The Kick Racism Out campaign across the water has largely focused on offensive behaviour towards black footballers. The Suarez and Terry incidents gave the lie to any assumption that prejudice on the basis of colour is gone from English football.
But nothing else that has emerged comes close to events at White Hart Lane the Sunday before last. Visiting West Ham fans are alleged to have chorused “Viva Lazio” and “Can we stab you every week?” - referring to the attack in Rome in which a Tottenham fan was badly injured when fans of Lazio and Mussolini stormed a bar where Spurs supporters were drinking ahead of a Europa League match with Lazio.
Hammers fans also chanted “Adolf Hitler, he’s coming for you” and hissed, mimicking the gassing of Jews. And they shouted “There’s only one Paulo di Canio”: The former Celtic and Hammers star, now manager of Swindon, is an open admirer of the Mussolini regime.
It strikes me that if the hissing was audible in the press box, as apparently it was, the number of fans involved cannot have been the “tiny minority” claimed by the east London club.
Tottenham Hotspur is perceived as a Jewish club. It isn’t, although, reflecting its catchment area, it probably boasts the highest proportion of Jewish fans in cross-channel soccer.
It takes an effort of will to wrap your mind round the implication of this incident. It is altogether in a different league of offensiveness from the Suarez and Terry affairs.
The chanting and hissing comes at a time when memories of fascism are no longer of mere historical interest, as fascist movements march on the streets of European cities for the first time since World War Two.
West Ham has promised to ban for life any fan found guilty of racist behaviour. To say that this is inadequate is itself inadequate. What happened at Tottenham was stomach-churningly awful.
The FA should have ordered the closure of Upton Park for the rest of the season.