So – your first game at White Hart Lane. And we won!
We have been planning this for ages but we could not get a ticket. When I was younger, you could go with your family or friends whenever you wanted. Now we were not supposed to sit together but you sat on my lap for first half. You were very patient. In the second the man next to us did not come back so you sat in his seat. Wonder where he went? The game was not very good but it was not that bad.
Before the match we walked round some of the ground. We wanted to show you what it was like. I expect you thought it was just a busy road like the one where you live. It was noisy and dirty, wasn’t it? To us, it is special though. Our place, our ground. People have gone to see the Spurs for over 140 years in exactly the same place. Now you are doing the same. You are part of all that history. Imagine all the millions of people, wearing blue and white, looking forward to the football. You are really part of something, just like us. But you were really interested in walking on the lines between the paving stones.
Bobby Soldado scored the goal. At last! You have been practising his song, haven’t you. He is Spanish – we looked up where he came from on the map, remember? He hasn’t scored a goal for months and months, he waited for you to come to see him. I think you are a lucky charm for Spurs.
He cost a lot of money but he hasn’t scored many goals. This one was scored from close to the goal but it was very good. Townsend made a good run and passed to Adebayor. He was clever – he did not pass the ball very far but it is hard when you are close to goal, so many defenders trying to tackle you but he gave Soldado the ball. Did you see how he touched it once and the ball was right in front of him? It was just a shame that he did not do that more often. Him and the others really – they could not keep the ball close when they touched it.
Did you notice how quickly he touched it past the goalkeeper? The keeper went one way, Soldado put the ball the other side. Soldado made him do that. That’s clever, I liked that.
We are lucky where we sit, we can see the players close up. Did you notice, when the ball is not near him, he sometimes mutters to himself. I think he worries about not scoring and not doing his best for Spurs. Some players, they don’t seem to worry. Perhaps it is because they get paid so much money, they don’t really care what happens but he does. I was pleased he scored, he will feel better now and score more, I reckon. We need his goals because no one else looked like scoring. Adebayor is a good player but he was working so hard for the team, he was not in the penalty area as much as he should be. I think he should have stayed there more often.
That was a good run from Townsend and Lennon did some good runs too. When they started, they were our two wingers, one wide on the left, one on the right. That was exciting but, trouble is, they did not pass it to the right Spurs player. Over and over, they did the same thing and the ball was blocked or they were tackled. You would think they would learn after a while and change, but they didn’t.
That meant we had Paulinho and Dembele in the middle but they did not play very well. It was too easy for Cardiff to get the ball because they had more players in the middle. Paulinho comes from Brazil. The way he has been playing lately, I think he wants to get the next plane home. Luckily for us, Cardiff weren’t very good. Did you notice how often they gave the ball straight back to us or passed it into touch? Did you cheer? They were blaming each other and Bellamy was rude to the referee. He was booked but we thought he might be sent off. I reckon that’s because they are unhappy because they are not playing well with their new manager. He has not organised them well. It is bad for them, at the bottom of the league.
You enjoyed it when the players kicked the ball really high. It shines in the floodlights as it slowly spins. One time, we thought the goalkeeper was going to kick it out of the ground! When it hit one of their players on the head, we could hear it, it sounded really loud. We laughed! Those big kicks look good but let me tell you, Spurs should not have been doing that. We should be passing it along the ground, not doing a big boot up the field.
We could hear the Spurs manager shouting sometimes too. It was very quiet sometimes. When I was your age, well a bit older than you because my mum and dad would not let me go on my own and they worked on Saturdays so they could not take me, back then the crowd used to sing a lot more. You could not hear the managers shouting then. We sang some songs though.
We both wished Spurs had more shots. We should have scored more goals because we were the best team. At the end we were worried that although we were on top, Cardiff might equalise because we only scored one goal but in the end we were OK. It would be much better if we did not have to worry but with Spurs, it always seems to be like that. I wish I knew why. I wish they would change but they never do.
Dawson was our best player. He won all the headers and made some great tackles. We learned that defending is as important as scoring goals.
You really enjoyed the match but it was a shame that all the Spurs players often passed the ball to Cardiff or got tackled. The crowd were getting a bit angry towards the end. Why are they giving them the ball?! Why are they giving away corners and free-kicks when they know Cardiff are good at those? They hit the bar just after we scored. Phew! I was shouting at them too, towards the end. Sorry.
