They see themselves as the vanguard in a battle for the soul of Britain against extremist Islamist forces – the “enemy within” bent on imposing Sharia. Casuals United announced their arrival on Saturday when a small army of shirt-sleeved, middle-aged men with beer bellies clashed in a flurry of punches and kicks with young Asians in Birmingham city centre.
The group, which is closely affiliated with the far-right English Defence League, insists that it is a peaceful movement representing ordinary working people angered by the sight of Muslims hurling insults at British soldiers on homecoming parades. But if the chants of “England, England” and the aggressive posturing appear familiar, it is because they are.
The members of Casuals United are largely former football hooligans drawn from the terraces and, according to their critics, are essentially the BNP and National Front repackaged. The groupings have attracted the support of BNP activists including Chris Renton, who created the English Defence League website.
Jeff Marsh, the leader of Casuals United, told The Times that the organisation was a “mixed-race group of English people, from businessmen and women, to football hooligans”.
He said: “I came up with the idea to unite football fans to forget their petty rivalries and come together in a national movement. There are a lot of people in their forties and fifties who used to be hooligans but went on to settle down. A lot of young football fans want to get involved.”
Mr Marsh, who holds a degree in criminal justice, claims to have support among serving soldiers and points to the activities of army wives on the website Armchair Warriors. “Their men can’t be seen to be supporting us directly,” he said.
The new beast on the far Right came to prominence when its members clashed with anti-fascist protesters in Birmingham on Saturday. Police made 30 arrests and are still studying closed-circuit television footage.
According to the anti-fascist group Searchlight, Casuals United was created after the trouble in March when Islamists demonstrated against troops returning from Afghanistan to Luton. Two months later, members of Casuals United marched through the town and last month they picketed an Islamic roadshow in North London.
Mr Marsh, 44, whose book The Trouble with Taffies is an account of football violence in South Wales, confirmed that the Luton parade had been the catalyst. He said that a generation of former football hooligans were stirred to action by the sight of Muslim extremists abusing the men of the Royal Anglian Regiment.
After the group was outnumbered by United Against Fascism in Birmingham on Saturday, Mr Marsh pledged that it would return to the city on August 30. The group is also planning a protest in Manchester in October.