Football grapples with anti-Semitism storm
Violent attacks, the chanting of Adolf Hitler’s name and anti-Semitic abuse — not dark memories of the 1930s but four days in the life of English Premier Leage club Tottenham Hotspur.
It has been an annus horribilis in football’s fight against discrimination with Chelsea and Liverpool notably dragged through the mud, but Sunday’s game against West Ham at Spurs’ White Hart Lane stadium — as fans made Nazi salutes — gave the impression English football had reached a new low.
As well as the salutes, there were also accusations of anti-Semitic abuse, including hissing to mimic the sound of gas chambers, a reminder of the deaths of six million Jews during the Holocaust.
White Hart Lane is situated in north London, which is home to a large Jewish community, an association that has led some of Tottenham’s fans identifying themselves as “Yids”, a term which at different times throughout history has been used by Jews and also to abuse them.
Some Spurs supporters have attempted to “reclaim” the word, using terms like “Yiddo” and calling themselves the “Yid Army”.
However, critics argue the word’s use by Tottenham fans creates an opportunity for a dangerous undercurrent of anti-Semitism in European soccer to be exploited.
Just days before Sunday’s game, Lazio fans had chanted “Juden Tottenham” in a Europa League match against Spurs in Rome.
“There is a hardcore of racist and anti-Semitic fans in British football who really don’t seem to have any regard for common sense or decency,” Peter Herbert, the chairman of the association of black lawyers, a group which has threatened to take legal against Spurs fans who continue to use the term “Yid”, told CNN.
“Despite the fact there are people in hospital having been abused on Wednesday night in Rome, they seem to add to that distress with these comments. We’re in discussions with London’s Metropolitan Police.
“I understand the FA have already reported it, which they should do with such incidents,” added Herbert. “There has to be zero tolerance — if these people can be identified they should be prosecuted and banned from football.”
“As bad as the Holocaust”
That has already happened to one West Ham fan.
“Tottenham Hotspur have confirmed that five supporters were arrested during Sunday’s match at White Hart Lane outside of the stadium for unrelated incidents and two more were cautioned for racially aggravated gesturing inside the ground.,” said a West Ham statement.
“One of those fans has since been identified as a season ticket holder and has been sent a letter containing a banning order from the club. Any other individuals identified can expect a similar swift and robust response.”
Given what had happened on Thursday in Rome, third-tier Scunthorpe United manager Brian Laws will probably wished he had chosen his words more carefully in describing his team’s performance on Saturday “as bad as the Holocaust”.
“Anti-Semitism has no place in football or society in general,” said the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which works to promote and defend the religious and civil liberties of British Jewry.
“For football fans to use Holocaust imagery and chants glorifying Adolf Hitler is grossly offensive to the Jewish community and is a stain upon the character of British football.”
Herbert, who reported the racism allegations recently made by Chelsea against Mark Clattenburg to the police before the investigation was dropped and the referee was later cleared by the FA, suggests the use of the term “Yid” encourages an extreme reaction from a vocal minority.
“What you have to understand is that if only one person is offended it’s one too many.,” said Herbert.
“All these chants, intentional or unintentional, have to stop. If this happened in athletics or rugby it wouldn’t be tolerated, why should it be tolerated in football?”
“We’ll sing what we want”
But not all Spurs fans want to see the back of the word “Yid” and recent matches have seen the team’s followers chant “We’ll sing what we want” in direct response to Herbert’s threat.
“I’ve never had any problem using it,” said Spurs supporter Richard Arrowsmith, who is not Jewish.
“It’s a word Spurs fans regularly shout to each other. If I’m wearing a Spurs shirt in the street, it’s quite common for another passing Spurs fan to shout ‘ Yiddo’.
“I was probably about seven or eight and it was the first Spurs game I went to. We used to have a drummer at White Hart Lane and the song used to go ‘boom, boom, boon, boom-boom-boom, Yids!’
“I looked around and saw pretty much every Spurs fans clapping along and joining in with it … It’s something we’ve really made our own, it’s a collective term for our fans now. It’s an accepted word for Spurs fans in the modern age.”
Arrowsmith rejected the idea that Spurs fans’ use of the term encourages anti-Semitism, saying that particular argument removes any responsibility from the abusers.
“It’s a pretty weak argument,” he said. “It’s been compared to another argument which suggests if girls wear short skirts they’re inviting bad things to happen to them.
“No Spurs fan goes to the game thinking ‘if I chant the word Yid I’m going to incite some racial hatred’. No one goes to the game thinking they are going to get some racial abuse.”
But British comedian and author David Baddiel disagrees.
“The idea that Spurs fans are reclaiming the Y-word and are entitled to because so many of them are Jewish is simply not true,” said Baddiel, who is Jewish and a Chelsea fan, recently writing in the Daily Mail.
“There are only 250,000 Jews in Britain as a whole and I’d say about three or four per cent of Tottenham’s crowd is Jewish.
“That means well over 90% of those chanting ‘Yid Army’ are not actually Jewish and that is just one of several reasons why it cannot be right.”
As the FA investigate what happened on Sunday, academic Clifford Stott called for England’s governing body to deliver a reasoned response.
“The authorities need to respond by empowering the majority of those fans who aren’t abusing other supporters,”said Stott, who has advised governments and police forces internationally on crowd management policy and practice.
“If the lessons of the past are anything to go by, solutions reside in working with fans’ grassroots organizations to respond constructively to any criminal action that occurred. The key message is that an indiscriminate response is counterproductive.
“Don’t forget there is already sufficient legislation to deal with anti-Semitic or racist chanting at football grounds
“Where this has happened then clearly it must be condemned and if the evidence exists for criminal sanctions to follow.
“But a knee-jerk response can escalate the problem and it is important to keep what happened in perspective.”
Without attempting to excuse the actions of West Ham’s fans, Stott explained how a unique set of circumstances had combined to create Sunday’s poisonous atmosphere.
“Those chants — inexcusable as they are — followed the news about what happened in Rome and what the Society of Black Lawyers has been saying about the illegitimacy of Spurs fans’ expression of their identity.
“In 12 months I doubt if and when this fixture is played again that those chants would be repeated.”
Meanwhile, Herbert wants football’s European governing body UEFA to use its regulations to empower referees in future to prevent a repeat of the abusive incidents that recently occurred in Serbia involving England’s Under-21 team as well as Rome and north London.
“We’d like to see a proactive stance on this, a vigorous approach, prosecute where possible, ban people from grounds and if incidents like that do happen, call a halt to the game.
“There is a UEFA rule which is never used where a referee can call off the game. That’s the sort of initiative which has to happen.
“Do you want to watch a football game or do you want to listen to this abuse?”