True fans

Yes I love the Arsenal, and of course I love the games, but as the whistle blew, the last thing on my mind was who to kill.

By JOSH FREEDMAN BERTHOUD
May 21, 2006 16:29
highbury fans 298

highbury fans 298. (photo credit: Josh Freedman Berthoud)

 
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The author is a 25-year-old London-based writer and freelance journalist. "We hate Tottenham and we hate Tottenham! We hate Tottenham and we hate Tottenham! We hate Tottenham and we hate Tottenham! …We are the Tottenham haters! Yiddos! Yiddos! Yiddos! Yiddos!" So sang the 400+ Arsenal fans packed into a sweaty Highbury pub on the eve of their biggest game ever. Of course the "yiddos" in question were the same Tottenham fans that were being so vehemently derided, although after what my cousin wrote about North London Jews forcing up Arsenal ticket prices (and forcing true fans off the terraces) I couldn't help but feel it was the wrong bunch of Jews being targeted. For as any self-respecting Jewish Londoner will tell you, all yids ain't Tottenham fans. Perhaps I should explain. In the beginning, there was the East End, where a bagel and lox cost tuppence ha'penny and you couldn't move for tzitzit and payyos. But the place was poor- the veritable slum of London- and by the late 50s the Jews had moved north to the relative utopia of Tottenham. Safe in the balmy climes of North East London, they begat a new generation of Jews: Londoners born and bred. But all utopias have their apple of temptation and soon the Yiddish youth were doing things to make their forefathers turn in their graves. Shouting "oh my god" not "oy gevalt"; barely knowing their shtreimel from their sheitel and (has vehalila) going to games on Shabbos, a new wave of Jew was born. The Spurs fan. The yobbos: The Yiddos. The name has stuck ever since. Of course, your average Spurs fan is rather more yok than yid these days. The Jews have long left Tottenham, moving onwards and upwards, and choosing a greater team, better suited to their newfound wealth and status. Highbury is our new home, and now the Jewish owned corporate boxes of the ironically named Arab Emirates Stadium stand as a beacon to the dizzy heights that London's Jewry has achieved. Jewry such as my cousin and his family, with a pair of thrones in the inner chambers of Castle Arsenal. And while it would be unfair to call them fair-weather supporters, it's fairly clear they've more than their fair share of sunshine where they're sitting. It is a different story for me, however. I have no corporate box, no season ticket, nor even sky digital on which to watch the games. I'm Jewish, so of course I'm not a Yiddo, but unlike most Arsenal fans of the Hebraic persuasion, I actually live in Highbury. You might have thought a lifetime supporter's pass would be issued to me along with my voting cards. But no. And I've got my cousin to blame for that. "It must be down to Arsenal's… above-average number of well-off Jewish fans that these astronomical prices can even be bandied about in the first place." That's what he wrote before the game, and I quite agree. And if it wasn't for the fact that I sometimes get to go to games with him, I'd probably be quite annoyed. But I do, so I'm not. True it would have been nice to be there, but then I also love the rowdy pub atmosphere. Yes it's a dream to see the world's greatest players play live, but then it might have been a bit cold, and unlike my cousin I don't have a Louis Vuitton scarf to warm me up. No, I have to say I was more than happy where I was, and the same applied to the thousands of manic fans that packed Highbury's pubs from 3pm on Wednesday afternoon. These "working class" fans as my cousin labels them, had no chance of getting a ticket to the game, so they brought the terraces to the drinking dens, and there, soaked in sweat and alcohol, we sang as one. And when Sol thumped home the header that put us in the lead, the minute of pure euphoria I enjoyed with 400+ people that I'd never met before made me feel a bit sorry for my cousin. Like maybe somehow he was missing out. Here were the true fans, after all. Here was the real spirit. Here was the only glory. Right? Well sort of. But then shortly before time, it all started to go wrong. And as the whistle blew, I looked at the forlorn faces around me, and thought that perhaps my cousin's fair weather attitude's not so wrong after all. Outside the pub, my two mates turned to each other, hanging their heads: "I feel like crying," Said one. "I feel like dying," Said the other. They looked at me. "I feel like… lying?" Because, to be honest, I couldn't match their involvement. Yes I love the Arsenal, and of course I love the games, but as the whistle blew, the last thing on my mind was who to kill, or how best to kill myself. And as I made my way home along Blackstock Road and saw fights break out between men who'd been hugging each other half an hour earlier; as I avoided the police hurling bleary-eyed men to the floor; as I watched Whites, Arabs, Blacks and Asians united in their chants of "we hate Yiddos!" I felt a touch of pity for these hoards of disappointed true supporters who don't have a chance of ever seeing a such a game live. I even wondered whether I should go over and tell them that the yids they should really be shouting at don't live in Tottenham: they're the ones dressed in red and white Armani on the front row of the Stade De France. But then again, why would I grass up my own kind? After all, it wouldn't be long before they came after me. They'd be able to smell my lack of enthusiasm; my inability to remember vital facts, stats and figures; my philosophical lackadaisicalness when the game's said and done… No. I let them carry on chanting, directing their rage at a particularly insignificant section of the footballing world. And I walked quietly by, smugly expectant that it would be me sitting beside my cousin at the final, this time next year.

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