Ivor Baddiel

I'm joining Chelsea's Jewish Supporters Group - but only for the bagels

I’m not at all against others celebrating their Jewish identity through the club, but all I want to do is watch a great game


LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 22: A general view of fans arriving outside the stadium prior to the UEFA Women's Champions League semifinal 1st leg match between Chelsea FC and FC Barcelona at Stamford Bridge on April 22, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Alex Broadway/Getty Images)

September 15, 2023 16:39

Forty-seven years ago, when I first started going to watch Chelsea play football, things were very different. For one thing, the team were rubbish (okay, not so different), but more pertinently, it was a time when hooliganism and racism were rife. There was fighting almost every week, and the National Front was openly selling its newspaper outside the ground and recruiting members.

To be honest, I can’t believe my parents let me go, but the truth is, despite all the trouble, I loved it. The atmosphere was incredible – febrile, almost. We were all standing on the terraces and singing, Knees Up Mother Brown, whilst wobbling up and down like a massive jelly. What’s not to like? (Don’t answer that.)

Then, at some point, I found myself standing in The Shed, as Chelsea’s notorious home end is called, and a large number of skinheads around me started, Sieg Heil-ing. Not so nice. So, for the first and only time, I stopped going for a while. It didn’t feel like the place for a nice Jewish boy.

I went back though, and have been ever since because, frankly, if I hadn’t returned, those people would have won, they would have prevented me from doing something I love, and I wasn’t going to let that happen.

Football was still racist but then the game changed, though, sadly, tragedy was the impetus - the fatal stadium disasters at Heysel and Bradford in 1985, and Hillsborough in 1989.

Organisations such as Kick Racism Out of Football (now Kick It Out) were formed and tackled predominantly, in the early days, horrific racism against black players.

They were pretty successful, which is not say it’s gone away, but bananas are rarely thrown on the pitch now and monkey chants are, thankfully, a thing of the past - in this country.

As a Jew I definitely felt safer going to games, but in 2010 I was at a match when - after discovering that Tottenham Hotspur were losing - someone behind where my brother and I were sitting, started shouting, at the top of his voice, “F*** the Y**s”, and then, a short time later, “F*** the Jews”.

For one of the very few times in my life, I cracked and confronted him. He eventually stopped, but I was upset and angry. It seemed that antisemitism was an area that hadn’t been tackled in football. So, we took up the mantle and made a short film about it, The Y-Word.

The film ignited a debate and brought the issue into the public eye. A short while later, Chelsea launched their Say No To Antisemitism campaign. I’m not saying the two things were connected but who knows? I was proud of my club for doing that.

They created educational materials, held events, set up a website and players have even visited Auschwitz. They led the way when it came to trying to combat antisemitism in football and I believe their programmes have been shared with other clubs.

Clearly Chelsea have come a long, long way from Nazi skinheads and the NF. Now, it seems, they have come even further with the formation of a Jewish Supporters Group.

It’s great, but I have some questions: Is it a Reform Jewish supporters club? Orthodox? Progressive? Will they be campaigning for Chelsea not to play on Shabbat? Will they still meet if they don’t get a minyan?

Okay, I jest, but more seriously, in this post-Jews Don’t Count world in which we live, of course there should be Jewish supporters clubs. West Ham have BAME Hammers, there’s the Arsenal Disabled Supporters' Association, Rainbow Blades (Sheffield United) and Punjabi Wolves Supporters (Wolverhampton), to name but four other minority supporters associations.

But what’s the point? Well, according to the Chelsea website it will bring supporters together to celebrate Jewish culture and identity, and work closely with the club on initiatives and campaigns to help ensure Chelsea FC is a welcoming and inclusive environment for everyone.

The latter point I wholeheartedly endorse, but do I really want to celebrate my Jewish culture and identity at Chelsea? Chelsea is where I go to watch football. It’s not a part of my Jewish identity - it’s my Chelsea identity.

What I want to celebrate is great goals, great players, cup wins and title wins, and I want to do that with Jews, non-Jews, gay people, black people, disabled people, women and all the many, many diverse people who make up the Chelsea family.

I’m not at all against others celebrating their Jewish identity through the club, especially if it helps them feel more welcome and helps others have a greater understanding of Judaism.

But really all I want to do is watch a game and not even think about being Jewish, just as I want the people around me not to feel they have to think about their identities. We’re Chelsea and everyone’s welcome. That’s it.

So, will I be joining? Well, tempting as it is to say that I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as a member (and I’m assuming that being Jewish is enough to be accepted), they’ll almost certainly have great bagels and maybe even cheesecake, so, hell yeah. Come on you Blues/Jews!

September 15, 2023 16:39

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