The Blog that's not always wrong.

Monday, 28 July 2008

Some of my best friends

I have never been entirely comfortable with the habit of some of Spurs most committed fans referring to themselves as 'Yiddos' or to proclaim that Keano or whoever is a 'Yid'.
In my experience 'Yid'is normally a term of abuse and has been used by opponents in this way. Historically the term has a pejorative aspect when used by people who are not Jews. But Spurs fans use the phrase 'Yid Army and chant 'Yiddo' as a battle cry and with pride. In Yiddish the word can mean 'mate' or 'fellow',so there is an argument for it being used in a more neutral way. But I'm not sure that Spurs fans derive their usage from this source. I believe that it is used defiantly in a pre-emptive attempt to rob the phrase of its ability to harm.

I understand that Ajax who have a largely non Jewish fan base use Jewish symbols as a mark of Amsterdam's historical association with its large Jewish population which was largely wiped out by the Nazis during the Second World War. This in turn has provoked opponents to use the chants against them and provoked some vicious scenes. Hissing to imitate the gas chambers has been reported at Ajax and Chelsea games and no doubt many others , and there are catalogues of bone chilling chants that are clearly anti semitic and plain ignorant racism. Now Chelsea have as many Jewish fans as Tottenham and have at present a Jewish owner and last season a short lived Jewish manager but it is Spurs that have adopted the mantle with pride and encouraged a response in the same way as Ajax but for different historical reasons. Arsenal in a similar way have adopted the phrase 'gooner' for themselves and this robs it of its power to wound. I would imagine too that there are as many Jewish supporters at Arsenal as there are at Spurs or Chelsea.

There are obviously positive and negative aspects to this. Tottenham fans and the club have been in the forefront of anti-racist campaigns and it reflects the club's supporters and managements Jewish connections. The Jews have a long history of persecution all over the world and an equally long and distinguished history of being able to use humour against themselves as a solace and a defensive posture. The adoption of the mantle of Jewishness as a pro-active weapon is a logical development.

Now I am not unhappy because I am not Jewish although technically as my mother was a non Jew I am not. My father ,who was a tailor in the East End between the wars ,was a Jew; my uncle was a rabbi . My father was killed in the war and I don't remember him at all. His family left Lithuania to avoid the pogroms of the 20's. They wound up in Germany in the early 30's and decided to keep moving, obviously in the circumstances a wise decision. The family ended up running a handbag stall in Petticoat Lane after the war. After the death of my father at El Alamein in 1943 my mother and I lost contact with the family who I believe emigrated to America.

So although I identify in some ways with my fellow supporters I am an outsider to the perennial outsiders: the outsiders outsider you might say. I am fearful that
they will bring down dire retribution by drawing attention to themselves and by not having the protection of being inside the stockade with my fellow Yids I look on with some trepidation for their well-being and perhaps in a strange way my own.

So being alone on the outside is perhaps the source of my discomfort and in fact should I be looking with admiration at my fellow fans who wear their Jewishness with pride or are proud to identify with a group much maligned and 'spat upon'; to identify with the proud history of the club and its stand against racism,and anti-semitism over many years. References to 'Yids ' have been traced back to the Mosley fascist marches of the late 30's in the East End and some date the adoption of the term by Tottenham supporters from these events. Certainly as many fans attest by the late sixties the practice of calling themselves 'Yids' was well established. The club itself investigated the use of these terms last year after incidents at half time at W. Ham much to the derision of the Spurs fans themselves. The results are not at all clear cut but there were some fears that Spurs supporters who used the phrase 'Yid Army' might be inviting anti semitic retaliation. Now although there are historical reasons for Tottenham supporters to embrace Jewishness it is evident that Jewish fans are in the minority at Spurs and that the 'Yid' and 'Yid army' labels are embraced by both Jewish and non Jewish supporters. When they use it it is clearly not racist or anti semitic: it means 'Spurs Fans' not Jews and it has a historical context.

I don't want to stop Spurs fans from using it and couldn't even if I wanted to. When blogging I use these phrases myself in the same way that Spurs fans use it. But I still feel anxious when I hear it or read about it. It has been a perennial topic on Spurs forums over the years and is largely unresolved and probably unresolvable. I am going to put down my anxieties to my own peculiar circumstances and trust in the good sense of my fellow fans to use the phrases in the wholehearted supportive context that they do now and not slip into abusive responses even when under pressure themselves.

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