Here we go again. For the third consecutive season the debate over Spurs fans’ use of the word ‘Yid’ has re-surfaced. Prompted by the FA’s statement warning fans of the repercussions for chanting it at football matches, David Baddiel and his brother Ivor have dominated the football news this week with their continued complaints against and justifications for its banishment from grounds. As a Spurs fan, I find it tiresome.
Having addressed the issue twice already, I did not have the inclination to cover old ground. However, once the Prime Minister weighed in stating that in his opinion, the word ‘Yid’ was not in fact racially aggressive, coupled with the Baddiel brothers’ attention-seeking histrionics, I just couldn’t resist. After all, if they’re not going away, neither am I.
Let’s get this clear. Baddiel may have gone to great pains to suggest that his campaign was leveled towards all London clubs but it’s Spurs’ ’Yid Army’ chants that seem to rankle most with him. If you have ever attended White Hart Lane, you will have heard it. And if you have, I defy you to tell me that the chant is used as a term of abuse. There are no references to Shylock, hooked noses or any other abhorrent racial stereotyping that people of Jewish faith have had to endure for centuries.
The Baddiels however, find this offensive. So offensive, that they feel that the word should sit alongside the ‘N-word’ in terms of its classification as a tool that aids and abets racial hatred. It does not. For the simple fact that unlike ‘Yid’ the ‘N-word’ was a term used by whites in order to systematically dehumanise, subjugate and demoralise people of African descent. It is representative of the depravities that we as humans are capable of lowering ourselves to. In contrast, the etymology of Yid has a very different and more benign genesis. It was used by Yiddish-speaking Jews, as a polite way of addressing each other. That may not fit the Baddiels’ narrative, but there you go.
I make the distinction between the two words because I find it deeply ironic (and it’s a point that I made in last season’s post but it’s worth revisiting) that Spurs fans are being asked to surrender the moral highground to a comedian who once happily ‘blacked’ himself up to squeeze out a few cheap laughs at the expense of Jason Lee, an admittedly average footballer but nevertheless undeserving of such cringe-inducing ridicule. The joke may have been about his hairstyle but if we’re going to be politically correct about such matters, then we need to be consistent, don’t we?
Moreover, there seems to be an insinuation on Baddiel’s part that non-Jews shouldn’t have the right to challenge the legitimacy or purpose of his campaign because they cannot know what it’s like to be a Jew. It’s the kind of argument that Robbie Savage likes to make on the radio in order to shout down anyone out of step with his own views; the ‘How Can You Possibly Have An Opinion On Football If You’ve Never Played It Professionally?’ opinion. It’s an odd code to live by. Plucking a non-random observation from the air, I’ve never been to Israel but that does not make me incapable of forging an opinion as to whether or not land has been occupied legitimately.
But it’s all a question of semantics. Semantics. That annoying little, pedantic study of meaning. Baddiel is adamant that ‘Yid’ should be banned because of its racial connotations. But is to be Jewish to actually belong to a race at all? Doesn’t being Jewish refer to anybody ascribing his/her spiritual beliefs to Judaism? If that is therefore the case, how on earth can you hope to prosecute anybody using it under the crime of race hate?
To illustrate the point, consider the fact that I am of Greek Cypriot origin. I am also nominally a Christian of the Greek Orthodox denomination. My wife could have easily converted to the Greek Orthodox church when we got married. For her to be Greek Cypriot however is impossible by the simple laws of genetics. It’s pretty clear that the two are easily defined and distinguishable from each other. Just as a German can be a Jew or an Israeli a Muslim. As I said, it’s a question of semantics, so if Baddiel feels the need to continue pursuing his grievances, should the crime being ‘committed’ not be classified under the religious rather than the racial banner?
And while we’re discussing the subject of race, I’m going to play my race card. Regular readers will know that my grandfather was the key footballing influence in my life. Like many Greek Cypriots who settled in “Fishberry Park” and “Hiiiii-berry” in the fifties, he also supported Arsenal. For many Londoners, it’s common knowledge that Cypriots have always had a long-standing affiliation with the club. Harry Enfield even made his name by riffing on that association (is that racist? Can I sue him?). Despite this, my and many others Cypriots’ paths diverged and we ended up supporting other clubs in London; the prominence of Cypriot flags during televised matches at Stamford Bridge and White Hart Lane suggests that the community is fairly divided in terms of its footballing allegiances. However, it’d be entirely understandable if Arsenal fans of all colours took up a chant of something like “Bubble [and Squeak] Army” as a nod of acknowledgement towards the heavily concentrated support of this particular ethnic group. Would I have an issue with it? Of course not. And it thankfully wouldn’t originate as a response to the racial jibes aimed at them by rival clubs. You know who you are.
Baddiel points out that tinpot wannabe führer Oswald Moseley used it to fan the flames of prejudice prior to World War Two. That’s as may be but there’s little acknowledgement from him that language is fluid and ever-changing. Just as ‘gay’ meant one thing once and now means another, ‘Yid’ for many Spurs fans (once it was appropriated) has been diluted by its repeated usage to such an extent over the years, that what it actually now refers to is someone who supports Tottenham Hotspur.
Whether you are Jewish, Greek, Jamaican, Pakistani or dare I say it, Anglo-Saxon and you follow Spurs, you’re a Yid. And I for one, am certainly proud to be in that number because it’s proof that football can sometimes, just sometimes be the colour blind game we want it to be.
It’s called call-and-response. Same time next year, Mr Baddiel?
The Baddiel Dispatches:
Follow Dispatches on Twitter: @Sofalife