Memoirs of An Asian Football Casual: Interview With Riaz Khan

Gareths been at it again! This time he’s put questions to former member of Leicester City’s Baby Squad, author, campaigner and more recently member of Football Lads and Lasses Against Fascism, Riaz Khan. In the current climate with the rise of fascist groups, often trying to recruit young lads from the terraces, it’s good to get a chat in with one of the Baby Squads many Asian members, a man well versed in casual culture and the presence of the far right on our streets and at our clubs.

In this interview he talks about race in the casual scene, modern football violence, the DFLA, leaving football violence behind and more. So let’s get this going, over to Gareth and Riaz…

First of all, big congratulations on the book. How has it been received?

“Thank you. Overall the book has been received well from all types of people from all walks of society. Yet one or two individuals claim it is full of lies?? Haters that’s what I call them haha.”

One of the most interesting topics in the book is your background and how you mention your family history and that (even before the football violence) your family had a rich history of being strong warrior types – can you explain more?

“Pathans are known for their warrior type fighting skills and attitude. A very proud race of people who will fight you if you invade but if you are a guest they will defend you with their lives. From Alexander the Great to the recent U.S invasion. Donald Rumsfeld even quoted that ‘They were warriors’. My mother’s grandfather was an assassin who killed people for money. One story I heard was that he was sitting in Dhaba (tea house) when a man came in to kill him. My great grandfather sat there drinking tea, the unknown man came towards him and without hesitation my great grandfather shot him and still continued drinking his tea! So fighting is part of our culture although I see myself as a watered down Pathan!!”

 I’ve seen a lot of your videos online – including that one of you trying to debate with Paul Golding. Did you ever contact you again for another discussion? Do you feel him and his ilk are fading away? I mean, growing up in National Front era Britain – the EDL and BF are small fry – surely? I’m not underestimating their danger but just trying to understand your thoughts. 

“Paul Golding never contacted me. I had a discussion with him and ripped apart his argument. He knew he could not debate with me so I believe this is the reason why he never came back to me. As for the other groups out there, they are dying out but there is still that belief that Muslims are to blame for all of societies ills today. The recent rise and fall of the FLA was an example of a large number football lads coming together after the Manchester bombings. Although the intentions were good (fighting extremism of all types) it started to change to Muslims extremism only. This is why I believe it fell apart as decent normal lads saw that it was changing and left.

Riaz {second from right) with members of the Baby Squad.

When you have groups like this the Far Right will attach themselves to it and slowly take control. But now the FLA have disbanded and we now have the DFLA whom are much smaller. They also claim that they are not racist etc. Maybe some are not but the majority are.  I think the Far Right will continue to grow because they now have an excuse to spout out their hate against Muslims. If Muslims were exclusively white I believe there would not be a problem but because the vast majority are black and brown, this is where racism rears its ugly head. I belong to a group called the FLAF whom are against all types of hate (extremism, racism and fascism) and our members come from all backgrounds not only just ‘white’ lads.”

Growing up in a very different society than today where racism was common and uncensored – were you ever absolutely terrified of walking the streets? Leicester is a fairly mixed city from my understanding – but I’m sure it’s always had a far right element. I guess rising through the casuals excluded you from too much racial stuff eventually? 

“Growing up in Leicester was tough. The National Front had a HQ here. So you can imagine what it was like. Groups of racists would drive around in vans and cars looking for ethnic minorities to beat up. I was young but was still chased by Skinheads and abused by them for the colour of my skin. It was scary walking around the streets of Leicester especially areas not far from where I lived. I’m glad the Casual era came along. This helped get rid of racists/fascist to an extent but I believe they just hid their political thoughts because Leicester had a mixed race firm (Blacks, Asians, Irish etc), they had no choice but to accept us. Our top boy for a while was Afro-Caribbean and he paved the way against racists. I still got abuse from other Casuals, firms like Everton and Chelsea for example. I once suffered racism from a black Arsenal fan!! Unbelievable. I personally believe the Casual culture (and the rave scene) helped extinguish the light of racism, more than any government think tank, politician, religious leader et al.”

Football Lads & Lasses Against Fascism (FLAF), working to push racism and fascism out of our clubs.

Another interesting point in the book is the political allegiances of fans. I mean Chelsea still seem to have a far right element, West Ham and Millwall always have that reputation but what about the more mixed firms? I mean, Birmingham (as you mention in the book) must be the opposite for example? I always found Villa’s far right following ironic and Leeds too. Did you generally find the right wingers were much more aggressive in their violence? 

“Birmingham were a great firm of mixed race lads. They did not chase you solely for the colour of your skin. The Cockney blacks would go out of their way to attack their own. My friend Henry was only reminding me the other day way back in 84 when Spurs came to Leicester, there was an Afro Caribbean lad and when he saw us lot, he said “Get the C$£%*!”. We never got that from the Midlands firms. Villa was known for their racist element but most Midland firms in the old days weren’t as bad. The right wingers would always call you names and try their best to get at you. One funny incident was when Everton came to Leicester in 85, one bloke saw a group of us predominately Asian. He pointed at me and said “Did you bring your family with you?” Haha we had to laugh!! Chelsea for me were the worst I got abused and thumped up by them not because I was Leicester but because I was Asian. They seemed to enjoy attacking the ethnics more.”

