Chanting 'can we stab you every week' and mocking the Jews killed in Nazi gas chambers… West Ham fans' despicable behaviour at Tottenham disgraced football
11:59 GMT, 26 November 2012
The bile-spewing West Ham fans who baited their Tottenham Hotspur rivals because some of their number had been stabbed by a Nazi mob could take a couple of lessons in history.
First, they could acquaint themselves with the famous image of Bobby Moore and Pele embracing in 1970.
The icon of West Ham and England was rated by the greatest footballer in history, the man with whom he is pictured swapping shirts, as the finest defender of them all.
Disgusting: Sections of the West Ham support brought shame on their club with their chants at White Hart Lane
What the West Ham fans were chanting
'Adolf Hitler, he's coming for you'
'Can we stab you every week'
Joy, warmth and respect abound.
Second, and more gravely, they may wish to consider the horrors of the Holocaust, the mass extermination of two-thirds of Europe's nine million Jews.
They were men, women and children for whom there were no tomorrows. Many arrived on trains to be gassed to death.
Forgive the stark reminder but what other recourse is there for those too young to know – or perhaps too callous to care – among the latest group of football fans to besmirch the name of a proud club and our national sport
Too young to know We are perhaps being too kind here because only last week – not in the middle of the last century – Ashley Mills, a 25-year-old Tottenham fan, was the most severely injured of 10 compatriots who were subject to an unprovoked act of violence while drinking in the Drunken Ship pub in Campo de Fiori, Rome, ahead of his club's Europa League tie with Lazio.
Heard around the world: West Ham fans' chants were highlighted by Sky Sports News
No gas chambers this time but knuckle-dusters, knives, baseball bats and broken bottles. How we have moved on since Hitler committed suicide.
The Ultras – renowned hooligans in the Eternal City – had come 50 strong to make an anti-Semitic attack against Tottenham, with their traditionally Jewish heritage.
Two men, both fans of Lazio's neighbouring club Roma, were arrested and charged. In celebration of the foregoing hate-crime, West Ham fans, who were said to number hundreds rather than dozens yesterday, chanted 'Viva Lazio'.
They hissed during the game, imitating the Holocaust gassing.
They chanted: 'Adolf Hitler, he's coming for you.'
Tottenham, who won 3-1, asked: 'Can we play you every week'
The tasteless response from the away end: 'Can we stab you every week'
Aftermath: The Drunken Ship pub in Rome where Spurs fans were attacked this week
Y-word: Spurs fans call themselves the Yid Army
The morons may be a minority in football crowds, as apologists always tell us, but they are too big a minority to be waved aside as an unimportant sideshow. The lessons of the last few weeks and months tell us that.
For all the immense progress that has been made over the last 30 years to dispel the worst of the right-wing hooligan element from our stadia and to welcome women and children into what was once an intimidating machismo bastion, the fact is that a base element who would not be tolerated in other walks of life find expression in the anonymity of the football crowd.
I stress the word football deliberately. You would not find this kind of racist conduct from the striped blazers in the Lord's Long Room to the hooped shirts at our rugby league grounds, even though much drink is regularly consumed at both ends of sport's class spectrum.
I would also emphasise that this is not a total evisceration of football. Many, many thousands cheer their clubs on passionately while never contemplating any sort of race or religion-based barbarism.
Indeed, many West Ham fans will curse Sunday's offenders, whose thuggish antics appal their sense of innate decency.
We are talking about the kind of
decency that is not of the headline-grabbing variety generated by the
Society of Black Lawyers, who are in danger of making a mockery of the
situation by objecting to Tottenham fans calling themselves the Yid
I would rather those supporters did not use the Y-word but that is their business and, anyway, I detest political correctness.
But back to football. We only need to look at recent events to know that the game is apt to throw up anti-social chants.
Derby day: Not all West Ham fans at White Hart Lane were involved in the offensive chanting
are Liverpool fans goading Manchester United fans with aeroplane
gestures. That last happened at Anfield on September 23, 2012.
The 21 who died in the Munich air disaster perished on February 6, 1958.
fans retorted with: 'Always the victims – it's never your fault' just
as they had the previous week in their 4-0 win over Wigan.
The background to the victims ditty was the Hillsborough tragedy of 1989, when 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death.
But what gave this oh-so-witty exchange topicality was the release a few days earlier of the Hillsborough files that incriminated the police and finally exonerated Liverpool fans of being complicit in their own demise by being drunk and ticketless.
Not always off the pitch: The Premier League has been rocked by race rows such as the one between Chelsea captain John Terry (right) and Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand
In vain, Sir Alex Ferguson had led the calls for the long-awaited report to mark an end to the unsavoury chanting excesses that have long accompanied one of football's great tribal rivalries.
We are also aware of Manchester City's Munich runway song. And of Liverpool fans booing the National Anthem at Wembley before the FA Cup Final in May.
And of John Terry, the then England captain and still captain of Chelsea, calling Anton Ferdinand a black ****.
Arsene Wenger, the cerebral Arsenal manager, is so regularly taunted by paedophile chants that he has learned to block them out.
In light of this background are we surprised by yesterday's anti-Semitism
Well, Michael Henderson, the prominent sports writer, quoted in his book Fifty People Who Fouled up Football a prison doctor-turned-writer called Anthony Daniels, who observed the worst kind of football fan supporting England in Rome, of all places: 'They think of their savagery as a kind of democratic virtue, a proof that they do not hold themselves above the common man.
'Hence their surprise, outrage and disbelief when they are treated by foreigners as the most degraded specimens of humanity they have ever encountered.'
Seems so long ago: But this picture of Bobby Moore and Pele at the 1970 World Cup is much more recent than some of the things the West Ham fans were singing about during the match at White Hart Lane
What to do beyond the well-meant but inadequate tactic of placing a phone number in match-day programmes and inviting people to phone in anonymously to report misbehaviour they witness
One answer is to dock points from the offending fans' team. It might work but is that unfair on the clubs who themselves scorn the rogue elements among their supporters as much as any of us
Still, it may be worth a try, not least because levying a fine is a largely meaningless sanction in a sport oozing with monopoly money.
Requiring the police to do their job properly would seem another massive advance. Why did they not make a few hundred arrests yesterday
Of course, we know the practical impediments to doing so, but should not a new standard, intolerant of craven misbehaviour, be imposed
Or perhaps we should just show the morons that picture of Moore and Pele. Hopeless romanticism, no doubt.
Failing that, let us explain to them the horrors of Auschwitz and Dachau and tell them about Himmler and Heydrich and Eichmann.
And ask them if they still find their little joke so hilariously funny.