Afterwards we walked back with the Cardiff fans. They were singing some very rude songs about their chairman. Aunty Kirsty explained them to you. He changed the colour of their shirt from blue to red. You thought that was terrible. You noticed all the fans wore a blue shirt, not red. The Spurs fans sung that they should play in blue and the Cardiff fans clapped us.
It’s funny – you are only 9 but you know how stupid and wrong it is to change the shirt colour. You know more than the chairman. These things are very important because supporters understand the history of the club.
We have told you how much supporting Spurs means to us and now you are part of that too. It runs in the family. Jackie who took our photo, her dad and sisters and brothers sit next to us. They were late because they come all the way from Oxford. Arthur has been coming longer than me, since 1964. All his family are Spurs fans too. It was nice of him to have a chat at half-time.
Glad you enjoyed it but shall I tell you a secret? Spurs did not play very well. If we play like that next Saturday, Chelsea will score loads. But we won and you had a great time.
We told you our stories, all the things we have loved over the years from watching the game. How exciting it is, how it makes you feel special wearing the navy blue and white. I have been going for nearly 50 years and there is no feeling as good as when Spurs play well and win. About how good it feels when you celebrate with your family. You felt it too.
And in the end that’s what football is all about. I usually write about tactics and formations, or where we are in the league but that does not seem to matter today. We sat together in the ground and supported our team. We told you our stories and showed you round but actually, the best thing was that you taught us what really matters.
OK, I’ll take that one. The angst and alienation that characterises the prevailing mood amongst Spurs fans has provoked a golden period of powerful, passionate writing about Tottenham Hotspur. Here’s the blogroll of honour: the Lustdoctor and Paul Johnson aka @Sniersmoregut on twitter with a manifesto I wholeheartedly agree with, Dear Mr Levy, Martin Cloake and last but not least Greg on Dispatches. Read them all, you won’t be disappointed.
Greg ends up by posing a deceptively simple question: what kind of club do we want to be? Here’s my contribution. Like the others, let’s move this forward. After all, I haven’t much hair left to tear out.
So this is what I want. This is my way out of the mess.
First thing: football is football. It remains unsurpassed, compelling drama that entices the world. It’s always evolving – the physical fitness of players is the single biggest difference since I began watching the game in the mid sixties. It means it is faster and there is less space for individuals to run with it or pick a pass but I simply refuse to accept that intrinsically it is more lifeless, defensive or dull than it used to be. It’s a little different but football evolves. So leave the game as it is.
There were always good games, bad games and indifferent games. Social media was profoundly affronted when early this season Manchester United and Chelsea contrived to play a dull game. Dull? These superpowers? How dare they? Death of the English game, football not what is was etc etc. Horses**t. It was just a bad game. Ozil – not worth the money. Over-rated. Me, I’d say he’s going through a bad patch, the same as any other player, ever, from Thursday night over 50’s 6 a side to Barca and Madrid. Those blogs that wrote off Gareth Bale after a poor showing in El Clasico earlier this season. His second or third match for Madrid. Talk about giving a bloke a chance. Social media isn’t football. When people say they are fed up with football, don’t get confused with what happens on the pitch. It’s what goes on off it that is the problem.
Next: I want my Tottenham Hotspur to be unique. I want us to remember our heritage. That heritage is a living thing and the current club and supporters are part of that. Spurs stand for certain things: good football, innovation, being in N17. We breathe the same air and walk the same streets as every player, every single supporter since the boys met under the second lamp-post along the High Road from the present ground in autumn 1882 to form a football club.
That’s important. This isn’t some poncy heritage site National Trust pickle the ground in aspic rose-tinted visit the tea-shop on the way out nostalgia. It’s real, it’s us, it’s who we are. It makes us strong, different from all the rest. It gives us something to tell our children and our children’s children. Neglect that at our peril.
This is not an argument for innate superiority. I want City, United, Newcastle and Sunderland, Dulwich Hamlet and Fisher Athletic to be unique too, to maintain their heritage. I want clubs to be different not homogenised.
I want the club to be there long after my ashes have been scattered under the crowd’s feet as they hurry home after the match. That’s important too. I want long-term stability and security to make sure that happens. I want Kirsty and Tom, my daughter and son who sit next to me, to be there when they are my age. My club is not a rich man’s plaything, an afterthought soon tired of. It’s not all about me either. I want the club to carry on wehn I’m gone.
Third pillar: The Champions League is not the Holy Grail. I want Spurs to be contenders, to be punching their weight near the top of the league, I want other sides to worry when our name looms on the fixture list. However, I don’t want to spend money we don’t have on the possibly futile pursuit of temporary success. I want Spurs to play good football with good players. If so, success will come. If they don’t make it, it is not the end of the world.
Pausing for breath, let me pull up my soapbox by way of an interlude. Just think about this for a sec. The Premier League is geared towards failure and futility. The goal according to accepted wisdom, is the holy CL. Everybody goes for it, only four get in, reduced to three soon enough if English teams don’t do well. We got in but we didn’t win anything by so doing. Whatever level a team is on, their supporters talk of the next level. The FA Cup what’s the point? Europa League? Give up, not worth anything.
Everything becomes not a victory but a staging post for the mythical next step. There’s nothing achieved, no time to pause and enjoy it, no sense of satisfaction, unless you win the CL three times in a row perhaps. This is not my attitude but one that prevails in much football discourse these days. It’s one reason why some peole don’t seem to enjoy it. Not for me. Stay in the moment. Enjoy a win for what it is, fifth in the league is better than sixth and enjoy it. Shiny shiny trophies, if we ever win any, stop and enjoy it. Fans are always going somewhere else. I prefer to stop and look at the view.
Where was I? To be contenders, we have to have a plan and stick to it. We can’t spunk huge wads of cash, let’s build something over time. I want the respect of fans of other clubs who see us doing this, I want some self-respect when I see us doing it and the problem right now is that I have little respect for what’s going on.
Since Levy took over, he has made a series of attempts not just to build a side but to build continuity, with varying degrees of success. We never really know what goes on behind the scenes but in this perspective, the phases of the club can be measured not through managers but the Directors of Football. Arnesen, Commoli and now Baldini have been charged with, happen to be around when, whatever, we bought players who by and large had their best years ahead of them.
Good plan botched by Levy. Two reasons: one, he refused to commit a few extra resources to seal the deal when one or two players would have helped the squad fulfil potential. Second, Levy can’t judge a manager. Good chief exec focusses on goals for the organisation, picks good people to lead the operation and lets them get on with it. He can’t do either. But it remains the only way forward for Spurs, and if it works it will feel good. We watched Modric, Bale, Berbatov blossom. They were ours.
Now, and this is important: the club has to respect the supporters. Deeds not words. Start by understanding that there is a reciprocity in the relationship between supporters and the club. We will put up with a hell of a lot because we are loyal, not to managers, chairmen or players but to the shirt.
It is and always has been an unbalanced relationship with the club holding all the cards because they know that we the supporters will turn up. We have an emotional bond with the club, the board’s relationship is something different, less permanent, less committed.
This is intrinsic to the culture of British football. Fans have always been badly treated by clubs. However, there are degrees of exploitation and right now supporters are being pushed to the limits. It’s true for Spurs, the example I know most about, but it’s sadly also true for supporters of many other clubs.
The relationship may be unequal but never forget that it takes two, and Tottenham Hotspur PLC need to remember that. The current alienation has been caused not by league position – we are steady in fifth or sixth despite everything – but by the grievances fans have about being marginalised.
We can see there’s no coherent plan for the team to progress. Hopes rise only to be dashed again. And there’s a context. Living standards are falling, ticket prices rise. Inflation is falling, ticket prices rise. Above all, the income from non-ticket sources has gone through the stratosphere, ticket prices rise. You’ve heard it before but it’s worth restating, if only as a stark reminder of how much the balance has shifted in favour of the club, of just how unequal the relationship has become.
Look elsewhere and there are no mitigating factors. The FA and Premier League do nothing except put the interests of the clubs first. Kick-off times, scheduling of matches, managers playing second-string sides for the ‘magic of the Cup’. Pathetic, weak, self-interested, these bodies denigrate the hisotry of the English game and have totally repudiated their precious responsiblity for nurturing its future.
Families priced out. Kids can walk round the ground before the game but only if they pay to sit in a certain part of the ground. Tour the ground and pay. Visit the shop and pay – how much exactly does a blue and white acrylic scarf cost to mass-produce? We give, they take. Everywhere. Without exception. Stubhub. If you know your history – Spurs fans do. We remember the Shelf and what happened.
