It is a stark reminder of a bygone era, and yet it continues to rear its head even today in the Premier League. While football leagues around the world continue to tackle racism in its myriad forms, with acceptable degrees of success – the Premier League is reeling under revelations that a strong under-current of anti-Semitism exists and, worse still, is being overlooked. Incredibly virulent and posing a threat infinitely more serious than mere prejudice, anti-Semitism rakes up some of the darkest chapters in European history and dealing with it is often a matter of uneasiness, be it in politics or in sports.

Chelsea FC’s rapid ascent to the top bracket of the Premier League standings in the past decade has meant the West Londoners have not had the time, or the resources, to deal with the skeletons in the closet before the spotlight inevitably turned on them. What has emerged from behind the tales of glory, the silverware and the paper streamers, is a sordid tale of one club’s struggle to root out a fringe brigade comprising hardened anti-Semites from within the ranks of its own fans.

As a London club, Chelsea supporters often view West Ham, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur as some of their club’s biggest rivals. West Ham and Chelsea are linked primarily through the transfer of Frank Lampard, a move that has earned him the eternal ire of the former’s supporters. Arsenal’s legions of supporters see Chelsea’s True Blues as recent usurpers of the London legacy. Chelsea fans have also had their run-ins with Queens Park Rangers, Fulham and Leeds. But it is Chelsea’s rivalry with cross-town club Tottenham Hotspur that takes the cake. Much of the rivalry is good natured, ranging from the downright hilarious to the painfully repetitive. There are strong familial and friendly links between the players of both sides – good ol’ Harry Redknapp is Frank Lampard’s uncle, and gangly Peter Crouch has been on record of professing his support for Chelsea, as a fan. So the unlikely rivalry between the two sides, may seem a tad out of place.

Stamford Bridge, Chelsea v Blackpool , Premier League 19/09/2010  Frank Lampard of Chelsea in the stands with his Father and girlfriend Christine Bleakly Photo Marc Atkins Fotosports International Photo via Newscom
Ties that bind : Frankie, Hotspurs and West Ham

Geography may have played its part – Tottenham derives its support from boroughs that are diametrically opposite to those that furbish Chelsea with its hordes. Envy may also play its part- Tottenham fans may see themselves as being unlucky to have not been at the receiving end of Roman Abramovich’s largesse, as the North London club was allegedly one of the sides the Russian sent feelers out to. The Hotspurs could be forgiven for seeing themselves as Arsenal’s biggest rivals in the capital, till the Roman Renaissance catapulted Chelsea back into the big leagues. The societal class divide may play its part – Chelsea fans tend to hail from the richer, well-to-do neighborhoods of West London and are known to see the Stamford Bridge experience as “Lording it for a day”. The fact that hooligans exist on both sides, also adds to the hues of rivalry between the two sides.

Tottenham Hotspur fans are known to despise the head-to-head advantage Chelsea have over them. Chelsea fans shudder when anyone harks back to the FA Cup final in 1967, at Wembley London, in what is referred to as the Cockney-Cup final. The Spurs ended the game beating the Blues 2-1, leading 2-0 for most of the game till Bobby Tambling pulled one back for the West London side. To add insult to the injury they had done it with Chelsea’s former young gun Jimmy Greaves in their ranks. The Blues, wrecked by infighting, were finally undone in 1975 when they were relegated from top-flight football thanks to a 2-0 defeat courtesy the Spurs. While it does seem foolhardy to expect a favor from one’s chief rivals, to most Chelsea fans losing to Hotspur was a sucker-punch. In his official biography of Chelsea FC, Rick Glanvill notes that the general consensus among Blues was that a Spur was the only person on earth who would truly kick a person, when the latter was down.

There is however another aspect to the rivalry that lends an uglier dimension to the whole experience. Tottenham are a club with a strong Jewish presence, and have been at the receiving end of anti-Semitic taunts for several decades now. Their supporters in an act akin to rallying around the flag began to flaunt their club’s Jewish character with pride, irrespective of their ethnicity. Referring to themselves as the “Yid Army”, Tottenham Hotspur supporters inadvertently laid the foundation for racism to enter mainstream English football.

