The English Defense League or EDL, a far-right protest group that has around 35,000 members in the UK, many of whom are ex-football casuals, is now recruiting in Thailand’s northern capital, and “numbers are growing” says leader, and self-proclaimed hard-man Barry Stercum (46), or Bazzer as he’s known at the ‘We Are EDL Bar’ located at the end of Soi 3/4, Kochasarn Road, about five minutes walk to Loh Kroh Road.
Stercum, who came to Thailand almost 12 years ago, and hails from Rochdale in the UK, spent his first decade working as a bar owner in Pattaya, where he had what he calls a “girly bar with no old dogs, and some proper solid regulars.” His bar ‘Hooligans Abroad’, had been a huge success, says Stercum, for almost a decade, but after numerous arrests made at his bar, extortion, the change in tourist demographics, and in 2012 one of his customers being stabbed to death by an overwrought underage prostitute, Stercum believes Chiang Mai to be the next Pattaya.
“Pattaya was like heaven on Earth back then,” Stercum says of his first years in Thailand. “The women were cheap and you could almost trust ‘em, and the lads were always out in numbers…it didn’t matter where you ended up, there was always a laugh to be had.” But Stercum says this all changed “when the f**king Arabs and Russians moved in.” He tells me, emphatically pointing at what looks like an oversized finger at the floor, that “all the good lads are leaving Pattaya and Phuket and coming to places like Chiang Mai.”
“It’s still cheap here, and the people are really nice. You don’t get any hassle from them like in Pattaya,” says Stercum. He also says he’s making a tidy profit as many of his former patrons have moved up north for the same reasons as he did. In Pattaya he’d found a niche in the market after he styled his bar with a football hooliganism theme. This attracted “lads with similar interests” from all over the world. He hopes to do the same in Chiang Mai.
Stercum, who unashamedly admits he can’t speak a word of Thai, is on his second marriage. “You can’t get too involved with the local culture,” he says. “Just let them do what they want, and we’ll do our thing. Thais and foreigners are just made from different stuff. All that hippy shit about mixing in and adapting is rubbish. The Thais, truth be known, don’t even want us to mix in, so there’s no point in trying to learn to speak Thai.” He admits this can be a lonely life at times, but says much of his time is spent reading local web forums where he says he knows plenty of good English lads and even “some alright Yanks.”
He pauses for a while and seems to mull over something. “To be honest, mate, if it were up to them, they’d kick us all out if we weren’t bringing in the cash. When you-know-what happens I reckon I’ll be locking the door for a few weeks.”
I have no idea what he’s talking about, and un-journalistically don’t feel compelled to ask.
His wife will intermittently bring us drinks, draft beers from his own bar where she works, and he will speak to her in what some people have termed ‘bar speak’: “Darlin, you get two beer for me ok?” “Ok, ti rak. I get beer now.”
“That’s another thing,” he says. “The women are less used and abused up here, if you know what I mean. There are still some belters available if you know where to look.”
The 46-year-old Stercum isn’t concerned about an age-gap, or inherent cultural differences. In fact, he makes no qualms about admitting that he married his 19-year-old bride without hardly being able to communicate with her.
“It’s that, or an old bag in England,” says Stercum, “and English women, to be honest, don’t know when to shut up, too much political correctness over there now.” He tells me he has no intention of ever going back to Rochdale where he says he worked as a woolen yarn spinner in a carpet yarn mill for much of his youth and early 20s. “England has been ruined,” he says. “Immigrants and posh twats running the show, there’s no more community spirit,” says the ex-hooligan, who has a criminal history consisting of two assault charges and a battery charge for attacking a girlfriend with a steering-wheel lock. According to Stercum, “You see, that just wouldn’t happen here. A Thai woman knows her place.”
I ask him about the name of the bar, and the obvious controversy of it being a ‘whites only’ bar, something that would be difficult to deny as above a signed photograph of the Rochdale football team there is another sign in which a cartoon Bulldog wearing a Union Jack t-shirt is making the ‘White’s Only !’ statement, the words encapsulated in a speech bubble. I have to point out to Stercum that the exclamation mark comes a space too late, and that there’s no need for the apostrophe in ‘White’s Only !’ He gives me a look that suggests I move quickly along.
I purposefully waited some time to broach the matter of the sign – the crux of the interview – as the bald-headed, red-faced Stercum seemed at first tetchy and perhaps a little hesitant about the interview. When I finally did bring up the sign he was already on his fifth pint and I had attempted, in vain, to keep up with him. “F**cking Bradford lads,” he will say a few times, “can’t sup for shit” (to anyone not from Northern England, this means can’t drink alcohol).
