Wednesday, March 7, 2007

The trouble with Spurs’ identity - Margin

Once upon a time - so the story goes - Tottenham Hotspur were a Jewish club. The vague mists of history conspired to turn that very simple fact into the modern club’s identity. And that Jewish identity now invites racism from the fans of other teams.

This myth is so strongly ingrained that chairmen have defended anti-Semitism because of it. Ken Bates argued that Spurs should not bait racist Chelsea fans with their Jewish solidarity. West Ham’s owners are not so vulgar, but following the ‘seig heils’ at Upton Park this week, the football authorities have rushed to condemn the victims.

The Kick it Out campaign, the Premier League, and the Football Association have called an emergency meeting with the Tottenham hierarchy. It is the second such meeting. Last year’s one condemned the club and called for action to eliminate the chants.

To these people Spurs must stop pretending they are still Jewish. After all, ‘yid’ is an insulting term that should be silenced everywhere. And they are right that the club is not quantifiably a Jewish one.

In 2007 they have no more Jewish fans, players or board members than near neighbours Arsenal. But that misses the point. Spurs were never Jewish. The myth is wrong. The identity isn’t what they think.

When the old firms travelled the country West Ham and Chelsea had particularly nasty factions. The National Front would recruit at Upton Park, and Combat 18 infiltrated Chelsea. Both clubs deserve praise for their successful fight to remove the racist garbage, though that praise if not often given.

But in the 1970s when such scum travelled to White Hart Lane, they passed through South Tottenham with its large community of orthodox Jews. Primed by that sight they arrived in full Nazi voice, chanting against the vile Hebrew filth. To racists like them no insult could be more pure than ‘yid’.

And so from the darkness of 1970s football the Yid Army grew. Spurs fans took anti-Semitism as anti-Semitism. They opposed it in the only way they could. No committees. No meetings. No do-gooders. They chanted en masse. They took Judaism to their hearts. And they shouted down a scourge that deserved to be confronted.

So when the ill-informed men in suits display their intellectual sensitivity at that meeting with Spurs bosses, expect the club to ignore them.

There will be a consultation and some high minded agreement to tackle racism. But Spurs won’t give up their anti-racist identity. And does anyone really think they should?


bluedaddy said...

So margin, are you saying that FA, KIO, etc want to meet with SPURS? Not West Ham? This is nuts.

What do you feel re the removal of the footage from Youtube etc? I guess the clips amount to incitement, and it's the police who request it, but I prefer the 'know your enemy' tack. I want to see and hear from these people.

olivier said...

offsideintahiti said...

Is this common knowledge in England? Would it be one of the first associations to come to mind when people think of Tottenham? I had certainly never heard of it before.

Are there any other clubs with unusual/quirky identity issues, religious or otherwise?

andrewm said...

offside, Spurs "being Jewish" is common knowledge but I doubt anyone who doesn't go to WHL ever gives it a thought until incidents like this. It's certainly not one of the things I think of when I think of Spurs.

mimi said...

Until this recent fuss, I had no idea that Spurs were a Jewish team. Why would I? It was all stuff that happened before I was born, and anyway, they are not my team. This is obviously a controversial piece, and probably too difficult for GU to deal with. Glad to see it up here for all of us to read.

andrewm said...

mimi, I don't know how closely you follow football but it's just one of those things you hear about sooner or later, or should I say become aware of.

offside, I think it's more or less a one-off.

Margin said...

They have called for a meeting with spurs for the 17th of March. No such meeting is planned with West Ham.

On the youtube video I think the police were right to pull it. Not because it was offensive, but because it could prejudice a court case and undermine their chances of a conviction.

As Andrewm said, it isn't given a lot of thought. Most young Spurs fans don't even think about it. They just chant 'Yiddo' at their favourite players because thats the recognised sign of respect, not because its Jewish.

Identities like that are rare in England, though in Scotland clubs often divide along religious lines.(eg in Glasgow - Celtic are catholic and Rangers are Protestant.)


always pleased to be controversial.

pipita said...

Id also heard about Spurs were association with jews. I even remember once going to arsenal-everton at highbury, and every time Barmby touched the ball, a twat sitting very near me would scream "Barmby you yid" just because he had played for spurs. In Argentina their is a team called Atlanta, formerly in the first division now lingering in the third division, who have also been associated with judaism, because their are many jews in the area where their stadium is located.

Margin said...

It is interesting to hear of an Argentine equivelent. There is a Dutch equivelent too.
Ajax fans historically sing "Super-Joden" to their team, which literally means "super Jews".
I don't know enough hostory about Ajax to know how that came about though.

mimi said...

Margin: tell me about it re Scottish clubs. I moved to the far North of Scotland 6 years ago, knowing nothing, but even in my small village miles away from glasgow, there is massive ill-feeling between the 2 teams. I don't have feelings for either (still supporting my team back in England) but I have realised how careful you have to be in any comments about matches.

pipita said...


The Atlanta fans make no such references. A few years ago, however, when Atlanta played their most hated rivals Chacarita Juniors, and the fans of the latter team threw pieces of soap onto the pitch, this ghastly incident caused a general reaction of outrage amongst argentine public opinion.

andrewm said...

mimi, I know you didn't ask me, and I don't live in Glasgow, but I'll tell you my experience of growing up among Old Firm fans if you're interested.

In Scotland (as you probably know there is a lot of interest in the Old Firm in Northern Ireland and the Republic, on which I won't comment) my experience is that Old Firm fans in general no longer hate each other for religious reasons, if they ever did. They have an incredibly intense rivalry - I really doubt you could match it anywhere in the world for depth of feeling - but aside from the moron fringe it is a footballing rivalry and no more (both of course have lots of fans who have no direct connection to Glasgow and no religious angle).

Even the most levelheaded of fans of either Celtic or Rangers will rarely make a generous comment about the other side.

Even the most mild-mannered Old Firm fan has an intense dislike for anything to do with the other team.

That's how it is.

Margin said...

Thats a really horrible incident. I'm glad it caused outrage. Was anything done to Chacarita Juniors by the AFA?

MotM said...

Back in the days when Spurs and Everton were two of the Big Five (Ha! Ha!), as an away fan, it was always strange to hear all these Jewish references at White Hart Lane. I didn't understand it then and, despite the blog, I'm not sure I understand it now.

I take Bluedaddy's point about knowing the enemy, but this stuff comforts the racists and makes them feel part of the youtube club, not the warped pariahs they are. I'm glad it's removed.

mimi said...

andrewm: interesting. I wonder how it translates here in Hopeman. Our nearest clubs are Aberdeen and ICT but neither of these provoke the knee-jerk hatred that mentioning the wrong one between Celtic and Rangers does. There is definitely more than football at stake and it does resonate horribly, with me of violence on the streets of Derry.

pipita said...


Im not sure, but there is a non-dicrimination law that is frequently applied here, so Im pretty sure Chacarita were sanctioned. As you may know, Argentina has the second largest jewish community in America, so a large percentage of the society here is pretty sensitive about these matters

Daniel said...

Good article Margin.
As a non Jewish Spurs supporter from Wales, I used to feel slightly uneasy about the "yids" chants at White Hart lane.
After last years FA cup final I was subjected to a tirade of anti-semitic abuse from a group of West Ham fans who had spotted my Tottenham badge as I stood outside a pub with my Liverpool supporting friends.
That incident changed my attitude toward its use.

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