Rivals On the Pitch – United Against Racism
Building UN anti racism day in Swansea and South Wales, 2021

Something unique happened in South Wales on March 20th 2021- deep seated rivals put aside long held enmities to come together against racism. In the wake of the travesty that is the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report, we thought it worth recording and celebrating what was achieved by activists from Stand Up to Racism Wales.

A small group of Swansea City fans, who were also Stand Up to Racism members, set up Jacks against Racism and Fascism about 3 years ago. We were alarmed that the ageing and largely irrelevant far-right groups who been hanging around the club for years were starting to get a bit more cocky, and finding some resonance amongst younger fans. This was due no doubt to the activities of the far right football related groups around Tommy Robinson and co, as well as the persistent Islamophobic and anti-migrant rhetoric coming from the government and other areas of the establishment.

Unsure how we'd be received, we began to leaflet games. We needn't have worried, as the reception we received was incredibly positive, friendly and welcoming, so much so that we began to leaflet regularly, and then started to distribute hundreds of badges and stickers as well.

The next step was getting in touch with the club, again this went much better than expected and pretty soon we were invited into the plush boardroom to meet with the CEO, who was keen to work with us, invited us to to submit a piece for the programme and encouraged us to keep in touch when we had concerns about activities amongst far-right so called 'fans'.

In fact things were going so well that Adrian Chiles of BBC Radio 5 arranged to meet us when WBA played here for a possible feature for his show. And then lockdown struck.

The subsequent lack of fans at the games meant that there was then an empty space for the far-right to occupy and to have a disproportionate impact, when in normal times they'd have been massively outnumbered and unable to gather. Prominent amongst these bigots was a particularly nasty so-called 'Media Outlet', Voice of Wales. They had already been harassing refugees and their supporters in Penally; once they had been marginalised there by the hard work West Wales Stand Up to Racism, they moved East and began booing, shouting abuse and lobbing fireworks outside games, as our players took the knee for Black Lives Matter. Not wanting to put our communities at risk, and determined to keep NHS and Stadium workers as safe as possible, we decided it was best not to respond physically. However we did confront them powerfully and successfully online. Along with a vibrant social media campaign, we wrote a statement that was signed by scores of fans, politicians, musicians, sportspeople, community leaders and so on; this very quickly lead to the complete marginalisation of the racists.

Hearing of our work, a lifelong fan who was feeling anxious about attending games with his dual heritage family, got in touch with us; with an increased confidence he decided to go live on a local radio phone in. The avalanche of sympathy and solidarity he and we received was magnificent - across the mainstream media, social media and and amongst fans groups, opinion was united against the racists. Voice of Wales were further marginalised.

Some thorough investigative work from officers of Unite Against Fascism and local journalists and campaigners then helped uncover links between Voice of Wales, the so called neutral news outlet, with far right football firms. Voice of Wales underlined these allegiances by inviting the likes of Tommy Robinson, Katie Hopkins and the Proud Boys onto their shows. The latter was particularly shocking as it was just days after the American Nazis had been involved in the Capitol Hill riot, wearing Camp Auschwitz hoodies.

Thanks to continued pressure from anti racists and these revelations, YouTube finally and permanently deleted the group's channel; this is clearly a big blow to them, both to their propaganda machine and also to their finances. And a victory for anti racists!

All this productive activity and publicity helped our ongoing work building for March 20th, United Nations anti-racism day, which also happened to be the day of the South Wales Derby. Somebody had the brilliant idea that we could use it to try to bring both sets of fans together; the campaign 'Rivals on the pitch United against Racism' was born.

This was an adventurous idea as the rivalry between the two South Wales clubs is deep set and can sometimes boil over into hatred. However it struck a chord with many fans, the Supporters Trusts and also the clubs; pretty soon we reconnected with officials at both Swansea and (thanks to one particularly determined and creative fan) Cardiff. We then had a zoom meeting with officials from both clubs, representatives of both supporters trust and fans of both teams, all working together to help promote M20. The clubs were delighted to see fans take the issue so seriously.

