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The Ugly Truth About the Beautiful Game
Last uploaded : Tuesday 23rd May 2006 at 16:29
Contributed by : Chas Newkey-Burden


“You should be ashamed of yourself, Chas.” Those were the charming words sent by an associate to my email inbox after Arsenal Football Club - the team I support – announced a deal with the Israeli Tourist Board. I am as in awe of Israel the country as I am of Arsenal, so naturally, I immediately replied that Arsenal’s deal with Israel cheered me as much as any Thierry Henry goal. But pretty soon, various left/liberal types were circulating emails calling for Arsenal to be boycotted unless they scrapped their deal with Israel.

The irony is that as an Arsenal fan I am ashamed. Not by the Israel deal but by the anti-semitic chants that have been sung by my fellow Arsenal supporters for many years. (For those blissfully ignorant of north London football, Arsenal’s local rivals Tottenham Hotspur have had many Jewish fans and directors down the years. This has seen the team labeled as the ‘yids’ by many football supporters.)

Many Tottenham fans have adopted the ‘yids’ tag and have chanted ‘Yid Army’ in support of their team. Many of these argue strongly that no offence is meant. However, there is no doubt that deep offence is intended by some chants aimed at Tottenham fans by opposing supporters. During a match at Manchester United’s ground, Spurs fans were greeted by the sound of many United fans hissing at them, in imitation of the sound of gas chambers. Yes, you read that right. An opposing goalkeeper, Mark Bosnich, once performed a Hitler salute in front of the Tottenham fans.

Arsenal fans have long chanted ‘yiddo, yiddo’ at Tottenham players and fans. Then, when Spurs captain Sol Campbell crossed the north London divide, the Arsenal fans adopted a new chant. To the tune of Hey Baby by DJ Otzi, they sang: “Hey, hey yiddo – you scum – I wanna know where your captain’s gone.” I found it sickening to be sitting in the same stand as people chanting this song and challenged some. How, I asked, could they justify any song that does not just contain the word ‘yiddo’ but puts it next to the word ‘scum’?

Despite some excellent progress in tackling racism aimed at black players and supporters, anti-semitism continues to rear its ugly head in football in 21st-century Britain. Yet the Palestinian solidarity groups and many of the other liberal/left football fans that campaigned against Arsenal’s deal with Israel remain silent when it is Jewish people who are being discriminated against in football.

Recently, West Ham United arranged a training camp trip in Dubai. As Israeli citizens are barred from entering Dubai, the club simply sent its two Israeli players to Spain while the rest of the squad trained in Dubai. Bolton Wanderers similarly left an Israeli player behind when they traveled to Dubai earlier last season. Again, yes, you read that right. The mentality of the people behind these decisions at both clubs defies belief: they would benefit from a visit to the Holocaust exhibition at the Imperial War Museum to learn about how the Nazis too segregated Jews and non-Jews.

Those who shout and scream about Arsenal’s deal with Israel but remain silent as Jewish sportsmen are forced to travel to separate training grounds to their gentile equivalents might benefit from some reflection too. Arsenal’s deal with Israel is to be applauded. The true shame is the ugly anti-semitism that is allowed to fester, largely unchallenged, in the supposedly beautiful game.
To read Chas Newkey-Burden’s interview with David Beckham, buy 'The Big Issue' in the week beginning June 5 2006.

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