Why the Y word is my word

A couple of rows in front of where I am sitting, a large man has leapt to his feet. His entire body is quivering with rage. I expect him to lose his voice at any moment. On the surface, he seems an affable, suburban type, a family man with children whom he has quite possibly reprimanded for outbursts far milder than the poisonous invective currently issuing from his own mouth.

Yet nobody is reprimanding him, or even taking much notice of him. His screams are mere drops in a stream of opprobrium descending upon a heedless official, uniformed, like Shakespeare's Angelo, "in a little brief authority" - the referee.

For the raging hulk and I, along with about 35,000 others, are watching football at the White Hart Lane stadium in Tottenham - "the world-famous home of the Spurs". Or, if you like, the citadel of the "Yid Army".

Many, of course, do not like. Last week, a JC editorial, no less, fulminated against the very idea of the Yid Army, claiming that it helps to "mask the level of antisemitic abuse". This opinion was advanced in support of a short film, The Y Word, made by the Baddiel brothers, David and Ivor, designed to place football-terrace antisemitism on the same level of notice as the racial abuse of black footballers.

The “Yids” chant at Tottenham is not the same as at Chelsea

But neither the Spurs "Yid Army!" war cry, nor the approbatory "Yiddo" chant signifying that a particular player has earned his colours - his spurs - is antisemitic. Quite the opposite.

It is well-known that Spurs have a large contingent of Jewish supporters. (Though, should the ground be relocated away from North London as the club's present - Jewish - chairman appears to want, that may well not be the case in future generations.) There have also been several Jewish directors, and even the odd Jewish player.

Thus, Tottenham Hotspur has long been perceived as a "Jewish" club. And, like it or not, football is nothing if not tribal. Fans devise tribal tokens, sing tribal songs and adopt a tribal identity. In this respect, the "Yids" are no different to the Arsenal "Gooners" or Man U "Reds". All three labels are worn with pride, not shame. As a Spurs fan, I react with a kind of benign amusement when I witness hordes of young supporters forming a kosher crowd, waving Israeli flags and singing. And I know many others who feel the same.

While the Baddiels are to be admired for wanting to eradicate antisemitic abuse from the terraces, they are wrong to do so by focusing on "The Y Word" because it needs qualifying. "Yids" chanted at Tottenham by home supporters is not the same as "Yids" chanted by the Baddiels' fellow Chelsea fans known for their emetic "gas-chamber" hissing.

That particularly disgusting obscenity (from which the focus on "Yid" is a distraction) is demonstration, if any were needed, of the ugly side of the beautiful game - on and off the pitch. Indeed, you can hear plenty of chants at Tottenham, too, that are extremely unpleasant to the ear of any reasonably minded supporter, Jew or non-Jew. But none of these include the Y word.

Part of the mystery of the irrational hold that football has over otherwise rational human beings is that it affords a release of not always healthily suppressed feelings. This is not a pretty sight but, for the most part, spectators like my raging suburbanite neighbour in the White Hart Lane west stand - and even some of the ignorant purveyors of hate - return home somewhat purged.

And when your team wins, it is possible to experience a sense of fellowship so joyful that as simple a couplet as, Jermain Defoe/He's a Yiddo, performed by a rough-voiced choir of thousands, can sound almost as heart-warming as a klezmer band playing Yidl mit'n fidl.

Coming down on the Tottenham Yids is no way to quell the bigots at Chelsea and elsewhere. David Baddiel rightly says that the response to anti-Jewish hate chants on the terraces is far too muted. So why silence the love songs? The singers may be raucous, but they certainly make themselves heard.

Last updated: 12:46pm, April 22 2011