So there I was, standing in the cold rain of a wet Tuesday night in West London, listening to 30 or so mostly young men singing ‘Spurs are on their way to Auschwitz’, as you do. Except we don’t. Most of us don’t go to see a football game between a team from West London, Brentford, and a team from West Yorkshire, Leeds, and sing grossly offensive songs about Jews and the Second World War. So why were they so doing?
The origins of the song are firstly, deep rooted anti Semitism, and secondly, because there is a stereotypical myth that Spurs fans are Jewish. I’ve written about this in one of my books, and although it is true that the North London club have more Jewish supporters than most teams, the vast majority of their supporters are not Jews.
Nevertheless, at Spurs games, it is not unusual to hear the ‘Auschwitz’ song from away fans, I’ve heard Leeds fans sing it in a previous era when both teams were in the same league. But, I’ve never heard it at a game where Spurs weren’t playing. So what’s going on?
Some context: In the 1970’s and early 80’s Leeds had a problem with far right groups promoting themselves outside the Elland Road stadium. West Yorkshire remains a region with a slightly higher proportion of far right voters than the national average. And, and here’s where it gets difficult, most Leeds fans revel in being the ‘outsiders’ – one of the terrace chants is ‘Dirty Leeds’ – but that’s in praise of the club’s reputation. There is no tradition of applauding sporting behaviour at Leeds – it is always full on, full throated, 100% commitment, no quarter asked for, none given.
I give the above context in mitigation of those chanting the vile anti Semitic abuse, and so do in the knowledge of possibly upsetting some readers. I don’t excuse it, I seek to understand it.
As there is a religious edge to the chant allow me another religious reference. ‘Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do’ – attributed to a bloke called Jesus about 1,986 years ago.
A few weeks back, at Queens Park Rangers V Leeds a similar number of men, possibly the same ones, were singing ‘ Jihadi John is fucking dead, we dropped a bomb right on his head’.
Most of us just ignore them, and do what we paid £30 for – we watch the game and support the team. The minority revel in their ‘bravado’. At Cardiff last season, during a minutes silence for ‘Poppy Day’ some fans broke the reverie by continuing to taunt the ‘Welsh Bastards!’. My exhortation to them to show some respect drew only a confrontation which was resolved by an officer of the Cardiff constabulary pointing out to those engaging me in ‘debate’ that ‘All these coppers you can see here yeah? Well, we’re all Welsh’. At Brentford I contented myself with a ‘Shut up!” from a safe distance although the gentleman behind me appeared unimpressed.
I am convinced that most of those young men singing the ‘Auschwitz’ song knew not the depth of the depravity of their words, which, for context, go on to say ‘Hitler’s gonna gas them again’. It is more that there is a minority who, knowing they are pushing the boundaries of behaviour, seek to push further. I am reminded of the punks of the Kings Road in the 1970’s wearing Nazi armbands to shock passers by. This may render them ignorant, uncaring, brutes, the very people who might man the chambers….. but it does not mean they are knowing anti-Semite brutes. However, they did not sing racist songs about black people, somehow, it has got through to them that there are some things you can no longer get away with.
If I am right, and I am unsure, it still then leaves the question – why were they singing the song? The answer to that is as troubling as the fact of the singing itself, because the answer to that is that they have drunk from the well of British anti Semitism and know that they can still get away with it without censure.
When I was growing up in Leeds in the 1970’s if someone wouldn’t give you a cigarette, or lend you 5 pence to buy one, they were told ‘Don’t be a fucking Jew’. We didn’t even know any Jews, and yet somehow the culture had passed on the ancient fear of ‘The other’.
Somehow, somewhere, on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day, the psychosis which has poisoned generations, in many parts of the globe, surfaced on a wet night in West London in a context which to the unseeing eye is removed from political discourse.
The young men? Uneducated fools. Their mentor? A section of Britain – 2016. The meaning of the story? As Gerry Adams said – ‘They haven’t gone away you know’. He meant the IRA, I mean the oldest hatred.