This weekend saw the English Defence League's (EDL) much hyped visit to Bradford. Hype that from all sides in the build up was hard to avoid. The EDL were all over the internet claiming to be bringing between five and ten thousand supporters to their provocatively self proclaimed ‘Big One'. The local paper – The Telegraph and Argus – launched a campaign that saw over 10,000 local residents sign a petition that led, along with the recommendation of the West Yorkshire Police, to all marches over the bank holiday being banned, and the far-left group UAF were determined to ship their supporters from all over the country for a counter demo. Nerves were frayed in a city that still bears the scars from the 2001 riots. The EDL were still going to descend on Bradford and stage a static demo, something that the authorities, in the interests of free speech, are powerless to prevent, regardless of how repellent or even relevant that speech is.
Predictably, the EDL failed to understand Bradford and their event was a damp squib. Only around 700 EDL supporters bothered to turn up, according to police figures, and their posturing, missile throwing and attempt at a rampage was largely ignored by the Bradford public, who chose instead to cock a snook at the curious outsiders. Outsiders in every meaning of the word. The organisation, who's leaders are now trying to ally themselves with Americas far-right in their fight against the ‘Ground Zero Mosque (that is neither a mosque or at Ground Zero, but that's another story) found themselves kettled in Bradford’s very own Ground Zero. The irony of where these drunken nut-jobs in their Stone Island and dodgy sportswear were stood would, I imagine, be completely lost on them. They were here to defend Bradford from what they were telling us was our biggest problem, but they happened to be standing in, and throwing rocks from, one of Bradford’s real biggest problems.
The EDL came offering nothing positive to our city. They came with a message of no relevance. They came to stir things up. They came full of hatred. They came when they knew they weren't welcome. They came knowing nothing about Bradford, its people or it's history. They came in a taxi.
The Westfield site, or the Bradford Hole, or Ground Zero, is the site of the proposed Westfield shopping centre. Work on which started in 2004 and was due for completion in 2007. Westfield effectively pulled the plug on the operation and grassed it over giving us the tenuously titled 'urban garden', whilst blaming the credit crunch, which didn't occur until after the centre was supposed to be finished. Most Bradfordians, myself included, blame the fiasco on the spectre of 2001. The riots, sparked by another proposed far-right march and inflamed by the far-left, which made our city appear a particularly unattractive proposition for retailers to open their stores in. A place to avoid. Nearly a decade on and the EDL were here to kick off another riot.
Bradford, like most major cities, has it's problems - crime, poverty, unemployment, a massively underachieving football team with crap new balti pies - but radical Islam isn't one of them. I'm fortunate enough to be able to leave my house and walk to the pub without being blown up by a suicide bomber, buy my none Halal bacon for my weekend breakfast and return home without being stoned to death. Thanks for the offer fellas, but we really don't need defending, and by the way this is Yorkshire not England. Of course this isn't what the EDL would have you believe, and I'd imagine as I'm typing this their supporters will be scratching their heads trying to think of a way of putting a positive spin on a day which exposed them to the rest of the country on live TV as the racist, violent aggravators we all knew they were and they claimed they were not.
The EDL is movement of our time. The environment is ripe for them. The IRA is no longer there to be the bogeyman and sung about at football grounds: 'No Surrenda!' The BNP's collapse in the polls and now rumoured financial meltdown has proved that racism doesn't sell. They tried to jump ship from not liking blacks or pakis, to just not liking Muslims, but the British public weren't fooled. The EDL has taken up this single issue as their own against the backdrop of The War on Terror, a government backed crusade – for lack of a better word – that the man couldn't argue with because it was his war. They're the BNP's version of New Labour, New BNP. Where the BNP and the NF before them did their recruiting outside the country's football grounds, the EDL recruit the same young lads via Facebook and the internet and now it's 'No Surrenda to the Taliban!' The flaws in this social network model, were exposed on Saturday. Packed forums and message walls, 26,000 Facebook members, the EDL's cup final. The Big One, yet only a turn out of 700, frustrated kids throwing rocks, shouty men, bizarre placards, and some fighting amongst themselves live on Sky in glorious HD.
They failed to understand the people of Bradford. We may not be a Newcastle or Liverpool with their distinctive accents, or a Manchester with their sporting and musical heritage, but we do have an identity of our own. The sixth biggest city, strangled by the encroaching empty swank of Leeds on one side and jarred against the glorious Pennines on the other, the people of Bradford are stubborn and protective of our city. We famously stood alone during the English Civil war against the Royalists and resisted repeated attacks, when the surrounding countryside was in Royalist hands, which made the EDL's choice of 'English Civil War' by The Clash (yes, The Clash! You'd have thought they'd thought that one through) as the song to play at their demo even more amusing. The people of Bradford are cynical, and like a good moan about what they think is wrong with their city, but outsiders such as those of the EDL who run it down are given short shrift.
The EDL came offering nothing positive to our city. They came with a message of no relevance. They came to stir things up. They came full of hatred. They came when they knew they weren't welcome. They came knowing nothing about Bradford, its people or it's history. They came in a taxi. It's yet another irony, during a day of many, that the EDL came here to divide, yet they met a united community who made sure they failed, and left having bonded the city together. The only division appearing to be in the ranks of the kettled EDL as some of them traded blows, whilst others scrambled over fences or were introduced to the local shrubbery (have a quick YouTube). They left weakened and one has to wonder about their future, as it doesn't seem they have one.
I woke up on Saturday morning, fearful for the future of our city and still with the gut wrench of Bradford City's defeat the previous night at home to Southend weighing me down. The result come Saturday evening went some way to making me feel a lot better and even more proud to be a Bradfordian. Bradford 1 EDL 0. Can we play you every week?