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Searchlight: Football and Anti-Semitism


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.



8 Comments on "Searchlight: Football and Anti-Semitism"

  1. I think you are right when you say that they don’t really know what they are singing about and lets face it a lot of people you rub shoulders with at matches are like walking missing links. I used to know people who sang ‘The Billy Boys’ at Newcastle home games, I know for certain that they had no idea of the origins or significance of the song, they got on famously with a group of Celtic fans who came down for a testimonial. They also sang ‘Spurs are on their way to Auschwitz’ when we played them, ‘In your Liverpool slums’ and the Munich song whatever it is called, whatever would be a wind up on the day. They were not the sharpest it must be said, for instance they hated students for no real reason as well as Tories, Southerners and Germans to name but a few.

    Sunderland would come up to our place and sing ‘Jackie is dead’ yet the same set of fans had a whip round for the Newcastle fans killed in MH17. Arsenal fans would wave twenty pound notes, did they really think no one in Newcastle had seen a twenty?. And as for Spurs, they sing Yid Army about themselves. I think it is all froth myself.

    A lot of what used to go on on the terraces was about bravado and having a story to tell. I remember the first game of the 89/90 season playing Leeds at SJP in a game we won 5-2 with Mick Quinn getting 4 on his debut. When Leeds went 2-1 up half a dozen of your fans took their jackets off to show their Leeds strips as they celebrated….. IN THE GALLOWGATE END. Needless to say the police had to rescue them as a hail of punches rained down but they would have gone back to their mates and bragged about how they had ‘taken’ the Gallowgate, their own little legend to talk about. Perhaps they could have made up a song about it and if it had taken off it could have been sung every time you played us, twenty years later no one would even know what it was about, a bit like ‘He’s only a poor little hammer’ about an incident when someone threw a petrol bomb at visiting West Ham fans in the Leazes end circa 1979, how many current Newcastle fans could tell you the origin of it? not many I think.

    If you asked those fans at Brentford why they were singing that song I bet they couldn’t tell you.

  2. mahatmacoatmabag | 28th January 2016 at 2:43 pm | Reply

    Irrespective of ignorant football fans signing anti-Semitic songs the main driver of the large increase in anti-Semitic attacks in the UK today are down to the Muslim community & the radical BDS campaign supporting Left using the pretext of so called anti-Zionism as their fig leaf cover to disguise their hatred of Jews and Israel in general

  3. Tim,

    At first glance the songs on the terraces would be called anti-semitic. However, I have my doubts that the root cause is “British anti-semitism”. In my opinion, the root is tribal: the same fans singing Auschwitz songs would stand up for a fellow Leeds fan – Jewish or no – were he/she to be abused by a supporter of the opposing team. I agree, there is an undercurrent of anti-Semitism in Britain, but it is mostly expressed by the rulimg classes. Quotas in Public Schools, pro-Arabism and anti_zionism/anti-Semtism at the Foreign Office etc etc. Marageret Thatcher did a lot to combat it – but even she, a white CofE church-goer, was known disparagingly as the “Grocer’s daughter” by Tory grandees. On a personal level, as a callow youth political activist in FCS (Federation of Conservative Students)during the Thatcher era, we would sing “What did the miners get for Christnas? Half a Hamster – and that was Christmas dinner” even though we had never met a striking miner and had no idea what the strike was about. It wasn’t against miners in general. it was an expression of tribalism – them and us – and would never become personalized. Going further back’ in South London where my late Mother hailed from, the local shop was known as “Jewboys” by everyone who hailed from the area, even though it was owned and run by a Pakistani Muslim! I would not let songs on football terraces be used as proof of racism – whether in West London or around here in Jerusalem – some of the songs against Arabs at Betar ganes here are on a par with Leeds fans’ chants that you describe so eloquently. There is racism in British society, not just anti-semtism – but it runs deeper than soccer songs.

    • mahatmacoatmabag | 29th January 2016 at 12:35 pm | Reply

      Stacey, Yallah Betar, Yallah ! and if you want another real tribal team then Bnei Sakhnin F.C. it is ( I’m an ex-Arsenal fan & a sometimes supporter of Maccabi Tel Aviv )

    • Stacy, The casual chanting by football fans may just be ‘tribal’. Maybe its full on rousing ‘anti semitic’ banter for some. Maybe its a bit of both for others. Whichever way you want to dress this up, it remains pretty unsavoury that its ok to sing about gassing jews in a death camp, at a football match, for a laugh. It’s this which speaks volumes. Anti semitism is not a mainly ruling class predilection but germinates from just such banalities, be it through ignorance or design.

  4. Publicly chanting “Spurs are on their way to Auschwitz’ and ‘Hitler’s going to gas them again’ is as you say anti-Semitic and should be seen as Hate Speech. A couple of years ago I saw someone in Manchester arrested for saying things like “ I love Hitler “ and “Hitler was right” There should be zero tolerance for anyone who spouts hate whether they are aware or not and I would think a sizeable proportion know full well what they are doing. I know some Spurs fans get subjected to hissing sounds which the haters think sound like the Gas from the Gas Chambers. If the Law allows it they should be prosecuted and sent on re –education programmes.

    • mahatmacoatmabag | 9th February 2016 at 4:53 pm | Reply

      “If the Law allows it they should be prosecuted and sent on re –education programmes.” which should first be applied to anybody supporting the BDS campaign & anybody preaching Koranic texts calling for Jihad and the killing or enslavement of Infidels ( Christians, Jews & non-believers in Islam )

  5. Totally agree with you mahatmacoatmabag I have heard that next week the Government will announce new legislation to prevent local Councils carrying out BDS something which a few councils are currently carrying out . About time Councils stopped wasting scarce resources and money on meaningless foreign policy gestures and looked after their council tax payers. They scream poverty and have no money to fill in pot holes or maintain Libraries and Bin collections but can afford £100.000 on defending their BDS policies. Madness

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