Once upon a time - so the story goes - Tottenham Hotspur were a Jewish club. The vague mists of history conspired to turn that very simple fact into the modern club’s identity. And that Jewish identity now invites racism from the fans of other teams.
This myth is so strongly ingrained that chairmen have defended anti-Semitism because of it. Ken Bates argued that Spurs should not bait racist Chelsea fans with their Jewish solidarity. West Ham’s owners are not so vulgar, but following the ‘seig heils’ at Upton Park this week, the football authorities have rushed to condemn the victims.
The Kick it Out campaign, the Premier League, and the Football Association have called an emergency meeting with the Tottenham hierarchy. It is the second such meeting. Last year’s one condemned the club and called for action to eliminate the chants.
To these people Spurs must stop pretending they are still Jewish. After all, ‘yid’ is an insulting term that should be silenced everywhere. And they are right that the club is not quantifiably a Jewish one.
In 2007 they have no more Jewish fans, players or board members than near neighbours Arsenal. But that misses the point. Spurs were never Jewish. The myth is wrong. The identity isn’t what they think.
When the old firms travelled the country West Ham and Chelsea had particularly nasty factions. The National Front would recruit at Upton Park, and Combat 18 infiltrated Chelsea. Both clubs deserve praise for their successful fight to remove the racist garbage, though that praise if not often given.
But in the 1970s when such scum travelled to White Hart Lane, they passed through South Tottenham with its large community of orthodox Jews. Primed by that sight they arrived in full Nazi voice, chanting against the vile Hebrew filth. To racists like them no insult could be more pure than ‘yid’.
And so from the darkness of 1970s football the Yid Army grew. Spurs fans took anti-Semitism as anti-Semitism. They opposed it in the only way they could. No committees. No meetings. No do-gooders. They chanted en masse. They took Judaism to their hearts. And they shouted down a scourge that deserved to be confronted.
So when the ill-informed men in suits display their intellectual sensitivity at that meeting with Spurs bosses, expect the club to ignore them.
There will be a consultation and some high minded agreement to tackle racism. But Spurs won’t give up their anti-racist identity. And does anyone really think they should?