England players back campaign to stop anti-Semitic chants
LONDON (Reuters) -- For almost 30 years the Y-word has been used as a 'badge of honour' by fans of Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur but a campaign to stop them using 'Yid Army' has been launched by an anti-racist pressure group.
The Kick It Out Campaign's initiative is not just aimed at Spurs fans, who adopted the term for themselves after years of hearing opposing supporters direct it at them, but the fans of any club tempted to use anti-Semitic chants or insults.
A powerful film has been made called "The Y-word" featuring appeals by England internationals Frank Lampard of Chelsea, Tottenham's Ledley King and Kieran Gibbs of Arsenal plus a message from former Spurs and England striker Gary Lineker.
The film spearheads a campaign to stamp out anti-Semitism in football and remind supporters they can be prosecuted for using the words 'yid' or 'yiddo', which has its origins in the High German language Yiddish.
The film's producers, comedian David Baddiel and his brother Ivor, a writer, know they face a huge task in changing attitudes to the use of the word which, they admit, many people have no idea is offensive.
But as Ivor, like his brother a Chelsea fan, told Reuters in an interview near Tottenham's White Hart Lane ground:
"You have to start somewhere. No-one thought the N-word could be eradicated from the game in the 1970s, but now you hardly ever hear it. The same with the term "paki" and it should be the same for using the word yid or yiddo...
"I am under no illusions the film is going to change attitudes overnight. But I hope the next generation of Spurs fans will understand it better and it will be eradicated."
No-one is exactly sure why Tottenham have become identified as a 'Jewish' club because their fan base demographic is virtually identical to near neighbours Arsenal.
Both clubs have many Jewish supporters but whether Tottenham's blue and white colours -- the same as the Israeli flag -- played a part, or their proximity to the Stamford Hill area in north London where many Orthodox Jews live, is unclear.
The parting of the ways between Spurs and Arsenal as far as this issue is concerned occurred almost 30 years ago in 1982 as Tottenham fan Shaun McDonagh recalls.
"Spurs were playing Arsenal at Highbury when a hard-core element of Spurs fans stormed down the terracing of the North Bank, scattering Arsenal fans in their wake and raising two Israeli flags in triumph in the Arsenal heartland.
"From then on, as far as I know, Spurs became the Yid Army."
Baddiel, and others, can relate far nastier aspects of "yiddo" connotations and in the film fans of one unidentified club are shown chanting "Spurs are on their way to Auschwitz, Seig Heil, Hitler's going to gas them again."
Rival fans often make 'hissing' sounds at Spurs supporters as if they were being gassed and the whole atmosphere at some matches can become extremely unpleasant.
Tottenham director Donna Cullen, talking at the launch of the film, said she understood why Spurs fans reacted as they did.
"Historically the Y-word has been adopted as a 'call to arms' by our fans in order to own the term and deflect anti-Semitic abuse.
"Our fans will say, 'Get rid of the anti-Semitism and we'll think about our use of the term'. We wouldn't tell them not to though, at this point."
Tim Framp, the Spurs fan who organised a supporters campaign against the club's proposed move from White Hart Lane to the Olympic Stadium at Stratford, makes a telling point.
"I never heard the word "yid" when I was growing up and only ever associated it with Spurs. It would never have occurred to me to use it as an insult to someone. I'll chant it on the terraces, but would never dream of using it in the street.
"It has a different meaning to different people. But I do support this idea. I am against racism but I don't think Spurs fans should be bashed because they use it. They are using it in the best possible way. The N-word disappeared, maybe this word will too."
Baddiel said the similarities between the N-word and the Y-word were not quite the same.
"Black people reclaimed the N-word and it wasn't all black people, it mainly came from the rap culture, it was their word to reclaim as it had been targeted at them, secondly by reclaiming it they largely diffused it being used and, thirdly, they use it because they are proud to be black.
"The crucial difference with Spurs fans is that they are not saying the Y-word because they are proud to be Jewish, they are using the Y-word because they are proud to be Spurs fans. As a Jew I do not find that acceptable.
"A large number of Spurs fans are not Jewish and by using it it doesn't diminish the word at all. Other clubs fans chant it back at them and if anything in greater numbers and with far more venom and bile," added Baddiel.
A Crown Prosecution Service spokesman confirmed it would prosecute anyone using the Y-word for a "hate-crime" and in the film Lampard warns fans:
"Some might think it is just a bit of a laugh but racist chanting is against the law. It's against the law to call someone the Y-word in the street. So if you fancy joining in what you think is a bit of harmless chanting, think again."