With Tottenham openly referring to themselves as Yids in 1936, any qualms rival supporters may have had about using the term in public seemingly vanished overnight. For supporters of West Ham, Arsenal and Chelsea FC, it had become acceptable to hurl choicest invectives at the “Yid Army” – even if racism wasn’t the actual motive. This seemingly innocuous use of a racist term and the nodding acceptance it received paved the way for all hell to break lose.

White Hart Lane, Tottenham Hotspur v Aston Villa , Premier League 02/10/2010  Rafael van der Vaart of Tottenham with Peter Crouch of Tottenham Photo Marc Atkins Fotosports International Photo via Newscom
Spurred On : We yid it

The recipe may have been brought to a boil then, but the individual ingredients had simmered for decades. Tiny, but vociferous, sections of Chelsea FC’s support had long been accused of harboring pro-Fascist sympathies around the turn of the World War. None of this ever constituted club policy, or even made it to mainstream fan sentiment. However, the tag has lived on and gained notoriety in recent times when BBC correspondent Donal MacIntyre infiltrated the Chelsea Headhunters, and displayed evidence that purported to show links to a Neo-Nazi group Combat 18. The prosecutions notwithstanding, he and his wife were targeted in a revenge attack.

Naturally, attention has been drawn to the possibility that closet-Fascist sympathizers may use the relaxed restrictions over use of Jewish references, to their advantage. Chelsea’s official biography notes how some of Chelsea’s own fans were horrified to discover fringe elements make hissing sounds to mimic the sound of gas chambers used in Auschwitz and elsewhere to slaughters Jews en masse. West Ham and Arsenal fans, too joined in, and it is hard to say who initiated the whole affair. If reports are to be believed, even Avram Grant was subject to racist taunts and death threats during his time at Chelsea FC, and after his departure to Portsmouth and West Ham. Israeli international Yossi Benayoun, currently plying his trade with Chelsea, was also at the receiving end of chants “Yiddo” from his own supporters. The anti-Semitic behavior has since widened to include chants like “Spurs are headed to Belsen”, and allegedly at one point, singing songs glorifying Hitler. The situation has gotten so bad, that even relatively harmless gestures wherein supporters of a side go “Shhh” in a bid to silence their rivals, are now being viewed with suspicion. The powers-that-be at Chelsea FC have stepped up admirably and have promised to ban any supporter found engaging in such behavior. By putting aside any pretensions of behind-the-scenes action, and taking on this menace within head-on, the West London club are hoping to break with the past once and for all.

No other club has a greater moral responsibility or a greater calling to fight anti-Semitism, than Chelsea does. The champions are, after all, a club owned by a Russian Jew, with prominent men of Jewish origin amongst its board, and in the team. But most importantly, because of the club’s shared history with its original mascots – The Chelsea Pensioners, those brave men who fought in World War 2 to save Jews and others from a terrible fate.

Chelsea FC owes it to them, more than to anyone else.

47 Responses to “Chelsea FC And The Enemy Within”

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  1. Howard Roark says:

    What a fabulous read!

    A must-read for all Chelsea Supporters.

  2. I do not hate the team, but I like their attitude… They aren’t wannabes anymore :)
    Welcome to the big league guys :)

  3. I do not hate the team. On the contrary, I like their attitude… They aren’t wannabes anymore :)
    Welcome to the big league guys :)

  4. sarad says:

    I’ve mixed opinion about the article. Slightly controversial I think but must say it takes a lot for a true blue to a)admit the wrong doing within its own club b) write about it in public. Another day explanation wud have been: writing more about Judenhass we are making more people aware about it’s existence in today’s world – atleast to the new set of fans. For Gods sake, we already have one problem (Racism) killing the game. No more please !