By James MARTIN, PR and Communications Officer for the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
Tottenham’s late great captain Danny Blanchflower famously refrained that “The Game is about Glory”. At its best, of course, it is.
There is another part to football, however, and that is the far less beautiful language used by fans. This week the Football Association took the laudable step of announcing that it considers the use of the term “Yid” (Yiddish for Jew, but often used against Jews as a form of abuse) to be an offensive term at football grounds. The decision follows years of hard work by the advisory group Kick Racism Out of Football, or “Kick it Out”, with expert support from the Community Security Trust and Maccabi GB. The issue first came to a head some two years ago when the Premier League broadcast a film urging football fans to desist from using the Y-word at football matches.
Jonathan Metliss, a member of Kick it Out, who has been a leading campaigner against antisemitism in UK soccer, had this reaction to the FA’s statement.
“This statement from the FA is long overdue, but nonetheless very welcome. It will be interesting to see how this is implemented, and what follows next.
“The football authorities, wherever they are, must do their absolute maximum to confront and defeat antisemitism in UK football which unfortunately is still strongly in evidence “
We agree. This shouldn’t be controversial. It’s a simple equation – football fans chant a derogatory term, the authorities highlight the abuse, and fans begin to change their ways. Clearly those clubs with the highest concentrations of Jewish fans would be the first to jump behind the decision, sick of suffering years of abuse at the hands of rivals.
Football grounds can be a great celebration of human nature; passion, camaraderie and a sense of being part of something bigger than yourself. But they are also the places to witness the ugly side of the mob mentality; abusing perfect strangers is normal and people behave in ways they would never dream of doing in their suit and tie at work or in the company of friends.
Football grounds are also the places where antisemitism, sometimes on a grand scale, still appears to be accepted; whether it’s hissing noises aping Nazi gas chambers or comments about foreskins. Minority elements of several clubs are guilty of such behaviour, and it’s often directed at the “Yid Army”.
It is suggested in some quarters that Tottenham fans use the Y-word in a positive way. It’s a term of warmth regarding the high level of Jewish identity with the club. By stopping the use of the word the culture of the club is being attacked; part of Spurs’ identity is lost and, more seriously, ignoring the much more important task of tackling the vitriol spouted by other fans towards Tottenham. “Banning the use of a word that might – or might not – be antisemitic is not going to reduce antismitism” someone posted on the Board’s Facebook page in response to our support of the FA’s move last week. I beg to differ.
Let me be clear. This is not a case of me blaming the victims as if somehow Tottenham fans have it coming to them for calling themselves the “Yid Army”. Absolutely not. But I think people have missed the point.
By Tottenham fans using the Y-word, they are legitimising references to Jews in football when, frankly, religion, ethnicity or colour should have no place in sport. Even if they are using the term endearingly, it still has no place in a football stadium. And by using it they encourage other fans to respond, often in highly unpleasant ways.
But let’s forget opposition supporters. At the core of the argument is the fact that Tottenham fans chanting “Yid Army”, even as a term of endearment, is offensive. And the salient point is this: Would we be having this debate, if a club chanted the “N-word” or “P-word” repeatedly during matches?
This is no different. If I was called the Y-word anywhere outside the bubble of the football ground, I’d be appalled; I’d call the police. There is no difference between these abuses taking place outside and inside a football ground and no difference between the N-word and the Y-word.
The FA’s stance is timely and welcome. The sooner people wake up to the Y-word being racist abuse rather than something acceptable, the sooner it will be stamped out. And that begins with Jewish fans stamping out the ugliness from the “Glory Game”.