We can't rid football of anti-semitism unless Spurs fans stop chanting "yid army"

Replace the word "yid" with any other racist hate term, and you'll see why the argument for keeping Spurs' "yid army" chant doesn't work.

New Statesman
Israel football player Yossi Benayoun playing for West Ham. Photograph: Getty Images

Imagine the scene. A football ground, fifteen minutes before kick-off; 35,000 fans in the ground, two sets of supporters, dressed respectively in blue and red, singing encouraging chants for their teams, and less than encouraging chants at their opponents.

And then, astonishingly, they all start chanting the same word, over and over again.

The word is the N word: "nigger".

It could never happen, could it?

I asked one of the home fans how they could possibly chant such an offensive word; he was genuinely astonished that I regarded it as offensive. Flabbergasted, he explained to me in simple language, as if to a child, that the team he supported had always had support from the black community, that many of the owners had come from a black heritage, and although the word was (and still is, he admitted reluctantly) used as an attack, it was ok for the home team to use the otherwise-offensive word, because it was "their team", "their word". “I mean”, he said, “we even celebrate and honour non-black players by calling them part of the ‘n_____ army’.”

It could never happen, could it?

I asked him about the FA's decision to recommend prosecution for anyone who used the word and he was dismissive. “Haven't they got better things to do?”

“I mean”, he continued, “they should go after real racist behaviour and stop that, like other people who use the word at matches. It's fine when we use it, he said, but no-one else should use it, nor make gorilla sounds, nor throw bananas on the pitch. I mean, that's racist. No-one could defend that.”

It could never happen, could it?

The young man went on; he was keen to stress, eager to make me understand, his team's stands had been chanting n_____ for years, decades. It was part of the tradition of supporting the team! Like the overwhelming majority of his fellow supporters, the young man wasn't black himself (well under 10% of them are black) and he was at a loss to explain why some black people apparently don't like the word; why, he knows one black supporter who enthusiastically chants it himself. Maybe two or three, even.

It could never happen, could it?

Except it does. Every time Spurs play, home or away.

But they don't shout the N-word at the top of their voices; they shout "yid". Thousands of non-Jewish people shouting "yid", unconcerned whether or not Jewish fans of clubs they're playing, sitting there with their children, would be offended.

And yes, a few - very few - Jewish fans join in alongside them, shouting out the Y-word, because that's what they've always done, that's what they've been told happens, and no-one wants to spoil the party, do they?

Yid. A hideous word, chanted by Mosley's blackshirts in the 1930s as they marched through the East End, now chanted every week by non-Jews in a way that's frankly indistinguishable. Chanted again and again, reinforcing the ordinariness of the word, making it ok for anyone and everyone to use it in whatever circumstances they choose.

And that's the point: in such a combative atmosphere, the word "yid" becomes normalised; its very usage allows, if not actively encourages, others to use it in a less than complimentary manner.

It encourages other team’s supporters to use the word, and fling it back at Spurs' supporters. That may not be the aim nor the intention, but it's as an inevitable a consequence as shouting the ref is biased when he rules against your team.

It beggars belief to suggest that the Y-word has been reclaimed by Jewish fans, since it's not Jewish fans in the main who are screaming it out loud; this must be the first time in history that "reclaiming" a word has been advanced as an argument by people who don't own the word. It's  nonsense.

It's equally ludicrous to complain about others shouting the word when you've thrown it out there as a challenge to them in the heated atmosphere of a football match. There's no hope of ridding football of anti-Semitism if, as part of that, you have to reserve one team's right to chant an anti-Semitic epithet, because "oh, we're doing it nicely - it's our 'identity'"

Racism of all sorts has to be met with zero tolerance, and not just that directed towards those races defined by colour.