Monday 26 August 2019

Tottenham and Ajax's shared Jewish heritage makes for a unique occasion

Mauricio Pochettino’s side have reached the last four despite not buying a single player in two transfer windows
Mauricio Pochettino’s side have reached the last four despite not buying a single player in two transfer windows

Oliver Brown

For most, the lustre of Tottenham's Champions League duel with Ajax tomorrow night lies chiefly in its rarity.

Despite the richest clubs' efforts to turn the competition into a self-perpetuating cabal, Mauricio Pochettino's side have reached the last four despite not buying a single player in two transfer windows, while a dazzling young Ajax team are already mould-breakers, as the first outside Europe's top five divisions to qualify for the semi-finals since 2005.

But the connection between them extends far beyond their recent overachievement.

This is an occasion that also derives its power from clubs' history of a shared Jewish identity, which has created both a profound sense of common cause and, at times, some problematic issues of self-expression.

While Tottenham garnered the greatest support of the Eastern European immigrants who settled in the East End, Ajax's old ground, De Meer Stadion, was nestled deep in Amsterdam's Jewish quarter, home to Sephardi and Ashkenazi communities until the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands in 1940.

Heritage

Today, the two clubs remain the most vocal in Europe when it comes to conveying their Jewish heritage.

For some, it seems less a badge of true honour than a defence mechanism: for decades, Ajax have been taunted as Jews by those who despise them, not least Feyenoord's ultras, prompting the subjects of such hate to take up the chants themselves.

Tottenham fans' assertions of Jewishness have courted similar controversy, rooted in disputes around the reappropriation of language, in particular the word 'yid'.

By some estimates, no more than five per cent of Tottenham's fan base is Jewish.

It is a precarious state of affairs. For all that an Ajax crowd might proclaim adoration of the Jews, rivals will often resort to vile anti-Semitic taunts in response.

At many levels, the ties that bind Tottenham and Ajax are strong.

Just look at the make-up of Pochettino's team: Jan Vertonghen, Davinson Sanchez, Toby Alderweireld and Christian Eriksen all made their names at Ajax.

Tomorrow, their relationship enters its latest phase, as they vie for the priceless prize of a spot in the Champions League final.

It will be an evening rich with symbolism.

For behind the ferocity of the football contest, these clubs are united by bonds of faith, and by a long, tortured battle to belong. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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