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Premier League: Why Tottenham Must Stop "Yid" Chants

Is there a place for the "y-word" at White Hart Lane? Or should Spurs supporters find a less offensive way of celebrating their club and identity?
Is there a place for the "y-word" at White Hart Lane? Or should Spurs supporters find a less offensive way of celebrating their club and identity?Jamie McDonald/Getty Images
Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistSeptember 24, 2013

The re-emergence of the debate over Tottenham Hotspur supporters' use of the word "Yid" was not a surprise.

It has popped up periodically over the last few years, a testament to the lack of a satisfactory resolution as to how the Jewish originating word can and cannot be used (if at all). It is a particularly complicated subject for a club that shares such historical links with the Jewish community.

A well-meaning video from the Kick It Out campaign in 2011 was one of the more intelligent arguments against its use in a football environment. At least it was in comparison to the attempt to reignite the situation last year by the publicity-seeking Peter Herbert of the Society of Black Lawyers.

The Football Association's recent statement on the matter had more in keeping with the latter's inappropriateness. Its out-of-nowhere timing and singularity only serving to inflame a situation deserving of a more sensible approach.

But, ignite it, it has.

The last couple of weeks have seen an assortment of views offered on whether Tottenham fans chanting the y-word deserve to be judged as being guilty of committing a "criminal offense"—as the FA suggested they could well be.

Most notably, Prime Minister David Cameron told The Jewish Chronicle last week that they did not, so long as it was not "motivated by hate."

Unsurprisingly that has not come anywhere near close to resolving the matter.

A Jewish contributor to a recent article on the Kick It Out website labelled the Prime Minister "an absolute disgrace." Given the historically negative connotations associated with the word, she found it "hard to believe that some Jewish Spurs supporters call themselves 'yids'."

The Mirror's Andy Lines spoke to Tottenham supporters who travelled to support their team at Cardiff City on Sunday. A sizable portion of the fanbase have persisted with the chants, supplementing it with their own protest song: "We're Tottenham Hotspur, we'll sing what we want."

A Jewish Spurs fan, Roger Maltz, told Lines it was a "defense mechanism. We are just reclaiming our identity." He believed he was well within his right having experienced anti-Semitic behaviour following the club over the years.

Evidently, there are Jewish supporters who feel this way, and will happily join non-Jewish fans in referring to themselves, fellow fans and the players as "Yids." Others fans remain uncomfortable with its prominent place in the Spurs songbook, at White Hart Lane and on the road.

It speaks of the complicated nature of the matter. Despite its current notoriety coming specifically from its use in football vernacular, it is part of an issue far bigger than either Tottenham or the sport.

In the minds of some fans it might well just be something that, as well as claiming back a part of the club's heritage, has become a colloquial term among fans. But as "claiming back" suggests, there is obviously a different side to use of the "y-word."

The dislike between Tottenham and Chelsea fans has—at its worst—manifested itself in the anti-Semitic behaviour that is fuelling the current discussion around the "y-word."
The dislike between Tottenham and Chelsea fans has—at its worst—manifested itself in the anti-Semitic behaviour that is fuelling the current discussion around the "y-word."Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Supporters of rival clubs—albeit it in the minority—have used it aggressively, sometimes as part of a larger anti-Semitic rhetoric. With London derbies against Chelsea and West Ham United coming up, there is a chance such chanting might occur again.

Spurs fans are not without sin when it comes to distasteful and offensive songs and chants. Few clubs can claim to be as such, with these unfortunate elements just a sad reflection on parts of society.

However, a degree of sympathy can be afforded the club's fanbase within the current situation.

As noted, most who join in the use of the "y-word" are harmless in their intent. Those who are more aware of its significance can be partially commended for attempting to claim it as a badge of honour rather than just stand back and let it be used derogatorily against them.

However, it is hard to get away from the following conclusion.

Anything that is capable of causing any number of supporters, players or general staff to (validly) feel something less than themselves at a football ground is difficult to defend in its long term use. Be that in matters of faiths, race or sexuality.

Any process of it ceasing to be used can only really originate from the fans discussing it among their own (that has partly started at Spurs with a survey on the subject being issued to season ticket holders).

As shown by the furore following the FA statement, any attempt to control and threaten large groups without reasoned discourse will only provoke an obstinate response.

In the case of Tottenham, they were astute enough to work something that was used against them in their favour once. Surely they can again prove to be resourceful enough to find ways of supporting their team—and establishing an identity—that does not leave them prone to periodic attacks on their intent.

Until that time, it is up to anyone who follows Spurs home or away to decide how much the "y-word" really means to them.

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