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When inclusion means exclusion

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When City of Liverpool FC first put a team on a football pitch, in a behind closed doors fixture at Stockport Town in the summer of 2016, it was the culmination of almost two years work. In order to achieve that 90 minutes the founder members had worked hard to bring together a community around the idea of a football club that represented the civic, social and cultural identity of Liverpool.

It was the coalescence of the founding group around core values of democratic ownership, equality and diversity that enabled the club’s birth as a Community Benefit Society in October 2015.

It was these values that attracted an influx of over 1000 members, many already active in football supporters’ organisations, and the appointment of a top class manager before a ball was kicked or a league position secured. It was these values that enabled us to use a social value approach to organisations like Regenda Homes, who became our main sponsors, and others like reserve team sponsors, Progressive Lifestyle Solutions CIC, and an array of smaller enterprises drawn from the founding group’s networks.

It is these values that, to this day, enable the seven days a week COLFC operation to function and put a team on the pitch on matchday. Every day of every week, COLFC is active. Potential sponsors and partners are met with, community organisations are networked, local councils are engaged in stadium plans, COLFC Community is working with marginalised groups to promote inclusion and social cohesion through football, and our teams at senior, reserve, womens and youth level train or play matches.

While they are the pinnacle of our club’s operations, first team matchdays are but a snapshot of what COLFC does, and has to do, to be a sustainable and successful community owned football club. Without the club’s core founding values, this activity doesn’t take place. Volunteers do not volunteer, partners do not enter partnerships, sponsors do not sponsor, and matchday becomes the accomplishment of this accumulated failure.

This is why we must protect our founding vision of a club in the image of Liverpool’s diverse culture and community. This is why all who value the unique Purps’ matchday, and our ability to field trophy winning, table topping teams, must defend the very thing that underpins it all – our core values. To be blunt, it is why we cannot afford to give any leeway whatsoever to those who would seek to exclude, or create a hostile environment for, sections of our community on the basis of racist, homophobic or sectarian politics and bigotry.

It cannot be a case of the club adopting a position of passive neutrality when forces are at work who would threaten the very basis of our reason for being, the foundation that underpins every single element of our success to date. Those who would turn a blind eye to far right elements in the name of “neutrality” and “keeping politics out of the game” must recognise that such apparent “neutrality” allows prejudice to fester and excludes those that the club was founded to include. It undermines, and will ultimately be terminal for, literally everything COLFC does – including putting a successful team on the pitch.

Those tempted by the arguments for this type of “neutrality” would do well to visit the website of Borussia Dortmund. The Bundesliga club has worked hard to remove neo-nazi elements from its Sudtribune “Yellow Wall” and offers guidance on popular slogans used by the hard right in their quest to regain a presence on the famous terrace: https://www.bvb.de/Fans/Fanabteilung/Kein-Bier-fuer-Rassisten BVB provides excellent take downs of these populist and deceitful slogans, a number of which have become staples of football orientated fascists throughout Europe:

  • “Politics do not belong in the stadium /” Politics is politics, football is football “
  •  “I have nothing against foreigners ..” / “I’m not a Nazi, but …”
  • “As long as my neighbour in the stadium cheers on our club, I do not care what he or she thinks”

Further evidence of the dangers of a passive approach to a hard right presence in football has emerged at New York City. Both the MSL and the club have adopted a hands-off approach to fascism in pursuing an “apolitical” policy towards the club’s support. As FARE (Football Against Racism in Europe) has tweeted, this has led to a violent white supremacist element gaining a foothold within the club’s fan base:

https://twitter.com/farenet/status/1102499028057624576

COLFC’s constitution prohibits party political affiliation, this must always remain so. Similarly, the commitment to being an inclusive, democratically owned football club, representing Liverpool’s civic, social and cultural identity, remains crucial to the club’s every day, and matchday, existence. Just as it did when this commitment was articulated in the business plan submitted to the FA in support of our application to enter the non-league football pyramid.

To remain inclusive, to provide a community venue where nobody feels threatened because of, for example, their ethnic origin or minority culture, we must use every tool at our disposal to repel those who seek to exclude and discriminate. To this end, the club’s AGM will vote on resolutions intended to provide robust governance measures, including banning the far right Football Lads Alliance, Democratic Football Lads Alliance and any derivative or associated groups from the club.

These measures will protect the values at the core of the club’s operation, enhancing our ability to be the inclusive club that we must be if we are to succeed in representing our great, diverse, city. By necessity, our inclusion cannot be extended to, and abused by, those who would seek to exclude.

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