The call to ban Spurs fans from chanting ‘Yiddo’ represents another nu-fan assault on allegedly uncouth fans.
The Society of Black Lawyers (SBL) is clearly making good use of its Sky Sports subscription. Having played a key role in creating a full-blown race crisis out of footballers John Terry and Anton Ferdinand’s exchange of unpleasantries a year ago, the SBL sat down to watch the recent, red card-laden league game between Chelsea and Manchester United and concluded, as is its wont, that referee Mark Clattenburg was not just a wanker, but a racist, too – and promptly demanded his suspension.
Last week, SBL chair Peter Herbert took his organisation’s unique view on the beautiful game – think of it as the Premier League’s Burning – a stage further. He threatened to report Tottenham Hotspur FC to the Metropolitan Police if the club did not do something to put a stop to ‘anti-Semitic abuse’ at its home ground, White Hart Lane.
What is odd about this threat, of course, is that Spurs fans’ habit of calling themselves ‘the Yid Army’ or ‘Yiddos’ has sweet FA to do with anti-Semitic abuse. Rather it is a self-definition, an affirmation of identity from a club based in a historically Jewish area with a large number of Jewish people among its fans. As spiked regular Frank Furedi put it: ‘It is actually quite an empowering experience to hear the word “Yiddo” shouted by thousands of football fans. This chant can last for 30 to 40 seconds and for a brief moment everyone has a sense of emotional solidarity with their self-consciously chosen identity. I say this as someone who is not only a Spurs fan but also Jewish and also as someone who has faced real anti-Semitism on more than one occasion.’ Furedi’s sentiments are clearly shared by his fellow Spurs fans, who responded to SBL’s threat by chanting ‘We’ll sing what we want’ and ‘Yid Army’ throughout the club’s Thursday evening match against Slovenian side Maribor.
Now, it is blindingly obvious to anyone with a knowledge of British football that Spurs fans are not fomenting resentment of the Star of David in our midst. By chanting Yiddo, they are simply defining themselves, asserting themselves as fans of Spurs. The club itself stated as much in its official response to SBL’s threat: ‘[Our fans] do not use the term to others to cause any offence, they use it as a chant among themselves.’
But SBL, and its high-profile supporters, are not interested in the meaning of the Yiddo chants to Spurs fans. Herbert’s response to Spurs’ defiance reveals as much: ‘Under Section Five of the Public Order Act it doesn’t matter what the intent is of the individual or the crowd; if the words cause harassment, alarm, or distress to anyone watching, then that is sufficient.’ Telegraph columnist Matthew Norman agreed: ‘[T]he time has come for Spurs fans to ditch the Y-word. Political correctness is often derided, and sometimes rightly, but at its best it is a synonym for good manners; a shorthand term for the tenet that one should avoid upsetting others, even unwittingly.’
That is, it doesn’t matter how Spurs fans use and understand their own use of the Yiddo nomenclature; it doesn’t matter how the words have acquired their own particular significance in the context of football culture; what matters is that a select group of legal experts and commentators have decreed, in the name of the offended, that the word is racist. Former comedian, porn lover and authentic nu-fan David Baddiel was even arrogant enough to try to arrest the process of language change. ‘The thing to remember about Yid is: it’s a race-hate word. It was daubed across the East End by Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts.’ That it is now daubed across the t-shirts of Spurs fans ought to suggest to Baddiel that it is now almost entirely associated with Daniel Levy’s Whiteshirts.
Yet, according to the likes of Baddiel, while Spurs fans may think they are using the words in a positive, affirmative and even playful sense, they are ‘unwittingly’, unthinkingly and unconsciously unleashing the power of 1930s anti-Semitism. Words need to be banned, it seems, because we, the people that use them, can’t control their power, their effects. While some, like Baddiel, are offended, others, like opposing football fans, are mobilised. This is why, the censor-happy brigade argue, opposing football fans like to invoke the sound of gas chambers by ‘hissing’ at Spurs matches or just shouting things like ‘fuck the Yids’. As Baddiel puts it, ‘The continuing use of the Y-word by Spurs fans informs and sustains the racist abuse aimed at Spurs by other fans. The more Spurs do it, the more it comes back.’
But here’s the thing. While opposing football fans shouting anti-Semitic abuse at Spurs fans may be distasteful, it is only really to be understood as part of a specific football rivalry. When a Chelsea fan says ‘Fuck the Yids, fuck the Jews’, as Baddiel hears one do as a Spurs score is read out at half time, he is not driven by a National Socialist commitment to the systematic extermination of Jewry. He is driven by his desire to see Spurs do badly. In fact, I have no doubt that he would like to see something terrible happen. Not to actual, real-life Jewish people, some of whom are, if not his best friends then like Baddiel, certainly Chelsea fans. No, he’d like something terrible happen to Spurs, the football club, and a loss against Hull City would be a start.
But members of football’s language police don’t see the context in which football chants and names have their meaning. Their perspective is not that of the terrace; it is that of the dinner table. They are incapable of drawing the distinction that football fans have long drawn between the banter and abuse acceptable in the stadium (and now on fans’ message boards) and that acceptable in the workplace or indeed around the dinner table. Instead, football’s censors take terrace culture literally and, as a result, far too seriously.
Talk of imposing ‘good manners’ on those the likes of Baddiel or Norman patronise as football fans, may sound as polite as SBL’s threat to shop Spurs to the Met is sinister, but the two approaches will have the same effect: to further sanitise the life out of our national game. All football fans ought to join the Yid Army and ‘sing what we want’.
Tim Black is senior writer at spiked.