A far-right group is attempting to recruit Saints fans to its ranks, a Daily Echo investigation has uncovered.
The English Defence League (EDL) last month launched a recruitment drive in Southampton to enlist football fans to march against “Islamic extremism”. The league, whose demonstrations in London, Luton and Birmingham led to violence, has infiltrated supporter’s online forums and the terraces of St Mary’s Stadium. Concerned Saints bosses have condemned the group and brought it to the attention of Hampshire police, Southampton City Council, Hampshire FA and football’s antiracism campaign Kick it Out.
Southampton Itchen MP John Denham, who is in charge of promoting inter-faith harmony for the Government, last night branded the group “troublemakers” and said he was confident most fans would have nothing to do with them.
The Echo can reveal Saints this week ordered Facebook to remove the club’s crest from an EDL campaign group founded on the social networking website. By yesterday 175 people had signed up to the “Southampton FC branch of the EDL”, which claims it wants to peacefully protest against “militant Islam within our shores”.
Desperate to disassociate itself from the fringe group, Saints were last night seeking legal advice to have the name Southampton FC removed from the website page.
A Saints spokesman said: “Southampton Football Club wholeheartedly condemns this type of racist activity. We were made aware of this group, and immediately took the relevant steps to ensure that any implied affiliation was eradicated. Further to this, we have notified members of the club’s Racism Just Ain’t Saintly committee of our concerns, and asked that these are passed on to the Premier League and Football League to make other clubs aware of these activities. This is something the club will be monitoring in the future as it clearly conflicts with our principles of a united, cohesive and integrated community.”
The right-wing radicals, whose emblem is a St George’s Cross emblazoned on a shield, hit the headlines in recent months after they fought running battles with anti-fascists protesters.
Saints fans were first invited to join the newly formed group on September 17 by a local organiser who goes by the online name of “Bigtonsfc”. In a posting on the supporter’s website saintsweb.co.uk he said they were a “fast expanding” group who “have had enough of Muslim extremists being allowed to shout about murdering British people and ruining our soldiers’ homecomings”.
It sparked an online debate about the pros and cons of the league that has continued for the past two weeks, however most fans appeared to dismiss the approach.
On the EDL’s own website, members have discussed the desire to organise a demonstration in Southampton. One poster also said a “few Southampton lads” were going to march in a protest planned for Manchester next Saturday.
A spokesman for United Against Fascists, (UAF) which has clashed violently with the EDL over the past two months, described the league as a “threat” and said news that Southampton FC was being targeted was a “very worrying development”.
“They claim they are not racist, but all of the evidence points in the opposite direction. There is no doubt that these are a group of hooligans who have decided they are going to go round multiracial areas to stir up trouble and attack Muslims,” the spokesman said.
Southern Daily Echo