We then held weekly online planning meetings attended by a range of activists, fans, journalists, officials from the ever supportive Show Racism the Red Card and in one case, ex Welsh international and TV pundit Nathan Blake! This meant that on March 20th, people across South Wales took the knee in solidarity with and at the same time as the players; by definition, in so doing they were opposing the racist groups who would had abused Black Lives Matter. Scores of videos of fans and well known public figures (including a range of MPs, Lord Peter Hain and Shav Taj of the Welsh TUC) taking the knee in solidarity were submitted and used on our social media channels.

As a way of spreading the word, we held a memorable online meeting about 'The Battle of Swansea', a protest at St Helen's Rugby Ground 50 years ago when the Springboks, the white only South African rugby team, were due to play. The demonstrations against this dramatically and irreversibly turned the tide on the racist apartheid South African regime. We managed to assemble an incredible line up of speakers including Lord Peter Hain, who was organising protests nationally against sporting links with apartheid, John Taylor, the ex Wales international and British Lion who was the only rugby player who refused to play against the South Africans, and Kath Eilbeck, a Swansea student in the autumn of 1969 who had her life changed by taking part in the protest. Messages of support were also sent by Swansea City and Swansea Rugby Club, and the event attracted an international audience who heard first hand how opposition to racism in sport can lead to a positive change in society. The meeting is available to watch again on Stand Up to Racism' Youtube channel here as is the Stand Up to Racism football fans online meeting here, at which Shaka Hislop and Ged Grebby spoke, and where we were well represented .

Both football clubs also helped publicise UN anti racism day by putting out anti-racist statements and by visiting communities to spread the word. On match day itself, both teams wore anti-racist t-shirts during the warm-up, there was a massive banner with our slogan on it hung up behind one of the goals, there were articles in the local programme and all this was picked up on by the media in the run up to the match (including by Shaka Hislop on BBC Five Live) and by Sky TV (to a lesser extent) on the day. That morning, we held an impressive online rally, featuring contributions from many speakers across Wales ranging from well-known trade unionists, politicians and public figures to a diverse range of football fans and others, all wanting to stand up to racism. Speakers also came from the campaigns in Cardiff where Stand up to Racism has been active in supporting victims of police actions. Simultaneously, our reel of 'Take the Knee' videos of was played on a loop in the big TV in the city centre (where we held a small socially distanced event), and the civic buildings were lit in purple.

Of course it would have been much better if we could have been in the ground and able to attend the game, but in the circumstances we made a big impact; bringing long standing rivals together in this way and on this scale is probably unprecedented, and this is something we hope others may emulate.

Recent racist social media abuse Swansea players have suffered, along with comments from government about refugees and institutional racism, show that the fight against prejudice is far from won. However, what we did made a difference. Very positively, both clubs want to continue the regular dialogue with anti racist fans and discuss how we can continue to make a real difference; for example, if the players decide that taking the knee is no longer relevant, they suggest we can meet to discuss putting something else even more effective in its place. We have involved new members from a variety of political groups in the campaign, have extended our reach, set up new SUTR groups and have hopefully put anti-racism in a stronger position in Swansea, as we look to defend the right to protest, welcome refugees and oppose racism in football.

Swansea Stand Up to Racism

Get in touch

Swansea Stand Up to Racism
Facebook here
Instagram here
email standuptoracismswansea@gmail.com


Jacks Against Racism and Fascism
Facebook here
Instagram here

Wales Stand Up to Racism
Facebook here

Stand Up to Racism
UK website and contact details here


Statement printed in the programme, March 20th

It saddens both clubs – and our respective supporters – that we are still fighting this battle in 2021. Both Swansea City and Cardiff City condemn discrimination and abuse of all kinds.

No one should be subjected to abuse for their ethnicity, gender or sexuality and what we have witnessed recently, and historically, is wholly unacceptable.

Our clubs pride themselves on working with their respective communities and supporters, as well as with the EFL and FA, on all anti-racism and anti-discriminatory campaigns.

We want to ensure that racism and discrimination is not tolerated anywhere within the game, as well as our respective clubs.

Our supporter groups are working continuously to ensure our stadiums are places where everyone feels welcome.

Racism and discrimination has no place in society, let alone in football.

We believe the game we all love has the power to influence, the power to make a difference and, more importantly, the power to change.

Rivals on the pitch. United against racism.

It’s time for change.