Football must eradicate vile anti-Semitism for Tottenham to move on from the Y-word

Supporters need to learn to stop some of the chants that plague White Hart Lane due to the club's alleged Jewish connections
By Anthony Clavane
Author of 'Does Your Rabbi Know You're Here.'

In the 1930s, Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists marched through the East End shouting “Down with the Yids”. Yid, up until its reclamation by Spurs fans in the 1980s, was a term of opprobrium equivalent to words like “Nigger” and “Paki”. So, as a Jewish football fan, I have some sympathy with the Society of Black Lawyers’ claim that using it in match-day chants is offensive.

Indeed, the anti-Semitic epithet was popularised by the 1960s’ sitcom Till Death Us Do Part. Sitting in his living room with a West Ham scarf draped around his neck, the show’s bigoted anti-hero, Alf Garnett, would frequently rant against “those Spurs Yids”. Garnett’s antipathy fed off a longstanding rivalry between the two clubs, inflamed by some East Enders’ resentment of the Jews who had “deserted” Whitechapel for White Hart Lane. Ironically, the actor who portrayed Garnett – Warren Mitchell – was, himself, a Jewish Spurs fan.

Chants of "Yid Army" gives racist fans the licence to respond with offensive songs
Personally, I feel uncomfortable walking to White Hart Lane – I am a football reporter for the Sunday Mirror – and hearing the “Yid Army” chant.

I feel it gives racist fans the licence to respond with offensive songs like “Spurs are on their way to Auschwitz” and “He’s only a poor little Yiddo.” Yet I also understand why Jewish Spurs fans, like my friend Ivan Cohen, argue that supporters have “reappropriated the Yiddo slur as a badge of honour”.

As Ivan writes in his latest blog, “if you are truly serious about removing racism and anti-Semitism from football then you should start by dealing with the large sections of clubs such as Chelsea which constantly barrack Spurs on the basis of our alleged Jewish connections.

"When they stop calling us ‘dirty Yids’ and making gas chamber sounds, when they stop singing ‘Spurs are on their way to Auschwitz’ I will happily then campaign for my fellow Spurs fans to stop applying the term Yids to ourselves.”

In my new book 'Does Your Rabbi Know You’re Here', I look at Spurs’ Jewish roots and how their fans had to put up with the abhorrent gas chamber hissing of some away fans.

There is a common misconception that Tottenham are the only Jewish club. Founded in 1882 by members of the Hotspur Cricket Club, Spurs’ earliest religious links were actually with Christian groups. Their first Secretary was a churchwarden at the Church of England’s All Hallows Parish on Tottenham High Road and their first president was leader of the local YMCA.

In 1899, they moved to White Hart Lane. The majority of London’s Eastern European immigrants lived in the the Spitalfields-Whitechapel-Stepney area at the time – by the first decade of the 20th century believed to be the largest Jewish community in Europe – and were much closer, geographically, to West Ham.

But The Lane was the easiest ground to get to. For secular Jews who were happy to travel by train, the Stoke Newington and Edmonton Railway from Liverpool Street, near Spitalfields, allowed them to observe their new shabbat ritual of cheering on The Spurs.

It may even be out-dated for Spurs to call themselves a Jewish club these days. True, they have Jewish owners. But so do some other clubs
Also, Spurs are far from being the only club supported by Jews. Leeds United. Manchester City, Arsenal and Leyton Orient have all had big connections. In fact, from Louis Bookman (Bradford City) – the first Jew to play in the top flight in 1912 – to Roman Abramovich (Chelsea), Jews have been involved as players, fans managers, directors, thinkers, fighters, writers, administrators and owners.

It may even be out-dated for Spurs to call themselves a Jewish club these days. True, they have Jewish owners. But so do some other clubs. They have Jewish fans, but not more than some other clubs. They have a Jewish heritage, but again no more than some other clubs. It would be fair to assume that the majority of Spurs fans who chant the Y-word are not Jewish. So it is not completely accurate to compare this situation to black comedians and rappers reappropriating the N-word.

In a perfect world, the Y-word would not be used. But it would be idiotic to report to the police any anti-Semitic chants heard at White Hart Lane. The real evil emanates from the anti-Semites who taunt Spurs – and, it should be noted, Jewish players and fans from other teams.

Still, I would like there to be a national conversation, initiated by Spurs fans, about how they can move on from the Yid Army. And how, in Ivan’s words, they can eventually “stop applying the term Yids to ourselves.”

Click here to see Lord Triesman, Barry Silkman and others in football talk about this issue and more

Anthony Clavane’s Does Your Rabbi Know You're Here? has been described as a“thought-provoking, absorbing exploration” by the Independent on Sunday and “an enthralling new book" by the Evening Standard. It is published by Quercus. Anthony is also a sportswriter for the Sunday Mirror.