Ethnicity should have nothing to do with football identity

I think we should get back to anti-racist thinking, together. I'm astonished to discover that even serious people at Spurs seem to have lost their ability to think beyond Tottehnam High Road.

Tottenham Hotspur

David Hirsh is a sociology lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, and editor of EngageOnline.co.uk

In London football there is a myth that Spurs is the Jewish team. Opposing fans have long sung antisemitic chants against Tottenham, and Spurs fans have long embraced the identity, singing ‘Yid Army’.

The FA has said that the word ‘Yid’  ‘is likely to be considered offensive by the reasonable observer’ and is ‘inappropriate in a football setting’.

The Community Security Trust, the Jewish body which fights antisemitism and the Board of Deputies of British Jews, has backed up this position. Clarke Carlisle, the chairman of the Professional Footballers Association, agrees. Kick it Out, the campaign against racism in football, has published a video made by Ivor and David Baddiel which calls for an end to this ‘Yiddo’ stuff.

But now David Cameron has said: ‘There’s a difference between Spurs fans self-describing themselves as Yids and someone calling someone a Yid as an insult.’

In other words, if there is no intent to be racist, then there is no racism.

A Jewish friend of mine, a Chelsea fan, heard somebody near him shouting ‘Yiddos!’ at the Spurs fans.  My friend challenged him and was told, aggressively, ‘You should be with them!’ My experience as an Arsenal fan  is that I’ve heard chanting against ‘Yiddos’ at every game I’ve ever been to; I’ve heard fans around me making a hissing noise to mimic gas; they often glory in their foreskins, singing that they’ll be ‘running round Tottenham with their willies hanging out’.

I was at the Aston Villa away game last year and my kids were upset the antisemtic chanting. I told them not to worry too much; it is only a football thing. Then Yossi Benayoun, the Israel captain, scored the winner for Arsenal and the fans were singing his name all the way into the car park.

It is worth noting that antisemitic chanting at Arsenal is less endemic than it used to be; we’ve had some success in getting rid of it, but it is still around.

I was in Waitrose the other day and I heard a young man who was filling shelves in the kosher aisle say excitedly to his friend how it was great beating the‘Yids’ yesterday.

Last Saturday, Spurs fans were singing ‘Yid Army’ and ‘We’ll sing what we want’. Usually Jews constitute a tiny minority of Spurs fans (Ivor Baddiel estimates 5 per cent). Last Saturday was Yom Kipur, so there were even fewer Jews there than usual.

Spurs fans were subjected to murderous attacks at away games last year in Rome and in Lyon by fascists who thought that they were Jews.

In Amsterdam, a city where the Jews were picked out and murdered two generations ago, non-Jewish fans at Ajax also pretend to be Jews, while fans from other clubs ‘hate the Jews’. I think the origin of this is that Amsterdam is known as a centre in the diamond trade.

Everybody serious at Arsenal, West Ham and Chelsea agrees that this ‘Yiddo’ thing has to stop; ethnicity should have nothing to do with London football identity.

But there is resistance from Spurs fans, including Jewish ones. Some of them think that their use of the term subverts antisemitism and constitutes a reclamation of the word ‘Yid’, like when gay people reclaimed ‘Queer’. Another response from Spurs fans is that it is just fun and trivial; it is only a football thing and people shouldn’t get hot under the collar about it.

When Spurs fans say ‘we are the Yids’, how can you educate kids at Arsenal and Chelsea to stop saying ‘we hate Yids’? The problem is that hating (Tottenahm) ‘Yids’ has the potential to spill over into hating Yids. It does not remain a North-London football in-joke.

And intent isn’t always the key issue. When I was a kid, people used to refer to the grocer on the corner as the ‘Paki shop’.  Usually it was just a name or a bit of fun. Some people who used the term didn’t even know its origin. But it is good that people no longer use it because it was a racist term, irrespective of intent.

David Cameron’s position is that for something to be racist, it has to be intentionally, consciously hateful. It is a position dredged up from the 1970s, before anyone had heard of institutional racism, unintended exclusions, racist discourse or racist outcomes.

I think that some anti-racist Spurs fans are buying into this idea that Spurs really is the Jewish team. And that leads them to imagine that the experience of Jewish Arsenal, West Ham and Chelsea fans doesn’t matter because Arsenal, West Ham and Chelsea are just the enemy, and nobody should care what happens there; beyond the Tottenham-Jewish pale.