One feature of the concept of alienation is that the alienated are prevented from having a true understanding of what is going on because of ideological constructions that obscure and deny. I have a sociology degree and I’m not afraid to use it.
What’s happened now is that dissatisfaction has risen because what was once obscure is now transparent. We can see perfectly well what is going on. The club have more money than ever before yet choose the option of fleecing us more than ever before.
I want a club that actively espouses the right values. That is transparent in its dealings with supporters. That respects us and the community of which it forms a part, however reluctantly. That gives importance to the needs of supporters. That recognises our emotional attachment. That realises the team will benefit from wholehearted support. That realises the responsibility they have to this and future generations of Tottenham Hotspur supporters, rather than taking a short-term, profit-driven approach.
To respect us, the club has to listen and to respond. I’d like a supporter-led organisation to take over and take this co-operative to the top of the league. Yeah right. That’s true but it will never happen. Point is, I’m happy to settle for a lot less.
Let the supporters have a say on key issues like pricing, the new ground, ticket reselling. Don’t increase ticket prices this season. How much will the club lose? About half the salary of a squad player or something approaching the equivalent of the chairman’s recent salary increase but it would make a hell of a difference both to our pockets and our feelings. How about safe standing? A dedicated extra area for singing led by 1882. Singing – it’s not asking very much, is it.
The PLC have an insular, trench-warfare approach to fan liaison. Two weeks ago local paper the Haringey Independent sent them some questions about Stubhub. They were critical but legitimate. Last week they published them. The club complained. They haven’t answered the questions yet but have the energy to complain that a newspaper publishes legitimate questions on issues that have been raised many times before, including in the established media as well as on blogs. Legitimate questions that fans want answered yet the club complain about openness. And we haven’t even got to the answers yet! Doesn’t matter what you think about Stubhub. It’s symptomatic of an attitude that excludes us, a denial of the outside world.
These things will make the club stronger. They are to be embraced not feared. A dialogue between club and fans, using fans’ phenomenal expertise, building bridges and perish the thought, encouraging our efforts to get behind the team. Think about it – it’s not a revolution, these are not ridiculous demands. I have not even mentioned ENIC here, not about getting rid of them at all. I’m talking about my generation of fan contributing to the long-term benefit of the club.
Tell us what the long-term plans are for the club. Let us discuss them, contribute, have a dialogue, in public. As radical manifestos go, this is more WI that SWP, yet to the club it’s a threat. That mentality has to go.
I want children to go to the game. I want them to be welcomed. I want them to come back. I want them to be as excited as I was when I was a kid. I want fans to be able to say, I want to go to a game and I can afford it.
So there you are. The right values. Money is vital but it isn’t everything and the thing is, there’s plenty to go round. Anyway, respect costs nothing. At least, that’s what I think. Problem is, right now the club doesn’t agree.
The drabness of Spurs’ 1-1 draw away to Hull yesterday matched the battleship grey gloom enveloping supporters this week. Tottenham went through the motions but never got it together. However, we came home with a point in a match where we had the better of the play overall without ever looking particularly dangerous.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who is feeling numb and disillusioned – the Lustdoctor has returned to blogging with this searing indictment of the current situation on the The Fighting Cock site. Read it if you haven’t caught it already. I have been reminded recently about the bond between Spurs supporters and the special fascination this club develops for those of us who feel our support deep inside.
First, yesterday’s draw. The dysfunctional features of our play, familiar when we’re not doing so well, were in evidence for most of the game. A slow tempo, soporific in periods where we seemed scared to play the ball out of defence, or unable to. Lack of cohesion as we tried to move the ball forward. Adebayor was the focal point throughout and our best player, holding, giving and on rare occasions looking sharp in the box. However, he looked around and found precious little going on, at least in terms of anything decisive, something or someone to make a goalscoring opportunity. Lennon missed the beat all afternoon, regularly passing to an opponent or moving to exactly where a team-mate’s ball was not going to end up.
Defensive uncertainty. So good to see Vertonghen back, brought straight into the side alongside Dawson but not yet match fit. The two centre-backs were shifted out of position too often, although this was not all their fault as the protection from our midfield four in front of them melted away frequently, and not under any great pressure. Vertonghen tried too hard early on: in trying to get in front of an attacker he sold himself. Dawson was stranded and Long ran on to a clever ball to exploit that confusion and score. We had still to get going.
