It’s been a great football season on the pitch – take the claret and blue specs off for just a second and we can start to appreciate some of the magnificent football that has been played both domestically and in Europe.
Even we, as West Ham fans, have seen some (admittedly fleeting) glimpses of that this season. However, off the pitch, things haven’t looked so rosy. Among the increasing disenchantment of the Premier League and all its riches at the expense of the average fan, there’s another story that has reared its ugly head more than once over the last nine months or so: racism and anti-Semitism.
So what is anti-Semetism? The Community Security Trust (CST), a charity that protects British Jews from antisemitism and related threats, define it as: “Any malicious act aimed at Jewish people, organisations or property, where there is evidence that the victim was targeted because they are, or are believed to be, Jewish”. Anyone who has read the news will be aware that it’s not just football where anti-Semitism has been a problem – it’s on the rise in the UK as a whole.
According to the CST, which works with both the community and police forces, in the first six months of 2018, they recorded 727 anti-Semetic incidents across the UK, the second highest figure recorded for that time period.
It seems to be a growing problem in the sport we all (still just about) love too. According to one report, anti-Semitism accounted for 10 per cent of racism reported in football in the year between 2017 and 2018, with the Kick It Out charity reporting a total of 520 separate incidents of discriminatory abuse. Whilst we haven’t got this season’s figures yet, some recent headlines make for grim reading, and sadly, we’re not exempt, as any West Ham fan who uses social media will know.
‘Police investigating West Ham supporters filmed singing anti-Semitic chant prior to Manchester United match’ (Talksport).
‘Chelsea incident just serves to highlight the problem – anti-Semitism on rise in grass-roots game’ (The Telegraph).
‘European football plagued by rising number of racist incidents and anti-Semitism’ (New Europe).
Yes, it’s not just a British issue, but a much wider one than that. During a December 2018 match in Brugge, Belgium, fans chanted anti-Semitic slogans – including references to the burning of Jews.
In the same month, closer to home, Chelsea were forced to condemn the actions of several of their fans for anti-Semitic chants following a match in Hungary. Most people reading to this point would concur that it doesn’t need you to be a rocket scientist to understand that racism, in any form, isn’t acceptable in modern society.
But we must acknowledge the fact that there are some who either do think it is acceptable, or who don’t think that it’s acceptable but enjoy the notoriety. There are various cases for the defence. Some consider that these sorts of songs are, in fact, not anti-Semitic; they are instead just ‘banter’.
That may have been accepted as the case in days gone by, but the world is moving on and football is slowly following it. Incidentally, adding the words “f*g Jews” at the end, such as in the West Ham example, really, really doesn’t mean it’s banter – it means it’s abuse.
Some fans defend the singing of these types of songs, suggesting that there are more important things to worry about, and that banning these songs will destroy the atmosphere. Really?
We’re in 2019, for goodness sake. If we are unable to generate an atmosphere without resorting to anti-Semitic songs then we really are doomed as a society (notwithstanding some of the dodgy football that we have watched over the years).
Here’s the other defence: ‘Just because some fans sing those songs, it doesn’t mean that they are racist’. Now, I hate to offend you if you agree with this, but it stands to reason that if you start to sing racist and/or anti-Semitic songs at football matches, then you are in fact racist and/or anti-Semitic.
It’s a bit like saying that you use cigarettes, but you’re not a smoker. It’s a pretty tough job to convince someone otherwise if you engage in singing those songs. I should say that any fan who falls into this category has a belief that there’s less of an issue with these chants and songs than is being made out. That’s not necessarily their fault. And whilst outright bans may look tough, that isn’t going to change people’s beliefs – that’s what education on the topic would do and perhaps what more clubs should be looking at, in conjunction with government and other parties.
And perhaps, if they all came together, football – and mainstream society – might move into the 21st century altogether quicker.