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Sticks and stones

Tom Fennelly weighs in on the ongoing debate surrounding Spurs' fans use of supposedly offensive language in their chants

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Image: flierfy.
Image: flierfy.

When I was but a Ute, I was always told by my parents to rise above any verbal abuse I received, either at school or on the street. I appreciate that's it's easier said than done, but over the years I've developed a tough shell that has kept me out of any real confrontation since 1993.

By giving someone the reaction that they're looking for from me when they inevitably call me a 'fat, ginger prick', I give them the win as they get the satisfaction of making me feel shit. By laughing back at them, the name-caller is left with a failed objective. By not allowing myself to be offended by name-calling - by not having a victim in the triangle of a crime - then no harm can from it. The name-caller, seeing that their words have no effect (as they shouldn't), sees how irrelevant they are and scurry away whilst pretending they didn't say anything.

Understandably, racial abuse is a step up in the evolutionary chain of verbal abuse, but the premise remains the same. Allowing ourselves to be the victims of empty words that lack rationality or understanding should not be risen to.

The term 'yid' is an offensive word for many Jews as it has been used as a derogatory, anti-Semitic phrase throughout their persecuted history. And so we revisit the age-old problem of the chants at Tottenham Hotspur in support of their own team which include the word 'yid'; a chant never used at or against Jews but used nevertheless.

Yesterday, the Metropolitan Police warned Tottenham fans that they could be arrested if seen to be using the language in their chants. The FA has written to Spurs, informing them that if this behaviour carries on then criminal proceedings could be brought against fans. The club has since sent a survey on the matter to all of its season ticket holders so it can gauge what the fans' consensus is in order to support where the club should stand on the issue.

But is it even an issue? As an avid Spurs fan who has taken part in these chants before, I can tell you that no one around White Hart Lane is chanting things like 'yid army' and 'yido' because of their subverted hatred of Judaism. These chants are purely aimed to support the team of players on the field and protect the heritage of the club, so it's difficult to see where offence can be taken from this.

Regardless, the issue runs deeper than this. Clarke Carlisle, the chairman of the PFA, and the likes of Peter Herbert, from the Society of Black Lawyers, believe that any use of the work 'yid' in any context is actually in breach of the Criminal Law Act and perpetrators should thus face prosecution. Herbert by name, Herbert by nature, apparently.

Even the Prime Minister waded in on the issue. Speaking to the Jewish Chronicle, David Cameron made the point that hate speech is what really should be prosecuted and so the use of the word should be punished if it is motivated by hate. Finally, some common sense from the most unlikely of sources.

Yes, the word has some awful connotations. But hateful speech can only be considered through the contexts in which it is used. In this instance, the collective fan base of a football club are using the word to reinforce the club's Jewish heritage - something the fans are immensely proud of protecting. The use of the chant actually came about as a response to opposing fans who used the word 'yid' directly to them to incite hate. Spurs fans are rising above the slander and standing up for their clubs heritage. This is anything but a hateful context.

This protection of heritage came into eye hugely when Tottenham went on their travels in the Europa League last season. Bloody, violent clashes broke out in bars in Rome and Lyon as Spurs fans faced ambushes of weapon-wielding mobs purely because of their identity. I expect that very few of the victims were actually Jewish. The Tottenham Hotspurs Supporters' Club agree with me in saying that these sorts of attacks (and similar verbal attacks in the UK) are blissfully ignored by the powers that be.

And yet the FA continues to come back to this 'issue' - namely because it is an easy target. If the FA is seen to be tackling something, then the likes of the racism campaign Kick It Out will get off their back. The real issue lies with the fans in the away end of White Hart Lane, or with certain sections of fans that Spurs encounter on their travels. Chants about the Holocaust and the 'hissing' gas chamber noise should be dealt with as publicly as the Y-word issue through criminal prosecutions (and you can say the Y-word, don't worry. It is fine to quote things in certain contexts, apparently).

So I set the FA, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service this challenge: at the next Tottenham home game, stand at the front of the fans or sit in the control room and arrest every fan you see using the word 'yid' and prosecute them. Not only an unnecessary thing to enforce, but it's also a logical nightmare. I can guarantee that the chants from a few of the West Ham fans yesterday will have been far worse and should be the sole focus of any anti-anti-Semitic campaign.

Against West Ham, the challenge simply was not met. No action was taken during the game by either police or stewarding staff. Police spoke to fans as they entered the ground about the risks they take on using such chants. Regardless, the Lilywhites defiantly sang on in mass. Were any arrests made? Well, one. At half time. And that was for a public order offence. The police's half-hearted approach to getting on top of this 'issue' is a clear sign that they're not fully confident that arrests will lead to prosecutions.

Hate speech needs to be dealt with, but this nonsensical culture of being offended by any use of potentially offensive words needs to come to an end. Any idea of context seems to be long but forgotten in a world engulfed by political correctness.

By that logic, I find the word 'Scunthorpe' offensive because there's a rude word in it. Would we then get rid of Scunthorpe? Although maybe that isn't such a bad idea.

We'll sing what we want.

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3 Comment

Jay Posted on Thursday 13 Aug 2020

Well said Tom. It's all about the context. Anyone who is offended by such chants clearly not aimed to attack has had a dangerous dose of delusion. It's the same overly-sensitive do-gooders who have a problem with this that slate people using the 'N-word' in a gesture of camaraderie.


Pasky Posted on Thursday 13 Aug 2020

As someone is from Scunthorpe, I find the word "Scunthorpe" very offensive. It's like a byword for "unemployment addled, anti-socially behaving, steel-works smelling, general lack of amenities, poor air quality" which I find DISGUSTING


Keith Posted on Thursday 13 Aug 2020

Good points Tom.
It was intersesting to read in yesterday's Standard (down here in the smoke), an interview with David Sullivan - West Ham's co-owner.
He thanked the West Ham fans for their "exemplary" behaviour at White Hart Lane.
Perhaps he was at a different match to me as those same fans lit a flare and threw it on the pitch; consistently chanted that a former West Ham player was a C***; and goaded the home fans with calls that we are racist.
This ignorance clearly stems right from the very top in East London - and is perhaps something the FA should tackle.
Alternatively they could try to sort out the mess of a team known as the Three Lions! Roll on Friday!


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