Why I am a guilty Gooner

By Chas Newkey-Burden, March 18, 2011
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It used to be easy being an Arsenal fan. We won trophies, played slick football and were regulars in the latter stages of the Champions League.

Meanwhile, our local rivals Tottenham Hotspur won corners and free-kicks, played mediocre football and were more likely to be relegated to the Championship than elevated to the Champions League.

Naturally, I delighted in their every failure. When Arsenal won the Premiership at White Hart Lane in 2004, life could hardly have felt sweeter, and when I learned that we had pinched Spurs captain Sol Campbell in 2001,
I was so excited and amused that I thought for a moment I was going to keel over and die.

Well, that's what local rivalry is all about, isn't it? The north London bragging rights were Arsenal's and seemed destined to stay forever thus. Then two unexpected things happened: Spurs started doing well and… I found myself almost pleased for them.

We stood together on Israel but were bitter rivals over the beautiful game

Maybe it was my involvement with hasbara that sowed the seeds of my sympathy for the cockerels. Over the past five years, I've campaigned hard in defence of Israel. Although I'm not Jewish, this is a cause that runs through my veins. I run a pro-Israel blog called OyVaGoy, I'm involved with real-life activism among groups such as StandWithUs UK and I regularly visit Israel.

Being involved with London-based Jewish organisations, I have inevitably become friends with a fair amount of Spurs fans. For a while, this made for interesting banter. We stood together when it came to defending Israel but were bitter rivals when it came to the beautiful game. No wonder the situation suited me; Arsenal were still the undisputed local champs.

Then Harry Redknapp went and spoiled all my fun.

I watched with shock as he did things that no modern Spurs manager has any business doing: he bought good players, built team spirit and got the team winning matches - lots of matches.

I should have begrudged Spurs their new-found success, but I couldn't because I've long been a fan of Harry. I was a full-time football journalist for several years with magazines such as Shoot and Four Four Two. I interviewed literally hundreds of players and managers. Harry was the nicest of the lot.

Far from reluctantly grunting a few monosyllabic clichés like some football folk, he was warm and witty. He even fixed me some lunch and made sure I was okay for a lift to the station.

The only British footballer who was anywhere near as charming an interviewee
was Chelsea's Frank Lampard, who is Harry's nephew. So maybe it's something in the blood.

I cannot dislike a club that Harry is in charge of (though if he took over as boss of the Iranian national team, that principle would be tested).

I also struggle to dislike a club that is loved by so many of my Israel advocacy colleagues. When Arsenal's exit from the Champions' League was hotly followed by Tottenham's European progression past AC Milan, I should have been devastated. But, to my horror, I got caught up in the joy my Zionist friends were expressing.

Dear, oh dear - something must be done. I'm very comfortable being a gentile who supports Israel. But a Gooner who cheers on Spurs is a contradiction too far. I'll be buying Chas & Dave CDs if I don't get a grip soon.

So here is my plea: can all Arsenal-supporting Zionists please let themselves be known to me? I need you to save me from myself.

Chas Newkey-Burden is an author of bestselling books and a radio pundit. He blogs in defence of Israel at OyVaGoy.com and is on the advisory boards of StandWithUs UK and Honest Reporting

    Last updated: 10:45am, March 18 2011