You can’t take the Y word away from us

While football’s governing bodies across Europe do little to combat racism, imposing paltry fines (less than 50p per racist as Simon Jordan put it) for vile chants that happen with uncomfortable frequency, in Britain things are different. Racism is far from dead, but as one of the world’s most culturally integrated countries we pride ourselves on not tolerating such behaviour.

Having sat in the Park Lane end next to the away fans I’ve heard antisemitic abuse numerous times. (I will add that I’ve heard Spurs fans reply with equally heinous insults). It’s a strange thing to see, antisemitic abuse aimed at people that for the most part aren’t Jewish. Regardless, as decent human beings we find it disturbing that people will use one of the greatest crimes in human history as the basis for an insult. Hissing, imitating the gas chambers, is all too common.

According to John Efron in ‘When is a Yid not a Jew?’ from Emancipation Through Muscles: Jews and Sports in Europe the first instances of antisemitic abuse at Tottenham games date back to around 1974/75, particularly in the London derbies against West Ham, Chelsea and Arsenal. Spurs fans adopted the Jewish identity for themselves to blunt the edge of the taunt and by the 1980-81 season ‘yiddo culture’ had started en masse. On one side Spurs fans, Jew and gentile, waved stars of David and referred to themselves as Yids, while opposition chants (now nationwide and internationally) ranged from gentle ribbing about foreskins and pork consumption to taunts about the holocaust.

There is a similar situation at Ajax. In 2004 the club appealed to fans to drop their pseudo-Jewish identity. According to Ajax fan Babette van Haaren, there are less Israeli flags and banners with the word ‘Joden’ (the Dutch word for Jews), but the chants still persist. The issue of antisemitism reared its ugly head recently when Den Haag’s Lex Immers was caught on video singing ‘we’re going hunting Jews’ in reference to a victory over the Amsterdam club, which prompted Ajax’s current chairman to make the plea again.

A statement from Tottenham Hotspur this week said, “A small number of both Jewish and non-Jewish Spurs fans use the Y word in what they consider to be an inoffensive manner”. Anyone who has been to White Hart Lane or seen a game on television will testify that this ‘small number’ must be incredibly vocal. This kind of misinformation is one of the reasons I’m forced to respond to comments and defend the name of my blog so often. Not getting the irony Alan Hansen referenceis understandable, but by You’ll Win Nothing With Yids I’m obviously not suggesting Jewish athletes are doomed to failure as couple of people have assumed.

It isn’t a minority that chant ‘yid army’ and ‘yiddo’, it’s almost as many as for ‘Come on you Spurs’. It is interesting that it was Ledley King in the video rather than Jermain Defoe. I don’t recall either coming out and saying they’d rather we didn’t sing ‘Jermain Defoe, he’s a yiddo’, which they hear every time they play.

The issue isn’t what the players are saying (although it is hard to take Gary Lineker seriously post-Brass Eye). The soundbites are good, reminiscent of Eric Cantona and Les Ferdinand doing ‘You see a black man, a French man?… I’d rather play football’, but not quite as good. The subtext seems to be that Spurs fans are somehow responsible for the antisemitism directed at them by using the word. If only we’d stop saying yids this would all go away. We are accused of legitimising the use of the word, but by that logic Dr Dre and Chris Rock only have themselves to blame if someone calls them a ‘nigger’.

The idea is to ‘raise awareness’ and it’s good that issue is getting some attention, but surely David and Ivor Baddiel surely aren’t suggesting that the mob singing ‘Spurs are on their way to Auschwitz, Seig Heil, Hitler’s gonna gas ‘em again’ don’t understand the words they’re saying? Perhaps there are fans that need educating.

The 90-second video happily cuts from hateful taunts to a group of Spurs fans chanting ‘yiddo’ in support of their team, as if the two are in any way similar. “It’s against the law to call someone a y-word in the street”, Frank Lampard says. Of course it isn’t. I’ve done it and when I’m in my Tottenham shirt people shout it at me. As a Spurs fan you wouldn’t think of shouting anything else.

As the vast majority of Tottenham fans aren’t Jewish some say it isn’t possible for them to reclaim the word, but if we haven’t reclaimed it we’ve appropriated it at the very least and we aren’t giving it back. The NAACP would like to see the back of the word N word, but they have to be realistic and appreciate that to some extent, the rise in its usage in hip hop and African American culture generally, has taken a lot of the power out of the word.

The meaning of words can change, especially slang words, and while I acknowledge the issue is complicated and I don’t want to cause offence if it can be helped, it is my opinion that if you don’t like the use of ‘yids’ and ‘yiddos’ by Tottenham fans you will just have to lump it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *