By Christos Kassimeris
As the history of football indicates, clubs and players have suffered at the hands of anti-Semites. In the 1920s, Jewish clubs emerged in most Central European capitals and major cities, yet the outbreak of the Second World War brought about an abrupt end to their aspirations. Jewish football clubs faded away almost at the same time when the persecution of the Jews begun, as football was displaced by the atrocities of the Holocaust. Anti-Semitism in football is not a thing of the past, nevertheless, as certain European clubs are still haunted by their history. Ajax, Bayern Munich, and AS Roma, for example, are nowadays considered as ‘Jewish’ clubs, merely because some of their early supporters and benefactors had Jewish origins. Anti-Semitic chanting is also prevalent in English football stadiums, usually targeting fans of Tottenham Hotspur, due to their Jewish connections. A more recent incident, however, concerns Israeli international Yossi Benayoun, now playing his football with Chelsea FC.
Fans of Chelsea FC visiting the DW stadium for their club’s match against Wigan Athletic FC last September might have been expected to abuse their hosts, as football culture dictates, but to insult a Chelsea player was certainly shocking. Even though the anti-Semitic chants that Yossi Benayoun suffered came from a relatively small section of Chelsea fans, the club’s campaign against anti-Semitism was severely affected not so much for the significance of the incident as for its overall response. When Chelsea FC officials claimed that they identity of the perpetrators remained unknown, therefore, putting a halt onto any likely investigation, a number of more ethical Chelsea supporters volunteered relevant information concerning a male fan who racially abused Avram Grant, manager of Portsmouth FC, during last season’s FA Cup Final. Following an interview with the club’s officials, however, the racist fan only received a warning for an appalling act that probably deserved suspension, thus generating negative comments from a British daily. Responding to the newspaper’s article, Chelsea FC chairman Bruce Buck in a letter to the Guardian blamed the absence of “corroborating witnesses” and the unknown “identity of the alleged offender” for the apparent lack of action.
Christos Kassimeris is assistant professor in political science at European University Cyprus in Nicosia, the editor of Anti-Racism in European Football: Fair Play for All and the author of European Football in Black and White: Tackling Racism in Football and the forthcoming Football Comes Home: Symbolic Identities in European Sport.