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The Schmooze

Star (of David) Wars in European Soccer

Are Italian police banning shirts and flags displaying the Star of David at a European soccer championship match to be held this week?

Both the London Jewish Chronicle and Haaretz reported over the weekend that a warning to fans appeared on the website of the Tottenham Hotspur team. The London club is about to face off against Inter Milan on October 20 in a European championship match, and the website warned that “police authorities have advised that those flags showing the Star of David will not be allowed access and may be confiscated.”

But the Italian authorities reacted quickly in denying the reports. Via Milanese local politician Emanuele Fiano, the police denied issuing such a specific instruction. “The Milan prefect, Gian Valerio Lombardi, with whom I have spoken, has denied that any Italian police authority has made any stipulation against banners bearing the Star of David,” Fiano said.

All of this, of course, leads us to the question of why this issue should arise at all — what on earth does a Magen David have to do with soccer?

For the fans of the London-based Hotspurs, the two are deeply connected. The original historic reason for Tottenham calling themselves the “Yids” is unclear. It either began because of their Jewish fans or the proximity of their field to a Jewish neighborhood, or because of the general political climate in the 1930s. Either way, around that time fans of Tottenham’s opponents would taunt their players by calling them “Yids.” The fans decided that the best way to strike back and deflect the racism was to embrace the moniker, and ever since they have nicknamed themselves the “Yid Army” and their players are often called ‘Yiddo’ or ’Jew’ and the Star of David is displayed.

The nickname has periodically stirred up trouble within Great Britain, most recently when fans of the rival team Chelsea were caught on tape singing “Spurs are on their way to Auschwitz.”

With the website posting and the denial, it remains unclear whether the initiative to try to ban the Jewish star came from the Italians or from the Hotspur organization itself, which, along with other British soccer clubs, is trying to keep religion and politics out of the game.

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