West Ham have suspended one of their youth coaches pending an investigation after he said he went on a march organised by the Democratic Football Lads Alliance, a group condemned by anti-racism campaigners.
Mark Phillips, who coaches West Ham’s Under-18s, now faces a fight to keep his job after his support for the DFLA was brought to the attention of Kick It Out, football’s anti-discrimination charity. Phillips tweeted about attending the DFLA’s march through central London last Saturday and went on to defend the right-wing organisation in subsequent tweets.
The DFLA, a group formed of mainly middle-aged, white male football fans had planned a mass march from Park Lane to Whitehall. Organisers said on Facebook they were protesting against “returning jihadists”, “thousands of Awol migrants”, “rape gangs and groomers” and “veterans treated like traitors”. The demonstration descended into violence when anti-racist protesters attempted to block the DFLA’s route.
Although there is no suggestion that Phillips was involved in any of the disturbances, his future at West Ham is under threat given the DFLA has been accused of spreading Islamophobia and of having links with far-right organisations.Kick It Out contacted the club on Monday after receiving a report from an anonymous complainant and is monitoring the situation. It also alerted the Football Association. However, the FA is not in a position to take disciplinary action, because Phillips does not appear to have broken any laws or regulations.
A Kick It Out spokesman said: “We can confirm we’ve received a report about a West Ham coach claiming to have attended the DFLA rally. We have passed it on to the club and are liaising with them about the issue.”
West Ham took action on Tuesday evening, although there is a chance Phillips could earn a reprieve if he expresses remorse and agrees to attend one of Kick It Out’s educational courses about discrimination. The Premier League warned clubs about the DFLA’s growing presence inside stadiums this year.
“Good turnout as usual from the West Ham fans today in W1,” Phillips tweeted on Saturday. “Always the biggest [party emoticon]. Fair due to Millwall as well, good show south London.”
AdvertisementPhillips later told another Twitter user the disturbances during the march were sparked by protesters who confronted DFLA supporters and said it was “fake news” to label the group a far-right organisation.
The DFLA was set up after the London Bridge terror attack in 2017 and has called itself an anti-extremist group. It has received support from Tommy Robinson, the former leader of the English Defence League.
Responding to a witness who said he was at the march, Phillips said: “I was too. The football fans were sticking to the agreed route and Antifa chose to confront the march. They had there face covered up. We didn’t. Ask yourself honestly who instigated the trouble??”
Phillips mounted a defence of the DFLA’s actions and said he left the march at Embankment: “The police made a mistake by walking the peaceful football fans’ march into the aggressive Antifa group and not the other way round. Ask the police on duty for the truth,” he said.
“Who said they were far right? Not true. Football fans yes. Far right. Fake news. Admittedly there was a lot of EX football hooligans there. But their behaviour was non-aggressive until ambushed by people hell bent on causing trouble. No matter how people look it’s there behaviour that counts. Ask your ex-colleagues the truth.
“I can’t comment I got the tube home from Embankment station and did not enter Parliament Square. I only comment on things I actually witnessed.”
The club said in a statement: “West Ham United is an inclusive football club. Regardless of gender, age, race, ability, religion or sexual orientation, every supporter within our diverse fanbase is warmly welcomed at London Stadium, free to enjoy watching their team play football without fear, discrimination or abuse.
“We have a zero tolerance policy to any form of violent or abusive behaviour. We continue to protect and cherish those values and we remain committed to ensuring every single member of the West Ham family feels safe, respected and included.”
This is the second time West Ham have been rocked by controversy this year. Tony Henry lost his job as their head of recruitment after making inappropriate comments about African footballers in February.