Co-chairman says when he heard chanting at 2012 game 'what flashes up in my mind is the antisemitism when I was a boy'
Every Jew has a story. Some will make you laugh and others will leave a lump in your throat; the harrowing one that David Gold tells about the unsuspecting small boy who bunked into an East End cinema towards the end of the second world war and was confronted by a Pathé news report that showed masses of dead Jewish bodies lying in Nazi concentration camps definitely falls into the second category.
Depressing though it may be, antisemitism is on the agenda again. It is just under a year since a section of West Ham United fans caused such outrage by taunting Tottenham Hotspur over their links to the Jewish community and there has been an unmistakable air of apprehension as the sides prepare to meet again at White Hart Lane on Sunday. Everyone is praying there will not be a repeat of those appalling scenes.
West Ham have warned that they will ban any fan caught taking part in antisemitic behaviour, while the Metropolitan police have said they will arrest anyone who uses the Y-word, even though Tottenham fans argue that referring to themselves as Yids, a derogatory term for Jews, is a disarming tactic.
The sad irony about the events of that November afternoon, when a section of West Ham fans sung about Adolf Hitler, hissed to mimic the gas chambers and even made gestures that appeared to be Nazi salutes, is that Gold, their co-chairman and a lifelong supporter of the club, is a Jew who has dealt with prejudice throughout his life, not least when he was growing up a stone's throw away from Upton Park.
Now 77, Gold has seen a lot but it is a story from his youth that demonstrates how abhorrent those chants were. "You're saddened by it," he says. "Those who think it's all part of football, the words that come out in the day are not that important. What those people must understand is the terrible pain that it causes. The pain is unbelievable. It's not the words. The pain that I feel is like a dagger in the heart. What flashes up in my mind is the antisemitism when I was a boy, so what I see when I hear that chanting is this little chap and he bunks into the Green Gate cinema.
"It's just along the road, the next traffic lights, from Upton Park. What I saw on the black and white Pathé News were Jews, Jews and more Jews stacked up. Jews dead. Hundreds, thousands of them. Jews dying. Of course, I've suffered antisemitism at school but you don't quite understand it. Why is there antisemitism? The Americans are going through Poland and Germany and to Auschwitz and all these other camps and I can't believe this.
"I know I'm a Jew. I know there's a lot of antisemitism and a lot of unpleasant things said against me. I remember returning to my grandmother and saying: 'I can't believe this, grandmother, why are they killing all the Jews? I know little Jimmy at school told me we killed Jesus. Did we kill Jesus?'
"Of course, this is so upsetting for my grandmother. When she was the same age as me, her father, my great-grandfather, hung himself in the toilets of a synagogue because of antisemitism. So she finds herself without a father and is put in a home, having left Russia to escape antisemitism. The story I'm telling you here is painful. I can see my grandmother, I can see her in tears."
Gold falls silent. Suddenly the atmosphere in the canteen at West Ham's training ground feels heavy and the memory of his grandmother's pain and his own struggle through childhood threaten to overwhelm him. For a brief moment, he is fighting back the tears.
Plenty of Jews will empathise; they know the feeling, that sense of fear, how the mere thought of the Holocaust sends a chill down the spine. Gold understands antisemitism, though, and he does not believe he truly saw it at White Hart Lane.
While he accepts that the minority of individuals who started the chants were antisemites, he argues that the people who followed them did not realise the impact their actions would have. The challenge on Sunday afternoon is not to follow the crowd.
"It's not the pain of them coming out with some antisemitic song," he continues. "You can dismiss it. It makes that Jew think: 'God, that reminds me, it takes me all the way back to when I was terrified'. I asked my grandmother if they were going to kill us. She sobs because she tries to tell me this is a bad person in Germany. I didn't even know where Germany was, I'm a child. The bottom line of this story, the reason I'm telling you this, is that I don't think people realise the pain that they cause."
In the aftermath of the match, one West Ham fan, who was also cautioned by police for making offensive gestures, was banned for life by the club.
West Ham were horrified by what happened. They view themselves as a family club, rightly proud of their efforts to promote inclusivity and fight discrimination. Two months later, Holocaust Memorial Day was marked on the pitch at Upton Park before their match against Queens Park Rangers.
"When I was a boy, my sanctuary was West Ham Football Club," Gold says. "It was a sanctuary from antisemitism. That's what West Ham stood for, even though I didn't understand it at the time. West Ham always stood out as a beacon against discrimination. Over the years, West Ham have stood out as one of the leaders in the pursuit of harmony."
Gold is an optimist. He is not willing to demonise West Ham's support, most of whom were appalled by what occurred. Nor does he subscribe to the view that supporters should confront the issue head-on, with all the potential for violence that might bring, instead stressing that fans should discreetly report any offensive chanting to a steward or a police officer.
Alternatively, there are anonymous hotlines fans can call, while Kick It Out, the anti-racism pressure group, has launched an app that allows fans to report racism on their mobile phones.
"The one redeeming feature about being old is that you've experienced things," Gold says. "I can go back many years and I can say to you that antisemitism is an extremely minority pursuit by very dreadful people. You've got a minority that will start it. What I urge them not to do is follow the tiny minority."