Context is everything. I’m a Millwall supporter and I do not know of a single fellow fan who could remotely be described as antisemitic. But looking at the stuff a few bloggers have pulled from one the club’s fan-sites, where I sometimes post, you would probably beg to differ. But then if you looked at the stuff on any football website — and especially those of the London premier league rivals, Spurs — you will find the same, and worse besides.
I think it was Chelsea’s fans who made a habit of issuing a low hiss at Spurs fans, an obscene reference to the gas chambers. But then Spurs fans refer to themselves by the derogatory nickname of the Yids. Up in Scotland, meanwhile, Rangers ally themselves with Israel while Celtic revel in a bit of terrace antisemitism and back the Palestinians. But even this is not real antisemitism, I don’t think; it is instead a tribal infantilism where every event — the enormous, the tragic as well as the petty and meaningless — is marshalled into a ya boo towards the opposing fans. Offensive, sure. But in its context, no more than that.
I wrote about a trip to Auschwitz on Millwall Online. This was pulled from the site as an attempt to make me look antisemitic — clearly absurd. I have had too much hate mail addressed to “Zionist Pig Rod Liddle” or “Jewboy Queer Rod Liddle” to take such a thing seriously.
My point about Auschwitz was that I felt it had been stripped of its awfulness and bleakness, its edges smoothed down, its lawns trimmed, festooned with no smoking signs and disabled access ramps; the place had been rendered PC, it had become something much less than it should be. It is perhaps not possible for Auschwitz today to deliver the package of awfulness the visitor might expect; I understand that.
Anyone who reads those football fan sites would first be struck by the viciousness of the language. But there are good people there, despite the abuse and often intelligent discussion of important stuff. It’s just that it tends not to be written in the language of a Guardian leader column. Context is everything.