot of people that wanted to support our anti fascist stance.
Q. Is it all about football first and foremost?
In a word ‘yes’. Everything that we do comes from that. I think any our good work in community like foodbanks, anti raids rights info sharing, community football tournaments would be illegitimate if we weren’t football first and foremost.
Q. The games have been billed as ‘Football for all’. What does this mean in practice?
Good question. For me, it’s about inclusiveness and to encourage people from our community to come along. Particularly those that not gone to football because they don’t feel that’s it a welcoming experience. It’s also a generational thing, parents may have had bad experiences (ie. Racism, sexism etc) with football fans so discourage their children to attend games. We push that so we can challenge how football culture is and demonstrate how it can be. I cant stress enough, this is a personal perspective and I don’t speak for CU on this, but I think problems are occurring with this stance because we find that people come along for the “Clapton experience”. In its self is fine, but when that becomes the dominate culture in the Scaffold then we become a joke, largely because these people don’t really sing and don’t really give a shit if we win or lose. Of course there is an element of irony, we are a team in a league above park teams, but we love the club and really want the local guys on the pitch to do well. This is what I want to be the reason for a vocal support, not for some shitty Instagram posts.
Q. What are your thoughts on anti-fascist ultras organising at bigger mainstream clubs?
Yeah in England I am only sure of Villa and Middlesbrough being visible anti facsist. The problem is that it brings a lot of attention from fash groups and you need to be able to stand your ground (I’m not saying that in that dodgy Green Street accent). I completely get why people wouldn’t want that trouble when you just wanna watch a game. A lot of the grief from somewhere like West Ham wouldn’t actually come not from fash but from “keep politics out of football” types (of course this is typically white men). When smaller clubs ask for advice, we make sure they are aware of the very real threat from fash if they have an antifa stance. Now that is not to discourage them but to ensure they are informed about potential consequences (and we don’t want fash to get a victory over unsuspecting well intended fans).
Q. The supporters have garnered controversy on both the left and right. Why?
I can only speak from a personal perspective (we don’t really have spokes people), but essentially I think it’s because we don’t do neutrality. Generally to be neutral is to side with the oppressors. We take sides and we stand firm with those we support.
We are visibly opposed to fascism, and it tends to piss off the racists. That is very simplistic but that is essentially it. I think the right feel they have football, and matches their macho image of themselves. People who embrace hooligan and casual culture in England tends to see themselves as apolitical but there are many fash sympathisers amongst them who have targeted us and built us up as some kind of ‘firm’ (which isn’t true, as anyone who has been to a game will tell you). But thankfully with the support of the community and local anti fascist groups, we have managed the threats and attacks ok.
Q. Is there anything else to add?
One of the nicest things I read about Clapton Ultras was this guy talking about how the Scaffold was chaotic but strangely self governed. Lots of alcohol flying about, pyro going off with lots of singing and dancing. When opposition fans went on to the pitch, no one battered an eyelid, they went back to their friends more or less straight away without much fuss. There are no police or stewards. Add in to the mix the opposition to sexism, racism and homophobia, then it’s a pretty fun day for all.