I know you’re out of football violence now but I understand you’re working with FLAF – how did that come about? Do you feel the casuals scene is making a return or do you think CCTV etc. has killed it? As a football fan, I see a lot of youngsters rocking the casuals look. 

“I have been out of FV for quite a very long time (since 1989). The FLAF came about because we saw the rise of the FLA now known as the DFLA. They’re initial call was against all forms of extremism but this morphed into only attacking Islam and anything to do with Muslims. With movements like these you will always get the knuckle draggers (racist and fascists) hijacking those movements. The FLAF do not have this problem and it addresses all forms of extremism and does not blame ALL Muslims for crimes comitted by a tiny minority of them. The DFLA wanted me to join them but I knew deep down I’d be the ONLY Muslim in the group and I did not want to be the token Muslim. The intentions of some of the DFLA are admirable but in reality they cannot control the mindless idiots who join them.  The Casual scene is coming back and has been back for a while due to the older lot reminiscing on their past exploits. The younger ones join groups like the EDL/DFLA to feel that they belong to a ‘firm’. The latest ding dong between Millwall and Everton saw a lot of internet traffic of ‘lads’ moaning about them fighting each other instead of uniting and fighting the ‘enemy’ meaning Muslims. So you can see why I joined the FLAF, they are against this kind of hatred.”

You mention the tragic Heysel disaster which pretty much ended your interest in football violence. I’m guessing this lead to a lot of people dropping out of the scene. You also mentioned finding your faith helped you move on out of the movement. Can you explain this a bit here please?

“It was the Hillsborough disaster that saw me dropping out of the FV scene. And my mates were of the same mentality. We were looking for another avenue, another channel to let out our energy and that came in the form of ecstasy and the rave scene. Eventually things went belly up (paranoia and depression) and I was in a dark place for around 18 months or so. All my friends didn’t want to be round someone who was always like that (I didn’t blame them to be honest) so I was alone and had no one to turn to. That’s when I happened to find my faith. I never believed in Islam until I actually read about it. And this is where I learnt that I could be a better person and did not need to be part of a gang to be accepted. Although I did miss my friends around that time but I happened to make new friends who guided me and helped me through any dark times. And I haven’t looked back! I’m still in touch with the old lot, that friendship will always be there, but I am now married and have children. My faith gave me a new direction and has moulded me to who I am now.”

I love the fact that you list your musical preferences and what was going on in the different eras musically especially how this reflected the change in fashions etc. Which current/newer artists/musical styles do you listen to today? 

“To be honest I don’t listen to new stuff as I think it’s a bit cack.”

You mention Skinheads a lot in your book. Sadly this term has come to mean ‘Racist/Nazi’. I found it interesting about that skinhead lass in your school who spoke out against racism. How aware are you of the Anti Racist skinhead movement? I echo your point about some skinheads listening to ska/reggae music but yet still being massive racists. 

“I never knew that the original Skinheads were anti Racist until many years later after school. All the Skinheads I was acquainted to were real proper racists! I did not have a clue that Trojan Records were anti-fascists/racists. The Skinhead girl at school was well aware of this and that’s probably why I was shocked with her response to the immigration argument in class.”

I saw a bit on the BBC yesterday about you looking after your folks. It must be extremely tough and heartbreaking. Do you feel support for old people and health services are being strained massively?

“Looking after elderly parents is tough and never easy. The government need to do more to help families to look after their elderly parents. My father’s pension had to be used for the carer to come in between 9 to 5 Mon to Fri. We (my siblings) took on the task but because of work commitments it was really difficult, but the government only allowed for carers to come in 4 times in a day for 30 minutes each time. That wasn’t enough for us. So we got hold of a carer who was willing to stay working hours to look after my parents. So yes government need to subsidies more money to help families!!”

Jack the lad, a young Riaz out and about in casual clobber.

What do you think about these new staged ‘hooligan’ fights which are being filmed and reffed in parks etc? I saw Brentford vs. Millwall – very bizarre. What advice would you give to youngsters getting involved in football violence nowadays?

“All these staged fights takes away the excitement of ‘bumping into a firm’. Nowadays, it’s not worth it because you are potentially looking at 3 years for ONE punch! For one punch?? Stuff that! What I would tell the youngsters now is if they want that excitement, take up MMA or something that will give you an adrenaline buzz. I know there’s nothing like the FV buzz, and that feeling never leaves you but do you really want to go to jail?”

Finally, what does the future hold for you? I know you do charity work and do a lot of good work with various organisations. Anything on the horizon for 2019?

“For 2019 I want to climb Kilimanjaro for charity (that’s going to be tough) and I also have plans for my book. I am in talks with a major company in regards to the book. After the success of the play ‘Memoirs of an Asian Casual’, things are looking up!!”

-End Interview-

Cheers for that one Riza! All the best with climbing Kilimanjaro and whatever else life brings. If you’ve not read it yet then be sure to check out his book Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual available from Old Dog Books here.

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