A couple of years ago I was in a restaurant local to where I live for a 30th birthday. Only detail relevant to this article is the incident where two blokes (birthday boy and a mutual friend) pick up pieces of pork off their plates and proceed to drop them over mine.
“There you go”
I was deeply deeply embarrassed for the pair of them. Racism and ignorance go hand in hand. Casual some might say in this case. Hardly acceptable no matter how you wish to perceive it.
If I added a caveat that they actually said "there you go yid" what would you think?
Removing the connection to football for a moment, you’d hardly expect to ever see behaviour like that at work or out and about or during an evening meal. So forgetting football, if I was Jewish and someone did that it would be absolutely scandalous. The fact I’m not Jewish still doesn’t make it acceptable but in the heads of the two comedians it was because of the affiliation and identity Tottenham has with its fanbase.
Football is anchored to my identity even when I'm sat eating a meal during an evening out. 'He’s a Spurs fan so we can make anti-Semitic jokes at his expense'. Nice one. I've never referred to myself as a 'yid' in their company or anyone elses other than when I go to White Hart Lane and I'm surrounded by thousands who might well shout it out once or twice.
And that’s the crux. It’s not because we hold our hands up high and chant ‘Yid Army’ or ‘Yiddos’. We’re not encouraging rival fans to have a go back with venomous hatred, hissing away, singing songs about gas chambers just because of one word that is buried deep in complexities about whether its derogatory nature is one that is only so if used by someone who is using it to be offensive and nothing less.
There’s a fundamental difference between you or me (if you support Spurs) saying the Y word and someone else who is using it, with expletives either side, when mouthing it off and Nazi saluting. But is there an argument to suggest that using the word as a means to defuse and disarm the racists allows for playful adoption of it that usually always crosses the line?
There might be ample irony in using a derogatory word to fight back the abuse, but that's the whole point of why it was adopted in the first place. It's not a deterrent. But it's a hefty shield.
Racism isn't born in football grounds. Once upon a time perhaps it was a breeding place for it. Point is, you know what's right or wrong. You make your own decision. The ones that make the wrong decisions are the ones that tend to end up being kicked out of football grounds. The racist thoughts are in their minds before they get to the game. Racism still exists but let's not pretend football is still stuck in the 70s and 80s.
From my own experience, the people who are anti-Semitic make the assumption that all Spurs fans are Jewish even though they know that’s hardly the case. It simply adds fuel to their fire and they dislike the fact we call ourselves yids even more because they wish for the word to be their own to be used against us. It's their weapon and they hate to see us all giddy with fingers dancing in the air as we sing.
None of this really has to be explained but thanks to David Baddiel who has hijacked the word with good intentions you would hope (kick out racism) but appears to have done so because...well, every campaign needs a hook. And the Y Word works wonders as the chorus for a song that is full of far more disturbing lyrics. It's actually a little ridiculous when you think about it. It's almost like the people involved in this don't quite have the balls to step up and deal with the actual racism itself, rather preferring to dance around people who are not racist but are apparently naively encouraging racist people to be racist.
Baddiel actually loses credibility with this. He's aiming his punch at the wrong people.
I appreciate he feels uncomfortable hearing his own fans use the word. But perhaps its the sudden realisation that his own fans tend to use it in a very different way than we do. Or the realisation that this aint half good publicity. I hate to think that. Hate to say it. But it's all very wishy-washy.
It's also now the second time in the past couple of weeks that Kick It Out has mis-kicked in the style of Diana Ross wearing a blindfold.
I said I’m not Jewish so I’m in no position to categorically tell you if the word is derogatory beyond any doubt. Outside of the match-day environment? Of course it is. Because when would you have the necessity to ever use it ? Which brings us back to the bubble of football where crowds, united in voice, can sometimes get away with chants and songs that you wouldn’t be able to if you were skipping down the aisle in Tescos or shopping in the high street. This is not to say that being borderline or beyond is acceptable at football matches. But not everything is black and white.
I’ve heard various conflicting explanations and I’m not basing the following as the spine of my argument. I don’t actually have an argument to put forward, rather just observations and opinions. So regarding history...Oswald Mosley marched through the streets during the mid-thirties ('36 to be precise) blaming the Jews for everything and so legend has it, pointed to the East from Highbury (during a speech) and stating ‘down with the yids’.
Whether that’s actually true or not, probably doesn’t matter too much in the grand scheme of things because what we do know for certain is that he marched against the Jewish community (as well as anyone else he disliked) through the East end. But not everyone followed or agreed with his facist views and many sided with the Jewish community. Which is what happened in N17 in the years that followed.
