The founder of the Football Lads Alliance – a protest group whose marches have attracted thousands of people opposing 'extremism' – has resigned following a row over charitable donations.
John Meighan, 33, established the Football Lads Alliance on 4 June 2017, later that year registering it as a for-profit company with a branded merchandise store. He stood down just 10 months later on 16 April, saying he made the decision with “deep regret” in order to “re-focus my energies into my personal and professional life”.
His resignation comes days after The Royal British Legion (RBL) told the BBC it had decided to return a donation from John on behalf of the FLA.
“The Royal British Legion can confirm that it received a cheque donation of £1,104 from an individual supporter,” a spokesperson told BBC Three. “We have since found out that the Football Lads Alliance (FLA) raised money for the donation through the inappropriate use of the poppy.”
“Because of this, and the fact that a small number of FLA supporters have expressed views and opinions that are not compatible with the values of The Royal British Legion, the charity has taken the difficult decision to return the donation to the supporter.”
The return of the donation – which has not been announced by Meighan but has been confirmed by the RBL – comes in the wake of questions by FLA followers as to what happened to more than £3,000 of charitable donations and an unknown sum in merchandise sales.
The BBC asked John to provide details of any other charitable donations. He said: "My hands are tied. Everything is public. No further comment."
John registered Football Lads Alliance Ltd with Companies House on 14 August, creating a for-profit company with an online store that sold more than 20 branded products including £35 hoodies, £20 caps and other accessories.
The FLA also sold a pin badge emblazoned with a poppy – the logo of the charity The Royal British Legion. The product is no longer available.
John promised to make a donation to the Royal British Legion in a Facebook post in mid-November. The RBL says it did not receive any money until 27 March 2018.
In interviews with the BBC, John presented the FLA as a peaceful coalition of football fans united against Islamist extremism, and supportive of the Armed Forces. The group has held three largely peaceful protests – two in London and one in Birmingham – which attracted tens of thousands of people.
In a phone call with the BBC, John confirmed he had resigned the leadership of the FLA.
“I’m not with it no more,” he said. “I’ve decided to focus on my family and my work and stuff, so I’m not. I don’t have the time.”
According to Companies House, John remains the director and sole shareholder of Football Lads Alliance Limited. The organisation’s GoFundMe page is still active and carries the 'charity' tag, presumably indicating that contributions sought will be given to charity. The FLA itself is not a registered charity. Its website and online merchandise store also remain active.
Asked whether he would also be resigning from the company, John said: “There’s not going to be any company. I’m just going to dissolve it.” The company has not yet posted its annual accounts.
When asked about the FLA’s accounts, John said: “Everything’s been handed over. I don’t have any dealings with it anymore.” He declined to say who had taken responsibility for the company.
John also declined to comment on the return of the RBL’s donation.
In Facebook posts that have since been removed – but have been seen by the BBC – John advertised merchandise with claims such as: “As always charity’s will be support from proceeds [sic]”. A post from 10 September 2017 said, “Charitable donations as always will be made to the FLA’s chosen charities.”
John addressed some of the criticism on 7 February 2018, when he wrote: “The FLA is not a charity. Never has been and never will be.”
The delay to post evidence of the charitable donation to the RBL caused the FLA to lose the support of affiliated group Veterans Against Terrorism, which withdrew on 5 March.
Simon Bean MBE – a retired British Army officer with Veterans Against Terrorism – said in a Facebook video: “When we asked about the donation, we discovered it had not been paid. We were not given a satisfactory explanation for the non-payment of the money, and decided to leave the committee, hoping that our leave of the FLA committee would spur John into action and guarantee payment.”