Today I’d like to talk about what is without doubt the most bitter conflict to have arisen within our community in living memory. I refer of course to the case of Tottenham v Arsenal. This fundamental division has existed for almost as long as there have been Jews living in London although for much of that time the two managed to co-exist in an uneasy but stable truce.
This all changed recently, and I can reveal that my very own synagogue was in the eye of the storm.
Let me give you the background. About two years ago a young lad known as child P (because his name is Pinchas, Pinchas Tucker to be precise), attempted to come into shul wearing a kippah emblazoned with the Tottenham badge. The wardens, being Arsenal supporters to a man, objected and refused the boy admission. I felt strongly about the case as I am someone who married out; I support Arsenal while my wife is from a Tottenham family. In subsequent discussions, therefore, I have supported the boy and his family as an “interested party”.
Over several months the child appealed first to the Services Management Team, then to the synagogue governors. Each time it was decided that the wardens, being the guardians of the 3,500 year old unchanged tradition of “how we do things when it comes to football”, should not be overturned.
All the while congregants became more and more outspoken. Graffiti exclaiming “Child P (Pinchas) is innocent” started appearing in the local streets; lifelong friends fell out as their allegiances were painfully tested; and letters debating the controversy were even published in the synagogue magazine. Before long there was an Arsenal section on one side of the synagogue and a Spurs section on the other. Seas of blue and red-badged kippot marked this unholy division with various members of the CST positioning themselves carefully in order to maintain the segregation.
The anger and frustration eventually had to blow and it did that one Shabbat morning. An elderly gentleman wearing his Arsenal kippah, returning to his seat having being called to the Torah, was smote down by the outstretched leg of a rival supporter.
This led to a complete breakdown in relations. Both sides refused to attend any further CCC (Campaign against Chelsea Cupples) meetings and the shul board was damned as a toothless and irrelevant body.
Eventually the issue was taken to the highest possible authority – the Rabbi. As if a Chabadnik from Minnesota is going to have the slightest understanding of such a problem. His ruling was that anyone should be allowed a shul honour based on regularity of attendance. This has delighted the Gunners because Spurs have a lunchtime kick-off tomorrow.