It all probably began during that era. And if the Y word was not derogatory before it sure was after Mosley marched. As for the fight back, you’ll hear some state we started to use 'Yid' in the 60s whilst others claim the 70s. During those decades and more so the 80s (before cctv killed old skool hooliganism) we still had to put up with the hissing and rest of it. With only pockets of incidents left in the game now there might be another argument that perhaps we no longer need to be throwing the Y word back in their faces. Then again, we’ve stood tall since the mid-30s. So why all the big hullabaloo about it when there are more pressing matters in football, say for example FIFA giving a World Cup to Russia, a country where they still think its okay to throw bananas at black players?
You’ll find quotes dating back to 2002 where Baddiel has spoken about all this before (from Time Out London ‘Anti-Semitism in football' by Pete Watts):
‘I told myself that it didn’t matter, that for most of these fans, “Yiddo” simply meant a Tottenham player or fan and that the negativity was about that and not about race.’ However, when Chelsea fans aimed the chant at non-Tottenham Israeli players, Baddiel ‘realised I was in denial: “Yiddo” may mean Tottenham fan but it also means Jew.’ Baddiel may be interested to know that my own eureka moment involved him. When he was spotted during a game in the mid-1990s and half the West Stand broke into a chorus of ‘Yiddo, yiddo!’, Baddiel smiled it off – but the penny finally dropped that this was racist abuse, pure and simple.
Taken him a while to get this video filmed then. I guess he's been too busy writing novels and enjoying Chelsea's success. I also find the footage for the campaign tinged with delicious irony, what with having Ledley King in there and what...no England captain John Terry? I'll move on. Wouldn't want to get a threatning letter from the FA.
I guess all those other blatantly racist chants he (Baddiel) would have heard in and around Chelsea didn’t quite filter through to his seat, lost in the acoustics of the ground I would imagine. Equally so, he appears to have been unfazed by it all in the past having dabbled in a little casual anti-Semitism during his stint on Fantasy Football when he made a link to some footage of traditional Jews involved in a ceremony whilst stating something to do with Tottenham fans. Hey, but he’s Jewish, so he’s allowed to be borderline when a cheap laugh is at stake. Click here for another cheap laugh.
Tottenham cite that it’s a small group of Jewish and non-Jewish fans that use the Y word and are inviting debate, but firmly sitting on the fence in terms of whether it’s right or wrong for this small group to be using it. Which is an understandable position rather than doing something drastic and knee-jerk and banning the word from the Lane altogether. Strange how its not something you could quite see happening. No pressure from club or association or anyone else to perhaps go down that path. Ambiguity strikes again.
The club understand the history that sits behind all the rhetoric and are therefore sensitive to all concerned. Fact is, if you read between the lines, we don't appear to have a problem with it. And making it disappear, to actually stop Spurs fans referring themselves as yids is nigh impossible. More chance of Chelsea attracting capacity crowds if they played in a lower division.
We have been here before. And I'm sure last time the club didn't feel there was an issue at hand with its own fans using it in the manner we've been doing so for generations (I think there was a survey at the time, anyone?). Which is why it's tolerated outside of the usual policing.
Like I said, I’m just sharing my own opinions. Jewish people that frequent the Lane that I’m friends with mostly if not all sing the Yid chants. And do so without cringing or seeming uncomfortable. Surely that’s a win in the fight against racism? A Jewish person calling himself a yid with a non-Jewish person standing next to him also calling himself a yid.
So we have Jewish fans that dislike the word, we have fans that are Jewish who have adopted it and we have non-Jewish fans that have used it with pride. In fact I’d wager that some don’t even think too deeply about its connotations because it’s very much synonymous with our hardcore support.
And if younger football fans are leaving the game and going to school on the Monday and using the word, what then? The complexities still exist, I'll admit to that.
So where do we go from here?
Is it okay for another rival fan and friend to refer to you as a ‘Yid’? I guess it is because that’s what you might well refer to yourself as. But it’s not okay for him to make casual jokes about Jews or overstep the mark, right? So if we eradicate the word from the stands completely, so that’s no more Y word, does that mean all those pockets of minority racist fans will suddenly decide there’s no incitement from us for them to respond to and thus, no more hissing or crude Jewish references thrown our way?
Bit too late now, isn’t it?
If cctv was invented in the 50s perhaps, but after several decades a video written by a comedian and his brother is unlikely to change a thing. The very fact everyone is debating this topic once more is a positive with what with highlighting the disgusting chants and abuse that still remain in the game. But I can't help but think something is lost in translation and that perhaps after so many years of using the word as a badge of honour, we are suddenly going to be deemed as the perpetrators adding fuel to the fire. But only whilst the hype remains as a talking point.
This will all be forgotten about again soon enough. Just like last time. We'll continue to use the Y word and racism will continue to rear its ugly head. And Baddiel will go back to growing his unsightly beard. The sun will rise, the sun will set.