Some have conflated their Spurs and their Jewish identities. They think that ‘Yiddo’ is somehow a way of opposing antisemitism. I think we should get back to anti-racist thinking, together. I’m astonished to discover that even serious people at Spurs seem to have lost their ability to think beyond Tottehnam High Road.

8 Responses to “Ethnicity should have nothing to do with football identity”

  1. Chester58

    No we are not buying into the idea that Spurs is a Jewish club.

    95% of Spurs fans are non-Jewish.

    We are buying into the idea that we don’t like Chelsea and West Ham supporters singing “Spurs are on their way to Auschwitz” or making gas-chamber hissing noises and we will deal with the insult by embracing the “Yiddo” identity AS AN ACT OF DEFIANCE.

    Brighton & Hove Albion fans deal with homophobic abuse in the same way.

    We’re Tottenham Hotspur, we’ll sing what we want.

    David Baddiell and co. should deal with the racists among their own ranks. What we sing at White Hart Lane is none of their goddam business.

  2. Dr John S. Partington

    Self-identification is a tough issue to cope with. I’ve head people of Pakistani origin refer to members of their own community, including themselves, as ‘Pakis’ as a shorter form than ‘British Asian’ or ‘person of Pakistani origin’ and with no sense of defiance (though of course I am sure they’d take offence if a non-person-of-Pakistani-origin used the expression). Similarly, I’ve seen TV documentaries and heard hip-hop records in which African-Americans self-identify as (or call others of their ethnic/cultural community) ‘Niggers’. Again, they wouldn’t receive this label from non-African-Americans with tolerance, I am sure. The difference in the scenario described in the article is that the self-identified ‘Yids’ among the Tottenham fans are, for the most part, not Jewish. But in the context of historic racism in football (these days being confronted in almost all cases) one can appreciate the notion of defiance in the act of non-Jewish fans appropriating the label of ‘Yid’. All the expressions I have cited (Paki, Nigger, Yid) rankle with me, whenever I hear them use (or even see them written down) – I feel uncomfortable to hear or see these words, even as self-identification – so successful has my consciousness of them as abusive terms become, and I suspect I am not alone.
    Despite the self-identifying ‘Yids’ of Tottenham Hotspur considering their behaviour as a form of defiance, appropriating a term to neutralise its power of offence, I think this strategy is now out of place because it is out of date. Gays appropriated the word ‘queer’ in this way in an age (1960s/1970s) when that seemed the only strategy for neutralisation and also as a means of consciousness-raising vis-à-vis their unique cultural identity. Those days are past – we no longer have to be pricked into awareness through shock treatment. It is time for Tottenham fans to reject the label of ‘Yid’ and embrace the zero-tolerance of movements like Kick it Out and other anti-racist groups in and out of football.
    Regarding self-identification of ‘Pakis’ and ‘Niggers’, that’s more tricky as the expressions are more often used by the ethnic communities so described to speak about themselves and often between themselves (though the self-identification spills out into the wider community through cultural events such as the aforementioned hip-hop records). It is difficult for someone outside of a community to argue that language used within that community about itself should end – that is a conversation the community itself must have, though it is right that the general use of terms like ‘Paki’ and ‘Nigger’ should be condemned in the most forceful terms.