Gradually we pushed Hull back. It’s a pattern that they don’t seem to mind too much. They have one of the best home defensive records in the division, plus a recently acquired strike pairing that would always keep us occupied. So without ever firing up the quattro, we made the chances and missed them. Most were fleeting opportunities, might-have-beens not forehead-clutching blunders. Manu and others to the byline, time and again the cross was blocked in or near the six yard box by well-organised and determined defenders. Almost but not quite.
Good to see Paulinho back. Needs time on the field too, his box to box drive is vital in a four man midfield but he can’t get up into fourth or fifth just yet. But class is permanent. Rose’s hopeless mishit came to him at the edge of the box. One momentary lapse from an otherwise diligent defence and he was on his own. Back to goal, he killed the ball stone dead at his feet, then turned and shot into the net in a single movement. A rare moment of quality on a dull afternoon.
Poor Soldado. Strikers more than any other player relay on instinct and when it deserts them, they wander lost and bewildered in the wilderness. When they are out of touch, defenders can whack the cover off the ball to clear it, midfielders can run around a lot but strikers have no such fallback. Soldado has no idea what’s gone wrong. It’s past the point of criticism, I just feel pity.
Now for a heartwarming story of camaraderie and generosity between strangers, united by a loyalty to Tottenham Hotspur. TNot sure if the club is worthy of such loyalty. It fails to grasp the basic fact of support – we give a hell of a lot but in the end it is a relationship, and like any relationship they have to give something back. Not much because we are patient, loyal and longsuffering, but something, yet at the moment they give nothing.
Supporters are different. Supporters get it. They understand what it means, beyond head and heart and into the soul. There’s nothing like it, the bond supporters feel towards a club. Irrational, insane, energy-sapping but as a soul singer once said, when she touches me, nothing else matters.
On Christmas Day our garden was flooded. Another six inches or so and it would have come into the house. I don’t even live especially close to a river. We were lucky the damage wasn’t greater and I’m grateful for that, but under three feet of water, inside our little garden cabin, was my collection of Spurs books, souvenirs and programmes. I’m not a collector, I just kept a programme from every game I saw since I was a kid in the sixties until the late nineties, when I stopped buying them.
I wrote about it here. Of course I did – the essence of the blog over the last five seasons is about how it feels to be a Spurs supporter, and this felt bad. Logically, rationally, really, I am so relieved the house didn’t cop it but those programmes meant a lot. But, I have discovered, not as much as the touching response I had to that piece. I’m going to embarrass a few people by naming names, because you deserve to know about their generosity.
As well as the kind comments on the blog, several people wrote to me to say how much they enjoy the blog and felt for my loss. Thank you.
Three authors, proper writers not a scrappy blogger writing in snatched moments between chores and work like me, took the trouble not only to contact me but to offer to replace any damaged books. Adam Powley, Martin Cloake and Julie Welch – thank you. Please buy their books – all of them, now. They will remind you what it means to be a Spur.
On the Spurs Odyssey site, run by the mighty Paul Smith, my pal Rich Dickenson put me in touch with Graham Barker. His father, a lifelong Spurs fan like Graham, had died recently. Graham wanted his programmes to go to a good home and so now they are in mine. We had never met before I went to pick them up, he refused to take any money for them, he knew his dad would have wanted them to go to someone who knew what they meant. Graham, thank you.
Davey, sometime commenter on this site, writer, we’ve shared a few games on the Shelf. Not been in touch for a while, out of the blue a programme from the Pat Jennings testimonial drops through the letter box. It’s found a good home. Didn’t have to do it, but took the time and trouble. Thanks Davey.
My blogging pal Greg from the excellent Dispatches From A Football Sofa More coincidence. I had admired his work for ages, discovered a few years ago he lives nearby. Semi-final programme, same letterbox. I told him he should have kept it for his newborn son, a hierloom. Thanks Greg.
Whatever the club do, the spirit of being a Spurs supporter will never go away.
The Prime Minister is a man of the people only when it suits him, and what suits is when votes might be at stake. He’s hardly the first politician to attach himself temporarily to sport as a way of proving his street cred and he won’t be the last. He tipped up at a few Olympic events and suddenly became a Blues fan when the late-running 2012 Champions League final provided an unexpected G8 photo opportunity. Angela, I’m with you all the way on that one.
