As you may have noticed, there’s a bit of a race-based discussion taking place amongst the great and good of English football. We’ve had the double-ring circus that were the John Terry and Luis Suarez cases. We’ve also had a few juicy sideshows, including the Serbia v England U21 game, and the accusation of racial abuse from a Premier League referee.
In a previous article, I suggested that perhaps the time had come for everyone to calm down and take stock of the situation. Aside from anything else, it’s unfair to expect Football by itself to find the solution to a general social problem. Upon hearing that The Society of Black Lawyers were calling for Tottenham fans to stop using the word ‘Yid’ in their chants, I’m thinking that the whole ‘racism in football’ thing has jumped the shark somewhat.
In case you don’t know, Tottenham in London is a traditionally Jewish area. Perhaps not so much anymore, but for long enough, for Tottenham Hotspur to become regarded as a Jewish club – in a similar way to Ajax Amsterdam. As a result of this, the club and their fans experienced a large amount of anti-semitic abuse from opposing fans over the years. The Spurs fans response to this was to take ownership and pride in their Jewish heritage, and christen themselves the ‘Yid Army’. Anyone with any connection to the club is dubbed a ‘Yiddo’. It’s a lot less contentious, but Ipswich Town were once teased as being yokels and were called the ‘Tractor Boys’ – a title they now use with pride.
The problem with this, of course, is that there is an argument to be made that if someone was called another person ‘Yid’ on the street, they could in theory be arrested for racial abuse. The Society of Black Lawyers argue that what is unacceptable on the street should be unacceptable in the stands of White Hart Lane.
The issue for me with what SBL argue is that racial (or any aggressive language) abuse depends on who is saying it, and to whom they are saying it. If you are referring to yourself and you are obviously not being aggressive or provocative, then it cannot be argued you are being racially aggressive. SBL say this is irrelevant as “if the words cause harassment, alarm, or distress to anyone watching then that is sufficient” . I cannot image any genuine distress being caused, but never underestimate the willingness of an Arsenal/Chelsea/West Ham fan to make trouble for Spurs.
For now, the Spurs board (including Jewish owner Joe Lewis and Jewish chairman Daniel Levy) are backing the fans, saying “Our fans adopted the chant as a defence mechanism in order to own the term and thereby deflect anti-Semitic abuse. They do not use the term to others to cause any offence, they use it as a chant amongst themselves.”Whether that will be enough will soon be put to the test
Mark Cruise is a Soccer writer for RantSports. Follow him on Twitter @chiefhairyman