The Y word
By David Swaden
Today, I only want to be very brief on the football that I managed to watch. So I will sum Sunday up very briefly: The performance was promising, Gervinho’s still very raw – I loved G-Nev’s “erratic” description of him. Mertesacker was supreme in his reading of the game and finally looks settled. Ramsey was vindicated.
On the last point, can “fans” please remember that Wenger sees the players in training and that’s where that decision was made, we dont have this luxury. People slating Wenger before kick off was cringemaking. The biggest lesson a lot of people would do well to remember is “don’t commit anything to writing something you later may regret”.
So logically, I am now moving on to a controversial and emotive subject, inspired by John Terry’s racial abuse trial.
I cant comment on the Capital One cup on Wednesday as I didnt see it, and the reason for that is the topic of this post. I am a Jewish Arsenal fan. Nothing particularly shocking or unusual about that, the club is based in North London, as are almost a hundred thousand Jewish folk. So on Wednesday I was observing, not Arsenal, I was instead observing but the Jewish Festival of Yom Kippur, or “Day of Atonement”.
The sharper amongst you may now guess where I am going here. I want to give my take on the use of the word “Yid” for Spurs fans, which came about from the area of Tottenham and their board containing significant numbers of Jews over the years.
In short, I am not offended by the “Yid” term, in this context, and neither are the vast majority of my Jewish Tottenham or Arsenal, or other football supporting friends. It is a disambiguated term which the vast majority of Gooners who use it either do not realise or do not intend to use in any way as meaning a Jewish person. There’s plenty of non-Jewish Spurs fans at White Hart Lane who happily label themselves “Yids”, with no connotation to religion whatsoever.
However, there is no doubt that the use of the term “Yid” is problematic, and there are those who have not been totally desensitised by a lifetime of North London rivalry that will naturally be offended. Were a non-footballing Jew to hear it used as an insult at a match, I’ve no doubt they would be upset and really who could blame them? The analogy would hold if “Yid” were to be replaced by derogatory phrases for other races and religions, of which I have no intention of spelling out.
And this is not to ignore that, despite the vast majority’s secular use of the term, we have all heard horror stories of Arsenal, and indeed other fans hissing at Tottenham and anti semitic chants being sung to them. Luckily I have never heard these and would fully expect any fans participating to be immediately ejected and given bans, as with any other kind of racism.
So where do I think the line should be drawn? I think there is a general rule. If a person’s race or religion or sexuality, or similar, is used against them as part of an insult, that is unacceptable. Thus we see that Frimpong’s use of “Scum Yid” was rightly picked up and dealt with by the club. Much in the same way that the Terry case hinges on whether that exemplary bastion of decency called Anton Ferdinand “a black c*nt”, or whether he was merely repeating the suggestion scornfully.
Now you may think I am being hypocritical, and I can understand that charge. After all, I have just said I have no problem with Tottenham calling themselves Yids. I don’t even personally feel uncomfortable when Arsenal fans chant “Yiddos” after “We hate Tottenham”, although I stop short of actually doing this myself.
But that is the point, I feel that way because of my experience. If we want racism to truly be kicked out of football, we need it to be a welcoming atmosphere that sets an example where no-one, as much as possible, feels discriminated against. Start leaving this to assumption that everyone will understand the context, and it is a slippery, dangerous slope.
Having seen an article in the notoriously paranoid and unrepresentative Jewish Chronicle, I don’t personally feel victimised or outraged by badges that say f*** off Yids being sold outside the Emirates. But I would only feel that way assuming they are solely worn inside the stadium and at an Arsenal-Spurs match, and everyone wearing them explicitly understood “Yid” only to mean a Tottenham supporter and nothing else. But can we guarantee that? Of course we can’t. And does it stop me being fundamentally unsettled and worried that the police declined to take action after complaints from people who did take offence? No it doesn’t.
So I suppose where I have arrived is that, whatever it means, and however much I personally understand the context, using an inflammatory term for a religion in a situation where insults and hatred are inevitable will ultimately only have one outcome, as we saw with Frimpong and the badges. So, if we are to accept that there is more to life than football and that football is also ultimately a part of wider life, I think both Arsenal and Tottenham fans have a responsibility to let go of the “Yid” label. Will it ever happen? Almost certainly not, but that’s just my view.
I’d be very interested to hear other views on the subject, so please feel free to debate with me in the comments section.
P.S. I also think that if John Terry either declines to, or loses an appeal over his guilty verdict from the FA, Chelsea should immediately strip him of the Captaincy, but that’s a whole other ball game!