Spurs and their missing stars

By David Aaronovitch, October 21, 2010

For many North Londoners, Wednesday night was the biggest event since the Stones hit Hyde Park in '69. The mighty Spurs in the top European competition for the first time for two generations, and playing Inter Milan (not Dinamo Cluj or FC Basel) in the fabled San Siro stadium. What romance! What soccerly riches!

But when Tottenham Hotspur published its advice to fans travelling to Italy, there were two discordant notes struck, one in a higher and one in a lower key. The bass bum note advised supporters that "toilet facilities are of the basic European design for both male and female and are few and far between". Why was this, one wondered. Do Italians have better bladder control than other people? Or was this a feature of the Away sections of the stadium, designed to discomfort the visiting fans and give an air of anxiety to their chanting?

This thought was strengthened by the next sentence. "Catering facilities," Spurs warned, " are small for the number of fans expected and we would suggest that you eat prior to arriving at the Stadium. However, please avoid the Bars in the near vicinity of the Stadium as these are for home fans only."

In other words, welcome to the San Siro, now **** off.

So far, so disappointing - but explicable. But the second discordancy is far more baffling. Spurs go on to suggest to fans, by way of preamble, that "it is common policy and normal ground rules at football stadiums in the UK and elsewhere in Europe that flags of an overtly religious/political nature will not be permitted, including flags featuring the Star of David."

And so, should folk pitch up at the drinkless, loo-less San Siro with Star of David flags, this enterprise that can provide neither adequate refreshment nor sufficient easement, will nevertheless be well up to the task of confiscating such offensive items.

Actually, whatever the supposed "common policy" in soccer stadia, it most certainly has not been the case that fans have been forbidden from flying flags or carrying banners with the Star of David on them. In fact, Spurs fans (for various reasons that we don't need to go into here) have been doing it for years. Nor has it very much to do with religion per se, thus explaining the absence of Spurs banners carrying Hebrew inscriptions from the Torah or quotations from Leviticus.

In fact it isn't at all clear why the Star of David carries any greater religious connotation than, say, the crosses on the flags of England, Scotland, Iceland or Greece, or the crescent and star on the flag of Turkey. Are they banned in the San Siro, as being "overtly religious or political"? Apparently not. So what would be? Placards of the Ayatollah Khomeini? Procession images of the Virgin Mary?

When you ask the question like this you realise there is something else going on. The something, one imagines, is that the Milan authorities don't trust the reaction of their home supporters to the brandishing of the six-pointed star. It is not so much that they would be offended, but that there is a danger of them becoming offensive. They might react as though the Magen David were the swastika or the hammer and sickle, and burn it or riot because of it.

I don't think the problem here is antisemitism so much as a combination of stupidity and indulgence. Italy is not renowned for its widespread Jew-hatred. But it is clearly stupid to put the Star of David in a category that one supposes is reserved for sectarian symbols. It is indulgence to go to such lengths to placate or avoid the unpleasantness (real or imagined) of a Milanese football crowd. One would piss on such a poor decision were the facilities only available.

    Last updated: 2:06pm, October 21 2010