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.

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.

Israel football player Yossi Benayoun playing for West Ham. Photograph: Getty Images
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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear