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Chelsea’s bid to counter antisemitism in football deserves our support

Antisemitic songs and racist chanting may not be as rife as when Simon Round went to his first football match, but there is still an undercurrent that needs to be tackled

    Chelsea players Charly Musonda, Eden Hazard and Ross Barkley, launch the antisemitism initiative as part of the Building Bridges campaign
    Chelsea players Charly Musonda, Eden Hazard and Ross Barkley, launch the antisemitism initiative as part of the Building Bridges campaign

    It was March 1982 and I was a teenager ridiculously excited about watching my club Chelsea play Spurs in the quarter final of the FA Cup at our home ground, Stamford Bridge.

    At the time, Chelsea were a very moderate Second Division team and Spurs, with their Argentinian World Cup stars, were the FA Cup holders. Still, I was hopeful that my heroes could defeat Spurs as they had European Champions Liverpool in the previous round.

    By the end of that afternoon my dreams had been crushed. The Spurs side boasting the likes of Hoddle and Ardiles had dismantled Chelsea’s defence, but I left upset for a completely different reason. From around an hour before kick-off, the Chelsea fans surrounding me in the Shed terrace had been singing antisemitic songs, from the almost playful “Does your rabbi know you’re here,” to the vile “Hitler’s gonna gas ‘em again”. One song – “Hoddle’s the queen of Golders Green” – managed to combine antisemitism and homophobia in a single line.

    I couldn’t even gain claim that the songs were being sung by a small minority of fans. Of the 45,000 in the crowd, at least 10,000 seemed to be joining in. Thirty-five years later and racist chanting at football grounds has largely disappeared. However, Spurs’ (overwhelmingly non-Jewish) fans self-identify as “Yids”. When they are in town, opposing fans still feel entitled to scream antisemitic abuse at them.

    For years now there have been warnings in the Chelsea programme about antisemitic abuse against Spurs. There are fewer incidents now than there used to be but there is still an undercurrent, which is why I am delighted that Chelsea’s Jewish owner, Roman Abramovich, has personally instigated a “Say No to Antisemitism” campaign which will be launched at tonight’s home game against Bournemouth.

    In partnership with the CST, the club have produced a guide for stewards and safety officers which will be distributed to all 92 league clubs. The Chelsea Foundation’s equality and diversity workshops in primary schools will be extended to talk specifically about Jewish faith and culture, and the club will launch an education programme for supporters banned for antisemitic behaviour.

    Chelsea have clearly thought long and hard about the campaign. This is not just a case of dreaming up a slogan and looking for publicity via social media. The club have consulted with organisations including the World Jewish Congress, the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Jewish Museum. Education, for those stewarding matches and salso upporters at those games, is at the heart of the strategy. There will even be a display about Jews and football at the club's museum.

    Tonight, representatives (including me) from a range of community organisations will be treated to a kosher meal in Chelsea’s boardroom and then be invited to watch a large “Say no to antisemitism” banner being unfurled on the pitch prior to kick off.  I will be proud but also nervous in case the sight of the banner encourages a group of unreconstructed racists to launch into a chorus of “Spurs are on their way to Auschwitz” for old time’s sake.  

    Of course, there is no instant answer to persistent racism when it is as deeply ingrained in the rivalry between two clubs as it is here. While Spurs fans define themselves as "Jewish" there will always be those willing to mock them with antisemitic jibes. However, the key to combating hate is education and this excellent project deserves our support.

     

    Simon Round is the Board of Deputies Communications Officer

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