So when in September last year he pronounced upon the long-running dispute over the use of the Y-word at Tottenham Hotspur, he was focussed less on the good of the national game and more on his intended audience, those involved in the debate around free speech and the readers of the Jewish Chronicle, where the interview was published and whose editor happens to be a Spurs fan. Yet there’s no doubt he stuck a chord with many of us.
“There’s a difference between Spurs fans self-describing themselves as Yids and someone calling someone a Yid as an insult. You have to be motivated by hate. Hate speech should be prosecuted – but only when motivated by hate.”
He’d better change his legal advisers. Although the PM would have been thoroughly briefed in advance on the topic, the Metropolitan Police beg to differ. Last week three Spurs fans, Gary Whybrow, Sam Parsons and Peter Ditchman, were charged with using threatening, abusive or insulting words and are due to appear in court on February 4th. The BBC report a Met spokesperson as confirming the alleged offences were racially aggravated and charges brought under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Perhaps they could call DC as a character witness.
I don’t know anything about the precise circumstances of this case but it is possible to talk about the whole issue of active police intervention in what goes on amongst football fans, which has implications not just for Spurs supporters but for fans of football all over the country.
The debate over Spurs’ fans use of the Y word has been part of my consciousness and identity for the entire time I have been a Tottenham supporter, which dates back to the mid sixties. It’s hard to know when it began. Spurs have always had a loyal following drawn from the Jewish community in north London, which persists to this day. Tottenham itself has had a large Jewish population ever since substantial sections of the community moved from the east End in the early years of the twentieth century encouraged by employment in Jewish-owned businesses based in what is now Tottenham Hale. It was easy to walk up the High Road after schul on Saturday or even, and don’t tell the rabbi, to hop on a tram. Many used their precious leisure time to watch the Spurs, to be part of the local community, to fit in. By the mid thirties, some accounts state a third of the crowd were jewish. That proportion seems inflated but it’s certain the links with the community have lasted almost as long as the club has been in existence.
The explanation of why Spurs are the yids lies outside the club and its fans, however. Arsenal also have huge support within the same north London community. Both clubs have had Jewish representation at board level. The Manchester clubs have a jewish following too. The origins of the term lie in the pernicious, consistent abuse of Spurs supporters from other clubs, especially at away matches. Tracing the origins is difficult. Talking to a couple of long-standing Jewish fans recently, one said it began from Charlton supporters, a mild-mannered bunch there are too. Another watched the 1967 Cup Final from the Chelsea end and vividly recalled the remarks at the final whistle that the ‘the yids have won it.’ After my piece in When Saturday Comes on this topic, a contributor to the letters column blamed Alf Garnett for popularising the term, but I suspect that may have emerged as authentic bias from actor Warren Mitchell, who would have heard it regularly when he came to the Lane as a fervent Tottenham fan.
As a young impressionable jew, I heard the abuse develop in the early to mid seventies and I saw the response. Instead of marginalising the Jews amongst their number or blaming them for provoking trouble and – literally in those days – aggro, Spurs fans chose defiance and reclaimed the word to neutralise its negativity. Claiming class consciousness is pushing it but there’s no doubt that White Hart Lane was notable for an absence of the casual racism sadly rife in football grounds at the time.
I understand that there is a legitimate counterargument, that the use of the word ‘yid’ cannot be justified. It carries a long, sorry history of anti-Semitic abuse and is seen as profoundly abusive to this day by large sections of the Jewish community. It is also argued that Spurs fans cannot reclaim a word that never belonged to them.
Remember that there is no agreement over the use of the word amongst Spurs fans. Many Jewish supporters, including people who regularly and loyally read this blog and whose views I utterly respect, do not want to hear it at the Lane.
These objections are far more substantial than pointing to the culture of instant outrage and offence that prevails in social media, twitter especially. This week the words of national treasure Stephen Fry have been quoted in support of the view that outraged people can feel what they like but this does not give them rights, that being offended has no meaning other than as an expression of an individual’s feelings. “I am offended by that. Well so f**king what.” I agree but this debate has real heft, formed over decades of anti-Semitism. It’s not about Baddiel, newspaper columnists or even the Chief Rabbi – it has history and substance.
I cannot escape that context. It has over-riding significance for me. As the response was formed in fan interaction, I was there. I don’t use the word yid to describe my identity as a fan. Don’t know why, not something I have thought about, but ask me and I am a Spurs supporter. But I defend the use of the word by Spurs fans. I get the debate, the balance but come down firmly on the side of ‘no objections’.
I might fast become the minority if the FA and the Met have anything to do with it. The one point of agreement for everyone involved in the debate is that there are grey areas of interpretation. Nothing is cut and dried. Back last autumn, around the time of the PM’s comment, the FA deliberated on the matter at length. Their report as described in the papers contains a balanced summary of the debate. However, the FA chose sides, concluding, “The FA considers that the use of the term ‘yid’ is likely to be considered offensive by the reasonable observer.”
It is likely they were conscious not of anything happening on social media but problems around the alleged use of racist and discriminatory language in other prominent cases. Then, significantly, their definition was endorsed by the Met, declaring before the West Ham home league game that fans who use the language could be committing an offence under section 5 of the Public Order Act. A year before, the police publicly stated that fans would not face prosecution in these circumstances. Now, saying the word itself was enough. Only the FA’s reaction has changed, nothing else. Context was erased from the equation.
The law under which the Tottenham Three have been charged refers to section 5, which enables action against words and actions that are ‘threatening, abusive or insulting’. The phrasing of the FA ruling is deliberate and careful. Section 5 requires that offence must be caused. However, this does not mean one or more people present have to be offended before action is taken. It’s another moment in the spotlight for the reasonable man, presumably on top of if not the Clapham omnibus then the 279 to Edmonton.
My understanding is that the element of ‘insulting’ is shortly going to be removed from the law although ‘abusive’ rightly remains. In reality, an insult and abuse might run close together. When this becomes the case, a lawyer I have spoken to suggests that someone using the insult ‘yid’ would not be a criminal act. However, someone being abusive towards a Jew because they are Jewish could be liable for arrest. Again this is not cut and dried. The thorny problem of the definition of abuse remains.
As it stands, we stay with ‘abusive or insulting’. I have no idea about the circumstances of the arrest of these three men, although I believe they relate to two separate incidents, i.e. they weren’t arrested at the same time. Whatever was going on, they were not the only three Spurs fans to use the word in and around White Hart Lane. It seems to me that the FA and Met have ruled on the definition and it is this that will be tested in court.
I have deep misgivings about this case. All Spurs fans are vulnerable if the word is used. I don’t accept that the use of the word devoid of context is abusive. As Spurs fans, it seems highly unlikely they were directing the word as a term of abuse towards other Spurs fans, let alone Jewish people. If it is the word that counts in the absence of context, what happens if I as a Jew use it outside the Lane during a conversation with my yiddisher Spurs pal Dave? We’re a long way from abusive or insulting.
Another decision has been made here. Spurs supporters have been charged, not those of opposition supporters who routinely abuse us. I could mount a case that hissing noises, songs about concentration camps and Nazi salutes in the High Road are abusive and insulting, and not just to Jews but to other minorities. The FA has adopted a position so contorted that they are gazing up their own backsides.
The Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust have tracked this case and have pointed people in the direction of advice and representation. They say that, “It remains our firm belief that, used in a football context by Tottenham Hotspur supporters, there is no intent or desire to offend any member of the Jewish Community.” I agree wholeheartedly.
I wonder too about any wider implications for fans in general. The police these days have a sophisticated approach to policing football matches. This implies an interventionist approach at odds with current tactics. After all, police at grounds all over the country have let anti-Semitic abuse directed towards our supporters go past without any action. I have asked police officers in the past why this is. They reply that they can’t prove that any one individual is the culprit. yet the police around our club have made a decision relating to three fans. Also, those officers are acting on orders, which I suggest revolve the idea common in the football policing which is, keep a lid on trouble, if it is in one place it can be controlled and don’t provoke anything more.
Will these tactics change, in the Met and/or elsewhere? Will fans of other clubs be in danger of a word being taken as indicating a possible breach of the law? it seems a reasonable question.
Finally, evidence from twitter suggests this has not increased popular understading of the issues or decreased anti-Semitic abuse one iota. Every day there are examples of fans of other clubs using the Y word as abuse. When challenged, they often dismiss it as not being anti-Semitic, ‘it’s what you call yourselves’, ‘it doesn’t mean anything.’ They are wrong of course but there’s precious little evidence of progress. Plus we return to the problem that this goes unpunished yet three Spurs fans are in the dock. I remain extremely uncomfortable about the whole situation, for Spurs fans and others. I fully the appreciate the deep and complex debate, but to me, in the end this is plain wrong.