Office-dwellers with far too much time on their hands wish to stifle the songs of the Yid Army, but we won’t be silenced
Back in August, my football club, Tottenham Hotspur, sent all members a rather ominous email explaining that they were conducting a “consultation” regarding the use of the ‘Y-word’. This isn’t the first time the club has questioned supporters’ use of potentially provocative language at football matches, yet this time it felt like they were poking the members to get something out of us. Why? Because in a world in which it seems anti- Semitism is on the rise the club hierarchy doesn’t want to be seen as if it is condoning such seemingly awful behaviour. Only, of course, this proves even those in charge of our club don’t understand the origin, meaning and impact of their fans using the Y-word at matches.
So, a survey was sent out to Tottenham’s members, of which 23,000 were completed . It was a mixture of closed and open questions as the club sought to find out what its members really think. For example, probing into whether us fans “chant the Y-word in a footballing context”, or not. Members could answer “Yes — regularly”, “Yes — occasionally” or “No”. In other instances the club would pose scenarios in which the word is used, or would hint at the impact the use of the word has on society. We had to answer whether we “Strongly Disagree” through to “Strongly Agree” with the statements.
It did feel the club cherry-picked the data when writing up the findings on the club website highlighting “18% of respondents who don’t use the word in a footballing context consider it ‘offensive’”. Much further down we are informed that roughly three-quarters of members sing it “regularly” or “occasionally” at football games. Hold on a minute. Assuming the fans don’t sing songs that make themselves upset that can only mean that less than one in twenty people who bothered to do the survey are ‘offended’ by these actions.
The club seemed to take some kind of solace that 94% of respondents believe the word ‘Yid’ could be used as “a racist term against Jewish people”. Well thank God for that — at least our fan base isn’t brain dead. Of course the word can be used in an offensive manner. This demonstrates Spurs fans aren’t ignorant of its origin or meaning and shows why fans feel the need to sing the word in a positive light. And trust me, there very much is still the need.
In the earlier years of the past decade I didn’t get to go and watch Tottenham as much as I do now. Sixteen-year-old me hadn’t seen everything English football has to offer. One of these things, unfortunately, is anti-Semitism. I had never witnessed it before, not just in a footballing context but ever in my entire life. It was a rather shocking scene as the West Ham fans started making a hissing noise. I thought it was peculiar they were making a ‘shushing’ noise reserved for when the home end is quiet and not supporting their team, which wasn’t the case. Confusion followed as fans started standing up around me and hurling abuse back at the away end. It turns out they were mimicking the noise of the gas chambers used to help murder around six million Jews during the Second World War. The response was breath-taking as the stadium roared into song: “Yid Army, Yid Army!”
The reaction was perfect. It was one of solidarity and a recognition of the foul actions committed by a few hundred ignorant West Ham supporters. Even the players seemed to have some degree of understanding of what was going on and it galvanised the team. We went on to win the match and sent the away end packing back to East London — humiliated with their tail between their legs. We had stood up for ourselves. Many of us are Jewish or have Jewish family members so when instances like this happen it evokes a passionate response. But it is a protestation which does not resort to violence to get our point across to the minorities of fans who think this behaviour is acceptable. We own our history and the prejudice the community of Tottenham faces.
One of the arguments made for banning the word and all of its variances is that the use of such language generates an atmosphere ripe for anti-Semitism. If one set of fans are proudly chanting their affiliation with Judaism then other fans will attack us for that. This argument is poorly formed and reminds me of the controversial opinion that young women who wear short dresses are basically asking to be sexually assaulted. As I believe with that argument, people have agency and control over themselves and acting in such a vile manner is on their head, especially given that the vast majority of people could never even comprehend the idea of assaulting someone. It is merely excusing the act.
Another crucial argument for letting us fans be lies within the free speech debate. It is often becoming the case in liberal democracies that free speech is curtailed with good intentions. For example, it is becoming increasingly common for comedy clubs to make acts sign behavioural agreement contracts before they go up on stage demanding the comedians don’t overstep boundaries by even discussing topics that relate to potentially offensive themes. It’s the same scenario here. The club are terrified of causing offence, and this is blinding much-needed impartiality on the situation. It is being done for the sake of not upsetting marginalised individuals. Except, by the report’s own admission, most Jewish Tottenham fans are fine with this language in this particular context.
There seems to be a theme in Tottenham’s report which suggests anti-Semitism is on the rise and we, as fans, are complicit through coarse language. They may well be correct about the former. Just look at the vulgarity of some of Labour’s grass roots supporters  and the confusion over whether some of their MPs are genuine anti-Semites. This is from a political party with the largest membership in Britain and seldom has the issue been adequately addressed. However, the club is making the brash assumption that the chants add fuel to the furnace of anti-Jewish sentiment in this country; a fatal misreading and misunderstanding of the situation. It is our defence mechanism.
My club seems to view us fans with a degree of disdain. We are caricatured as angry middle-aged men ignorantly singing insensitive songs for reasons which elude us. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The fans have always been sensitive to the plight of Jews, and to be connected to them, directly or otherwise, brings great pride to the fan base. We must ask ourselves what is wrong with that and what the consequences may be if action is taken against us. Moreover, how such a virtue signalling stunt could possibly be policed must seem quite fantastical to anyone who has ever attended a football match.
In the months following the release of Tottenham’s report we are expecting further consultations once the Coronavirus pandemic subsides. Despite amassing concrete evidence that no harm is being caused, it now seems inevitable the club will carry on contradicting its own data until it can substantiate claims that the chants are in fact problematic. It seems the club hierarchy is suffering from ‘Saint George in retirement syndrome’. The dragon of prejudice, which may have once existed, is slain yet the management class of Tottenham will keep on looking for issues which blatantly do not exist, or to the extent to which they claim. They too shall keep on aimlessly swinging their sword. All who care for freedom of speech and expression should be wary of where the blow shall land.
It is conceivable that anti-Semitism will have been totally squashed out of football someday, and perhaps even wider society. Until that day comes the next generation of Spurs fans should be taught the significance of the Y-word, when its use is appropriate and when it perhaps isn’t and, most crucially, why that is the case; and it appears this is happening. A graph from Spurs’ report showed a whopping 94% of 18–24 year olds sing songs involving the Y-word at matches. Tottenham youngsters are being brought up using their vocal chords as a way of showing they care for their club, not their fists — as may well have been the case 30 years ago. This is unquestionably healthier.
But let us be clear about why this survey and report was commissioned. The club board is embarrassed by their own fan base as if they were an elderly relative who doesn’t quite understand the correct etiquette of the times. Indeed, it is possible the day will come when Tottenham fans can no longer say ‘Yid’, or variations of the word, in a footballing context. This is another facet of woke elitism; an ability to severely misinterpret a situation through painfully literal mindedness, lack of historical nous and living a distanced life from those who wish to defy their commandments. When the club board can hear us fans roaring our ‘offensive’ chants and attempt to shut us down, they will do well to remember that it is us, including our friends and family, who face the brunt of anti-Jewish discrimination out on the terraces of English football, not them. We will not take the impending revisions of language lightly.