“I put the sign up after a mate of mine in the EDL sent it to me. It was kind of a joke, but serious too. We don’t want what happened in Pattaya to happen up here…” He looks at me as I take notes, as if disapproving of what I am doing. “You lot just wouldn’t understand, you never do. Someone has to make the effort. The EDL is the last bast… well, it’s all we’ve got left now of Great Britain.” He puts emphasis on ‘great’, but also seems annoyed with himself that bastion evaded him during a burst of rhetoric he’d likely performed before.
“So this is really a whites only bar?”
“No, not really. I mean, Thais are welcome, as long as they don’t start any trouble. Blacks are alright, but you know, you don’t get many in Chiang Mai. We just want to keep it white really, it’s not really a rule, but more of a serious suggestion, if you know what I mean.”
He tells me that even though he wasn’t there in England when the EDL formed in 2009, supposedly in protest of Islamic extremism, he has supported “the lads” since its inception.
“We’re all just good lads really, like a drink and a bit of tear-up [fight] now and again, that’s all. We’re all married now, to Thais mostly, but a lot of us have moved up here from down South,” says Stercum, who now seems more relaxed talking to me.
“More of us are coming too,” he says, and tells me that EDL Thailand will soon have a website with paid memberships.
He doesn’t fear repercussions from human rights groups or ‘non-whites’, or even the Thai government. “Thais are worse than anyone,” he says. “They’re all racist, look at what they’ve done in Burma, or all that shit in the South…” He then seems to remind himself of something, and adds a kind of disclaimer, “It’s a lovely country though…lovely people.”
Stercum and his EDL mates are regular supporters of Chiang Mai Football Club and follow the team around the country. “Shit management, and it’s all corrupt, but it’s cheap as f**k,” he says. On many occasions throughout the interview, he will berate something, but then admit that that particular thing is cheap, whether it be a lover, a watch, a drink or a fine. Cheap is Stercum’s tag word, that and ‘them’.
“It hasn’t kicked off yet,” he says about football hooliganism and CMFC – Stercum was an avid football casual in the 80s and 90s – “but it will. It’s human nature, alpha males, it’s just the way we are made.” Again he gives the journalist, me, sitting next to him a disapproving look – and now he’s on about his eighth pint. “It’s all f**king unfounded bullshit what you guys say talk about us…papers are full of shit, always have been.” He then shouts over to his wife, who is now serving a few more men at the bar, “Ti rak, Pint!” She doesn’t hear and so louder he shouts, “PINT!” His young wife looks over and feigns a smile.
Drunkenly he leans over to me and softens his tone conspiratorially: “We aren’t going anywhere…we’re here to stay.”
I get the feeling that I have upset him, some level of animosity has manifested but for what reason I am not sure. Then I get it when he says: “Say what you want about us, but we’re not going anywhere, alright.” His breath reeks of the afternoon’s refreshments.
“Look at this,” he says, and he shows me a thread called ‘Leaving Pattaya – Chiang Mai Bound’ on a well-known web forum that has over 11,300 replies. EDL bar, he tells me, is being talked about all over this thread.
“They [he means Arabs, Russians, Chinese] can have Pattaya. The white man will live here in Chiang Mai. The more of us, the better, and the more that join the EDL will send a message to the rest of ‘em.”
It doesn’t seem to concern Stercum, who is now quite drunk – his wife is still bringing him drinks – that this is Thailand, not England. “I can’t say I agree with them, but I respect them,” he says, but when I ask him to explain what this means he tends no reply, and instead offers to buy me a shot of something. “They wouldn’t last a minute in England,” he says proudly, ‘them’ being the Thais, “’cos they just don’t have the energy, the brainpower. But here it’s ok, it works for them here. Thailand is still a third world country.”
He pauses again, so he can shakily put the pint glass to his lips, “To be honest, people like us are doing them a favour.” He looks over to his wife, “Our lass, she’d still be picking f**king rice seeds if it wasn’t for me.”
His wife hears him and looks over at him, her face sullen at first, but she seems to know better and so conjures up another half-hearted smile.
“Pint!” shouts Bazzer, and he turns to me, sweat dripping over his florid slab of a head, the beads running over deep furrows in his pockmarked cheeks: “Fuck me it’s hot.”