  3. Dr John S. Partington

    Self-identification is a tough issue to cope with. I’ve head people of Pakistani origin refer to members of their own community, including themselves, as ‘Pakis’ as a shorter form than ‘British Asian’ or ‘person of Pakistani origin’ and with no sense of defiance (though of course I am sure they’d take offence if a non-person-of-Pakistani-origin used the expression). Similarly, I’ve seen TV documentaries and heard hip-hop records in which African-Americans self-identify as (or call others of their ethnic/cultural community) ‘Niggers’. Again, they wouldn’t receive this label from non-African-Americans with tolerance, I am sure. The difference in the scenario described in the article is that the self-identified ‘Yids’ among the Tottenham fans are, for the most part, not Jewish. But in the context of historic racism in football (these days being confronted in almost all cases) one can appreciate the notion of defiance in the act of non-Jewish fans appropriating the label of ‘Yid’. All the expressions I have cited (Paki, Nigger, Yid) rankle with me, whenever I hear them use (or even see them written down) – I feel uncomfortable to hear or see these words, even as self-identification – so successful has my consciousness of them as abusive terms become, and I suspect I am not alone.
    Despite the self-identifying ‘Yids’ of Tottenham Hotspur considering their behaviour as a form of defiance, appropriating a term to neutralise its power of offence, I think this strategy is now out of place because it is out of date. Gays appropriated the word ‘queer’ in this way in an age (1960s/1970s) when that seemed the only strategy for neutralisation and also as a means of consciousness-raising vis-à-vis their unique cultural identity. Those days are past – we no longer have to be pricked into awareness through shock treatment. It is time for Tottenham fans to reject the label of ‘Yid’ and embrace the zero-tolerance of movements like Kick it Out and other anti-racist groups in and out of football.
    Regarding self-identification of ‘Pakis’ and ‘Niggers’, that’s more tricky as the expressions are more often used by the ethnic communities so described to speak about themselves and often between themselves (though the self-identification spills out into the wider community through cultural events such as the aforementioned hip-hop records). It is difficult for someone outside of a community to argue that language used within that community about itself should end – that is a conversation the community itself must have, though it is right that the general use of terms like ‘Paki’ and ‘Nigger’ should be condemned in the most forceful terms.

  4. David T

    An absurd and foolish argument, which flies in the face of the views of a huge number of Jewish Spurs fans, including many members of my family. Some of whom, I’d add, were at Spurs on Yom Kippur: because the former is a more important part of their Jewish identity than standing in a sweaty schul, surrounded by men with increasingly bad breath.

    The Board of Deputies disagree? Well, given that they’re unlikely to be the sort of Jews who go to football matches on Shabbat, let alone the Hagim, I’m unsurprised by that. They have a different Jewish identity – that’s all.

    Rather than lambast Spurs fans – Jewish or not – for turning an insult back on those who throw it, I’d prefer to say thank you to those who are prepared to stand up and say “I am Spartacus”. So to speak.

    Why not ask the clubs with an antisemitism problem to address their hateful chanting, not the pride of Spurs supporters. And why not build on the Jewish identities of clubs like MTK Budapest and Ajax, to look to them and their players and their supporters to fight antisemitism – proudly declaring their Jewish identity, historical, real, or assumed? You do that best by saying that, frankly, you’re proud of your Yiddishkeit, and inviting others to find out more about that identity – than pretending that it doesn’t exist and hiding away.

  5. Robert Kaye

    “But now David Cameron has said: ‘There’s a difference between Spurs fans self-describing themselves as Yids and someone calling someone a Yid as an insult.’

    In other words, if there is no intent to be racist, then there is no racism.”

    No, that’s not what he’s said. What he’s said seems to encompass two issues: intent and self-description. Between the difference he quotes is the case you have of someone using the phrase to refer to someone else without the intent to insult. Cameron, perhaps wisely, perhaps clumsily, slides over that. But his previous comments show that he actually has a fairly nuanced talk on the situation: “In some ways political correctness is a good thing,” he says. “I don’t want my disabled son to be called a spastic, I don’t want my black neighbours to be called negroes or a gay friend to be labelled queer. The Conservative Party is the polite party, the decent party – we want to help people.”

    The issue on self-description is, as you seem to acknowledge, more complex. See Alice Arnold in the Telegraph this week: “Don’t you dare call me a ‘dyke’. Only my close gay friends can”. She concludes – and I’m not sure she’s right – “If the Tottenham fans want to claim their proud heritage by using the term ‘Yid army’ they should be allowed to do so. If the opposition want to use the term as a stick to beat them with, they need to be punished accordingly.”

    The problem, for me, is that while I think that groups may need to be allowed to reclaim insulting terms – queer, for example – I’m not sure that the majority non-Jewish Spurs fans should be entitled to appropriate ‘Yid’ when many Jewish (non-Spurs fan) people find it offensive.

    But as I say it’s complex. As you acknowledge. It’s a shame that you then skirt over this to make a cheap shot misrepresentation of what the Prime Minister has actually said.

  6. Dr John S. Partington

    Here’s an article that argues ‘Yid’ is not a racist word anyway! http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/jewish-world-features/1.547673

  7. Mark Snow

    CAMERON IS A YID

  8. Mark Snow

    WHAT ARE THE YIDS SCARED OF….OH YEAH BEING EXPOSED

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