We should all stand with the Yid Army
Some proud Yiddos tell spiked why they'll continue using the Y-word.
A group of worshippers have been told that if they continue to sing their traditional songs, they will be arrested. At Sunday’s gathering, the worshippers were defiant, but a 51-year-old man was arrested, with no sign of an end to the crackdown. No, this is not one of those stereotypical dictatorial regimes in the Third World. This is north London.
The ‘worshippers’ in question are fans of north London football team Tottenham Hotspur – usually called Spurs for short – and it’s a team of players rather than a deity that is being worshipped. But the assault on their freedom to say (or sing) what they like is every bit as irrational and authoritarian as an assault on a religious gathering would be.
Spurs have long had a sizeable Jewish support and fans of other clubs have often engaged in anti-Semitic chanting – calling Spurs fans ‘Yids’, hissing to mimic the sound of the Holocaust’s gas chambers, and so on. But as Ben, a Spurs fan who has been watching matches at the club’s White Hart Lane ground since the early Seventies, tells me, the Spurs fans soon turned things around. ‘Fans have been singing about being Yids or Yiddos pretty much all the time I’ve been been going to White Hart Lane. I started going when I was nine, so maybe I was too young to notice then, but it was very noticeable by 1978.’
One way the Y-word was used, Ben says, was when Spurs fans were pulled out of the away fans’ end. If they were walked around past the crowd to be ejected, he tells me – and especially if they were still struggling with the police – there would be ‘chants of “Yiddo, Yiddo”, as if to say “you’re a bit of a naughty boy, you’re one of us”. That’s the time I seem to remember it being used in a positive way.’ It was during the Eighties, he says, that Spurs fans started to refer to themselves as the Yid Army.
Pete has been going to watch Spurs at White Hart Lane since he was a boy and has been a regular supporter for a decade. He’s also annoyed by the sudden crackdown on Spurs fans. References to Yids and Yiddos among Spurs supporters are entirely positive, he says. Spurs fans not only use these words to describe each other, but also to praise players. ‘A popular player who comes to take a corner, fans will shout “Yiddo, Yiddo” at him as a sign of solidarity. And then there’s “Jermaine Defoe is a Yiddo”‘ – the main chant associated with the long-time Spurs striker.
Ben agrees. ‘I used to work for a wine merchant, and I used to do a lot of deliveries to the BBC at White City. I remember walking along with a trolley load and seeing Les Ferdinand coming towards me, this was after he’d finished at Tottenham and he was a pundit, and I gave him a big “Yiddo!” as he came past. He cracked a big grin and said “Cheers, mate, nice one!”.’
The chief agitators for a ban on using the term ‘Yid’ are comedian David Baddiel – once co-host of TV show Fantasy Football League – and his brother, Ivor. In 2011, they produced a short film for the Football Association’s Kick It Out campaign in which the ‘Y-word’ was placed on the same level as the ‘N-word’ (ie, ‘nigger’) and the ‘P-word’ (‘Paki’). But the comparison is misplaced. It’s true that some fans of other clubs will direct anti-Semitic chants at Spurs fans and use ‘Yid’ in a derogatory way. The difference is that Spurs fans have long since reclaimed the word.
Ironically, two of the players featured in the Kick It Out video are former Spurs players, Gary Lineker and Ledley King. Ben is particularly scathing about them ‘getting all snooty about it’. He says: ‘I never remember Lineker or Ledley King ever objecting to it when they were greeted with it. Someone who has done a proper stint with the club, who’s seen as a Spurs man, is often greeted with it, even when they’ve gone to another club.’
Thankfully, the fans themselves are having none of it. During Sunday’s game, says Pete, ‘there was quite a lot of defiant chanting, of “Yid Army” and “We’ll sing what we want”‘. Ben adds that the fans of Spurs’ opponents, and London rivals, West Ham were having some fun with the situation themselves. ‘West Ham were singing a lot of songs themselves, like “You only sing when it’s racist” and “Racists, racists give us a song”.’ This was all very knowing – while Spurs and their north London neighbours Arsenal have had little problem in the past with racist chanting, Chelsea and West Ham both attracted a certain following among far-right groups. This was a chance for West Ham fans to have a dig at a certain holier-than-thou tendency among Spurs fans.
Pete argues that David Baddiel, a Chelsea fan, is acting in ‘tremendous bad faith’. ‘If you read the stuff he’s written about it, he had to move from one stand to another at Chelsea because he was surrounded by the most terrible racist and anti-Semitic chanting and he couldn’t stand it any longer. So, he has suffered, if you like, from anti-Semitic chanting at Chelsea… I don’t see any campaigns by him against anti-Semitism at Chelsea.’ Given that it was probably Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts in the Thirties who first used ‘Yid’ in a negative way, says Pete, it seems like Baddiel, the FA and the Met are implicitly accepting a fascist’s definition of the word rather than the one given to it by Jewish people and the fans of a club with strong Jewish associations.
What is particularly bizarre is that no one connected to Spurs seems to have a problem with the chanting, though the club’s hierarchy seems to have gone quiet of late, perhaps under pressure from outsiders (see postscript below). The drive for the clampdown has come from the Baddiel brothers, the rent-a-quote head of the Society of Black Lawyers, Peter Herbert, and the Football Association. Now, the Metropolitan Police have also decided to make an issue of it.
Yet even the officers policing the game on Sunday found the whole thing rather odd. Ben tells me: ‘I spoke to two coppers before the game. I said, “If I was chanting Yid Army, what’s gonna happen to me?” They said, “You’ll just get a caution, I don’t think anybody wants to nick anyone.” I said, “If someone was nicked, what would they be done for?”. They said it would be under the Public Order Act. I said, “Why could you be done under the Public Order Act for shouting Yid Army but not for shouting some other Tottenham chant?” And they both said basically it’s because someone has made a complaint. I said, “Who made the complaint?” and they both laughed and said “Nobody knows”. They basically thought it was daft and they shouldn’t have to get involved with it.’
The attack on the Yid Army is a case study in the modern culture of offence. A small number of people decide that something is offensive, make a lot of noise about it, and the authorities then step in. The result is the loss of our freedom to express ourselves as we want, to always have to double check how we think and speak against increasingly narrow-minded official norms.
Football fans face the brunt of this. In Scotland, specific legislation has been passed to stop the fans of Glasgow’s two big teams, Celtic and Rangers, from shouting and singing their clubs’ respective songs. Liverpool Football Club have issued a list of words and phrases that are now banned in the ground; some very innocuous phrases could get you turfed out of Anfield these days. From restrictions on movement to clampdowns on speech, it seems football fans are treated as the lab rats for every draconian measure.
But the attack on the use of ‘Yid’ at Spurs is really bizarre and dangerous because it is a ban on a word used positively by the fans about themselves and the club’s players, a ban promoted by people who have little or nothing to do with the club. This is an assault on Spurs fans’ ability to organise themselves, done with the full force of the law.
Even if you support another team – in fact, even if you couldn’t care less about football – you should be prepared to fight alongside the Yid Army, because the attempt to ban this harmless singing is nothing less than an attack on freedom itself.
Rob Lyons is associate editor at spiked.
Picture: EMPICS Sport/PA Images
Postscript, 11 October 2013: An earlier version of this article suggested that the supporters’ club may have bowed to pressure in recent weeks in relation to the use of the term ‘Yid’. However, we’re happy to say the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters’ Trust has been in touch to clarify that they ‘fully back our fans right to use the word’.
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