Why the ‘Y’ word debate is bigger than Spurs

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Tottenham Hotspur manager André Villas-Boas and West Ham's Sam Allardyce at White Hart Lane

It seems that every year someone brings up the debate on the word ‘Yid’ and a million media outlets jump on it like they give a toss. This is fleeting fodder, a casual tale of racism and controversy that will do until the next big story. Personally, I can’t imagine the chants of Spurs’ fans keep journalists up all night. Their big, brash headlines and sensationalist live updates (Herbert hates Spurs! Cameron doesn’t mind! Andre is too afraid to say much!) do not help the debate whatsoever. This issue needs some seriousness and sincerity; it’s more important than your typical football story.

There is no doubt that the use of the word ‘Yid’ is ideologically weighty. Peter Herbert is right to say that it is different to saying ‘you w*nker’ or ‘you c*nt’; such language is hateful, but not really discriminatory, and can seemingly be applied to any colour or creed. That in itself isn’t ideal, but hey, eliminating all kinds of swearing in football matches would be as easy as a camel going through the eye of a needle. The difference comes with racist or discriminatory language; it is designed to be more offensive, more specialised, more historically loaded. Thus the difference between a Leeds fan calling Spurs fans ‘Yids’ and singing ‘Spurs are on their way to Auschwitz’ is minimal. It would be very hard to argue that such things are acceptable; people should rightly be just as disgusted with them as monkey chants or songs about slavery. In truth, the FA should concentrate on dealing with these issues rather than clubs’ nicknames.

There is, however, obviously a difference between opposition fans calling Spurs fans ‘Yids’ and the self-application of the term. To disagree would be absurd; the different use of the word relies entirely on context. If you’re in a pub and manage to walk into the biggest fella there, the next few minutes will be very different depending on whether you decided to say ‘I’m such a stupid pr*ck’ or ‘You’re such a stupid pr*ck’. One rightly seems more innocent, less culpable; the other is designed to signal animosity at someone else. It follows that a Chelsea fan calling a Spurs fan a ‘Yid’ is hateful, but a Spurs fan using the term needn’t be. It is designed to provoke an entirely different reaction; points to an entirely different context. A bolder man than I would argue that, apart from the spelling, the two cannot even be comfortably called the same word. I would probe deeper into this kind of philosophical mire but I’d probably need a theoretical linguist. Sadly, that is not something either I, Peter Herbert or David Cameron can legitimately claim to be.

In any case, to argue that the context of a term (for example, whether it is designed to promote hatred or solidarity) is unimportant is to imply that some words are completely out of bounds. No-one can use these in any context; these will be locked up in a little black box and chucked in the Thames. This is essentially what Peter Herbert is saying, and it’s an affront to free speech. I’m not trying to be a clichéd liberal here; I’m deadly serious. The word ‘Yid’ is a valid, commonly used term in the English language. For Tottenham fans, there is nothing like it; no other word which can approximate its effect. To deny them the chance to use it is as close to fascism as our left-leaning politics can be.  David Cameron argued against it because he is a sensible bloke. The naysayers clearly are not.

In fact, their argument that the word shouldn’t be used because not all Spurs fans are Jews is further ridiculous. You can’t draw an arbitrary line; it is all or nothing. The club can’t check every supporter’s papers to see if they have Jewish ancestry and the subsequent free pass to use the term. I, for example, have a tiny bit of Jewish blood in me from my mothers’ side. Is that enough? Do I get to be a ‘Yid’? It is ludicrous and wholly impractical. Absolutely no Jewish or non-Jewish fan wants to go down that road.

In any case, it shouldn’t matter whether the fans have a drop of Jewish blood in ‘em. This is a club which has strong foundations in Jewish support, Jewish pride and Jewish solidarity. I feel honoured to stand alongside my Jewish friends and be a ‘Yid’ with them. It is one of the many things which makes Tottenham stand out. It is one of the many reasons I’m proud to be a Spurs fan.

This is not to say that the situation is ideal. Some have rightly commented that many young Spurs fans will not know the context of the term, and the ideological significance of using it. The answer is education; a couple articles in the programme about the history of the club, the nature of Jewish support and the way in which the use of the term started would go a long way. All I know is, I hope that the next generation of Spurs fans will continue to use the term wisely. If they are denied the opportunity, it sets a dangerous precedent for the basic rights and freedoms of this country.

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