After the news that three Tottenham fans will defend their use of the word ‘yid’ in a landmark court case, we discuss the impact on the wider society.
It comes as no surprise that three Tottenham Hotspur supporters were charged by the police for the use of the word ‘yid’.
In order to get some closure on an issue that’s rumbled on for years, it could be supposed that the impending court case is a positive thing. It’s just frustrating that it’s three Spurs fans that’ll be in the dock, when it’s clear that the actual racism and vitriol comes mostly from fans of Chelsea, West Ham and Leeds.
For decades we have been subjected to hissing noises – intended to mimic the sound of gas chambers – jibes about foreskins, and songs about Adolf Hitler, punctuated only by the chant of “Sieg Heil”. Rightly Tottenham fans and Jewish people alike were (and remain) disgusted.
We did the only thing we could do; we embraced the Jewish element within our fanbase; we turned the word on his head, and we beat our chest as we bellowed with pride: Yid army! Yid army! Yid army!
It was enough. As the steamroller of gentrification gathered pace towards White Hart Lane, it was our fans, and not the aggressors who were caught in the cross hair of the offended minority. And so we find it, three Tottenham fans, should they plead ‘not guilty’, defending their right to use a word that means ‘Spurs supporter’ as much as it is a derogatory term aimed at Jewish people.
It doesn’t matter though really. We’re just football fans after all. We’re scum. Criminals one and all, a scurge on society, our voice and our ability to reason falls on deaf ears. Shut us up and it’s done and dusted. Chelsea and West Ham can be ignored. From far off lands where the gathering cash rich nations clamber for the Premier League, it’s tricky to make out the sound of hissing, as it is impossible to see the hook-nosed salutes aimed at us.
And as ever this is about context and intent. A choice has to be made as to whether a person’s right to freely express themselves, and align to certain groups by using certain words using ethical context, is more important than the feelings of those that are offended. That’s not to say that all aspects of society should be able to use ‘yid’ freely, just those that do so with affection and solidarity with the Jewish people, even the ones who are not Spurs fans.
The Tottenham Hotspurs Supporters Trust yesterday put out the following statement:
The Board of THST is saddened, but certainly not surprised, at today’s decision by the Crown Prosecution Service to deem the use of the Y Word in any context as a prosecutable offence.
Since the first Spurs fan was arrested at White Hart Lane on 6thOctober 2013, THST has worked closely with our legal team to establish a defence to these charges, which will now be tested in a court of law.
It remains our firm belief that, when used in a footballing context by Tottenham Hotspur supporters, there is no intent or desire to offend any member of the Jewish Community. We will continue to offer advice and support to any fan arrested by the Metropolitan Police for using the term in such circumstances.
The final paragraph is especially relevant. If there is no desire or intent to offend and yet a group chooses to be offended where is the line drawn? This then becomes an issue not restricted to a football stadium, but to any level of society. If the ‘Tottenham Three’ are found guilty in this landmark test case, then what message is sent out? That is doesn’t matter what you intended; it doesn’t matter why you said what you did; it doesn’t matter the way you said it; the only notable factor is whether someone else is offended. The word doesn’t even have to be aimed at them; they just need to be merely in earshot.
Stephen Fry once said on causing offence: “It’s now very common to hear people say, ‘I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually nothing more… than a whine. ‘I find that offensive.’ It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that.’ Well, so f*****g what.”
That’s not to say that people do not have the right to be offended, just merely that it isn’t grounds for censorship, especially while it remains such a grey area. In the English language words change their meaning with time. Does ‘gay’ mean the same as it did when the word was formed? Clearly not. And nor can anyone deny the right of a homosexual to define him or herself as ‘gay’. So by the same token we should be able to define ourselves as ‘yids’ when the word clearly means you belong to Tottenham Hotspur.
We finish with this excellent conclusion from an article by associate editor of Spiked Online, Rob Lyons. It appears in article published on 10th October 2013 and can be read in full here.
The attack on the Yid Army is a case study in the modern culture of offence. A small number of people decide that something is offensive, make a lot of noise about it, and the authorities then step in. The result is the loss of our freedom to express ourselves as we want, to always have to double check how we think and speak against increasingly narrow-minded official norms.
Football fans face the brunt of this. In Scotland, specific legislation has been passed to stop the fans of Glasgow’s two big teams, Celtic and Rangers, from shouting and singing their clubs’ respective songs. Liverpool Football Club have issued a list of words and phrases that are now banned in the ground; some very innocuous phrases could get you turfed out of Anfield these days. From restrictions on movement to clampdowns on speech, it seems football fans are treated as the lab rats for every draconian measure.
But the attack on the use of ‘Yid’ at Spurs is really bizarre and dangerous because it is a ban on a word used positively by the fans about themselves and the club’s players, a ban promoted by people who have little or nothing to do with the club. This is an assault on Spurs fans’ ability to organise themselves, done with the full force of the law.
Even if you support another team – in fact, even if you couldn’t care less about football – you should be prepared to fight alongside the Yid Army, because the attempt to ban this harmless singing is nothing less than an attack on freedom itself.