West Ham fan on club’s supporters’ board marched with Democratic Football Lads Alliance

Exclusive by Jacob Steinberg
The Guardian

A representative on West Ham United’s newly formed Official Supporters’ Board has placed the club in an awkward position after expressing support for the Democratic Football Lads Alliance, a group condemned by anti-racism campaigners.

Greg Smith, who was present when the board held its first meeting with Karren Brady, West Ham’s vice-chairman, and other club officials last week, was asked by the Guardian whether his attendance at October’s DFLA march in London was compatible with his position as a fan representative.

Smith, a season ticket holder at the London Stadium, replied: “I did attend the march in October – I’m opposed to acts of terrorism as a political means of effecting change and marched on that basis.”

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Smith has previously expressed support for Mark Phillips, West Ham’s Under-18s coach who also attended the march. The club suspended Phillips and held an investigation to see whether his social media activity had broken club rules. He returned to his role in the academy last month after the club found there were not sufficient grounds to sack him. They had taken external legal advice from employment specialists.

“We were protesting about better treatment for homeless old soldiers as much as Islamic extremism,” Smith told the Sun in October. “I don’t know Mark Phillips but it makes him look like a condemned man before he has a fair trial. The suspension has been a big topic among a lot of West Ham fans who think it’s too much, too soon.”

Smith’s comments raise troubling questions for West Ham. 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. There is no suggestion that Smith was involved in any disturbances.

The DFLA has been accused of spreading Islamophobia and of having links with far-right organisations. It was set up after the London Bridge terror attack in 2017, has called itself an anti-extremist group and has received support from Tommy Robinson, the former leader of the English Defence League. The Premier League warned clubs about the DFLA’s growing presence inside stadiums this year.

Smith, who was elected to the board to represent 1966 season ticket holders, also has links with the Real West Ham Fans Group, which was set up last season by Andy Swallow and Micky Morgan, founder members of the infamous unofficial Inter City Firm. West Ham were accused of failing to respond appropriately after the RWHFG orchestrated an online campaign against the former head of West Ham United Independent Supporters’ Association, a rival fan group.

Applications were anonymised and scored by an independent panel and representatives selected by them

West Ham spokesperson

The RWHFG and WHUISA were part of a coalition of 15 fan groups that held meetings with Brady to discuss supporter discontent earlier this year. Smith is one of 18 members on the Official Supporters’ Board, which was set up to improve dialogue with the club following unrest over West Ham’s decision to leave Upton Park for the London Stadium. WHUISA has declined to take part.

The Guardian asked West Ham whether it was appropriate for Smith to remain on the board given his support for the DFLA and to explain the process which led to representatives being elected by an independent panel of four that included Sir Trevor Brooking. The club did not answer questions regarding whether it conducted background checks or reserved the right to veto elected members.

A West Ham spokesperson said: “Members of the Official Supporters’ Board are not appointed by the club, but by an independent panel. The process was open and available to all supporters to apply and applications were anonymised and scored by an independent panel and representatives selected by them. The supporters receiving the highest score in each area were selected as a supporter representative. We do not comment on individual members.”

West Ham received a complaint from a supporter about Smith’s place on the SAB last week. A member of supporter services responded: “Panel members were chosen based on their backgrounds within football, supporter experience or because they possessed great knowledge and passion for West Ham.”

Smith has stated his aim is to be “a conduit between supporters and the club so there’s a measured and manageable dialogue at all times”.

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