Football captain reveals he needed security escort as data shows spike in antisemitism

UK

Being one of the only British Jews playing professional football has only become more challenging for Joe Jacobson this season – and made the Wycombe Wanderers captain a target of hatred.

The 37-year-old has revealed to Sky News how – in the aftermath of the 7 October Hamas atrocities and Israel’s war on Gaza – he needed a security escort into the stadium and the League One club resisted demands to cut ties with him.

Jacobson has avoided commenting publicly about the attacks on the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust or the aftermath, but he did express concern about protesters he believed were “celebrating mass murder” in the streets.

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There was a hostile reaction that Jacobson is discussing for the first time, amid concerns about the spike in antisemitism in football this season, according to data Sky News has obtained from Kick It Out.

Jacobson told Sky News: “I had a lot of messages on social media, the club got sent some emails and letters demanding I apologise, demanding that, if I didn’t, they would barricade the gates at Adams Park on a match day a few days later.”

When he arrived at the stadium, where he has played for a decade, there was a rush to shield him as he walked in.

“I got ushered in. I later found out that they were worried that someone was going to be there,” Jacobson said. “So there were some plain-clothed security that were watching out and looking for anything.

“And fortunately nothing happened. But I’m just going to a place of work and there’s people worried about something that might happen – and that that can’t be right.”

That wasn’t the end of it.

“There were fans… or so-called fans, messaging saying that [I] shouldn’t be playing for this club or be captain of this football club,” Jacobson said.

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Pic: PA

Spike in antisemitism

There was backing throughout the club – from the owner downwards.

“They were like… you’ve done nothing wrong, so don’t apologise,” he said. “What you have said is absolutely fine.”

Data from Kick It Out obtained by Sky News shows there have been five times more antisemitic abuse in football this season compared to the first half of the 2022-23 campaign.

The rise from 11 incidents to 57 can seem low, but the data can be viewed as more of a snapshot of the wider problem, given Kick It Out relies on receiving reports.

And Islamophobia is a growing problem too, with four times as many cases of anti-Muslim abuse across the English game this season – underscoring the faith-based hatred infecting football.

The feeling for Jacobson, who represented Wales at under-21 level, is that football authorities have overlooked the concerns of Jews for too long because of the lack of players from the community.

‘There are positives to come out of it’

For Jacobson, the visible manifestation of the lack of solidarity was the Wembley arch not being lit in Israel’s colours in October, as the FA did similarly previously to mourn atrocities elsewhere.

“They didn’t want to upset anyone, which is fine, but I think that they set the precedent years ago with doing things,” Jacobson said.

“One thing that Jewish people have always said is, ‘Why is it always us? Why are we different to anyone else?’

“And I think that was a prime example. When it came to what happened on 7 October, then they weren’t willing to stand up to that.”

There has been an apology from the FA, a new policy to not light the arch after any terror attacks in future, and the launch of an antisemitism task force.

Jacobson said: “That wasn’t there before, so there are positives to come out of it… for antisemitism to be looked at in a way that it probably wasn’t before.”

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Pic: PA

Call to ban offensive term

The Kick It Out data shows that twice in the first half of this season there was antisemitic hatred towards a player, but the other 20 incidents were fan-on-fan abuse.

It’s understood many of those cases could be linked to the use of the “Y-word”.

It is an offensive term derived from the word for Jews in Yiddish – the language of Ashkenazi Jews of central and eastern Europe – that is used in abusive chants against north London club Tottenham.

What complicates the matter is that the term has also been adopted as an affectionate nickname for their club by fans of Tottenham, which has a traditionally large Jewish following.

“The best thing to do would be to get rid of it,” said Jacobson, who supports Spurs. “I think it stops any grey areas then because, if opposition fans start using that word against Spurs fans to try and get one over, then they’re doing it in a derogatory way and that’s not OK.”

‘Those things weren’t there before’

A recent post on the official Wycombe Wanderers X account announcing his testimonial celebrations to mark 10 years at the club received this reply: “Rather put a knife through my eyes than attend this genocide supporting p***** event”.

Jacobson said: “Those things weren’t there before. To voice an opinion like that on social media to someone when you don’t know their opinions on it, is sad.

“And I think people need to realise what they’re saying isn’t right and it’s not acceptable.”

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