Someone very famous, it might have been Bill Shankly, or perhaps Albert Camus, once described football as a religion. Of course it's not actually a religion. It's more of a ball game. What cannot be denied is that football fans behave in a very similar fashion to Orthodox Jews. True, synagogue-goers tend not to rip out seats and invade the bimah at the end of the service, and it is rare for them to racially abuse visiting congregants. However, there are some important parallels.
I know lots of secular Jews who regard the laying of tefillin and waving of the lulav as superstitious nonsense. These same people wouldn't dream of visiting White Hart Lane without their lucky pants on.
I, too, am not a particularly religious person but I am in constant fear of attracting the evil eye when Chelsea are playing. Until a few months ago I would always watch televised matches with my friend, Cecie. But after a particularly bad run we decided that this was proving unlucky for the team so we tried watching separately. Chelsea won and ever since we have not dared to watch a match while in the same room for fear that the spell will be broken.
And like shul-goers who would never consider turning up on Saturday morning without a kippah and talit, so I cannot go to a game without my lucky shirt. This was a problem on the day of the 2000 FA Cup Final when, after a successful run, I could not decide which of my three replica tops was the lucky one and therefore decided to wear all three. It was a warm and humid day. Chelsea won. I was a little smelly by the final whistle.
There are deities involved in football as well as in religion. At Chelsea, the messiah remains Jose Mourinho and we await his second coming. Of course, nobody really thinks he is actually immortal (although I did leave an extra cup of wine for him on seder night) but within the parameters of football, the language and customs are remarkably similar to organised religion, as is the mythology.
At Chelsea, the messiah remains Jose Mourinho
Communal singing is a vital part of both, although there are subtle differences. (Come to think of it perhaps shul services could be livened up with a rendition of "who's the rabbi in the black?" or "you only sing when you're leyning"). The divisions are also comparable. I follow football with exactly the same devotion as those who support Arsenal or Tottenham but I would be no more likely to make an appearance at the Emirates than Lord Sacks is to pop in to the Liberal Jewish Synagogue tomorrow.
Talking of tomorrow, 90,000 fellow "worshippers", will be convening at our nation's greatest cathedral of the game for the FA Cup Final. I will not be among them - after all, it's Shabbat and, anyway, tickets for the "high holy days" are in short supply. But I will be wearing this year's lucky top (a T-shirt bearing the slogan "Mmm Pies" which I happened to be wearing when Chelsea beat Barcelona).
To be honest, the Chelsea squad might as well have taken the week off. As everyone knows, the deciding factor in who lifts the cup will be where I am watching and what I happen to be wearing at the time.