By Tony Attwood
I am not one of those people who believe that Tottenham Hotspur is somehow an evil institution whose supporters are seriously demented. My view has always been, we support who we support generallyby chance, in my case because both my parents, and both sets of grandparents supported Arsenal. I had no choice. That is what I was born into.
As such I have friends and acquaintances who support other clubs, and we get on fine, generally managing to have interesting conversations about how they see the successes and failures of their club as I seek to find out if they have equivalents of the AAA and the like.
But on one issue I have endlessly been critical of Tottenham, and that is over their failure to deal with the homophobic behaviour of some of their supporters – most especially in relation to Sol Campbell after his transfer. It was not just a case of abuse of a man, but the level and style of the abuse that I felt went so far beyond what is acceptable, that Tottenham (who sold the tickets to the people who were chanting and were captured on video) must have known who these people were.
And if a Tottenham supporters want to point out similar behaviour by Arsenal in not dealing with racist, anti-Semitic or homophobic behaviour I’d stand alongside them. My view is that at football matches, you can expect the language of the street – that is part of the deal. If you don’t want to hear a chant of “Fergie’s rent boy” then don’t go.
But there is a difference between that and the chanting that Sol Campbell had to endure. In short, somewhere there is a limit. Our argument is probably mostly about where the line is drawn.
There is however another issue, and I have touched on it before. The use of the word “Yid”. I was brought up in north London at a time when the word “Yid” was widely used, and indeed I recall my father (who never swore, and never made any racist comments) calling members of the Jewish faith, “Yids”. And I would add that my father faithfully served his country in the second world war in the fight against fascism and its anti-Semitic policies. He didn’t spit at them, boycott their shops, jeer those members of the faith who always wear particular style clothes etc etc. He didn’t discriminate – he just used that word.
So I suppose I start from the position that “Yid” is not that awful a word. In fact as a child I probably considered it a word like “Yob” – meaning a rude teenager. Just a slang word. What makes the matter even more difficult is that there are quite a few (I have no idea what proportion it represents) of Tottenham fans who call themselves the Yid Army.
Arsenal on the other had got rid of any use of the word Yid at Highbury some years ago, although inaction by the stewards now means that it has come back, and can be regularly heard. At away games it is fairly central to the chanting.
Now the Society of Black Lawyers have become involved and threatened to make a complaint to police over claims that anti-Semitic abuse is taking place at White Hart Lane. Tottenham Hotspur, most interestingly, have come down on the side of their supporters.
Peter Herbert, of the Society of Black Lawyers, recently said, “It does not make a difference if it is Tottenham fans doing the chants or away fans – if they continue to do it we will report it to the police. There has to be zero tolerance and if that catches out Spurs then so be it. If neither Tottenham FC nor the FA are willing to take a stand then SBL will report the matter to the Metropolitan Police Service for investigation and, if necessary, prosecution. The report will be made if this behaviour does not cease by 20 November. We will have monitors in attendance to observe what occurs.”
I have a real problem here because while I fully accept that many words are utterly unacceptable anywhere anytime because of their racist, homophobic or anti-Semitic history, where a word is in common use life gets more complex.
Tottenham’s response that they have a defence because Tottenham fans have been subject to taunts about the Holocaust really doesn’t work for me. I can’t see how you can say, “they say nasty things about us, so we can use our own words in defence”. If that is so, anyone can say anything.
Tottenham said, “Our guiding principle in respect of the ‘Y-word’ is based on the point of law itself – the distinguishing factor is the intent with which it is used – if it is used with the deliberate intention to cause offence. This has been the basis of prosecutions of fans of other teams to date. “Our fans adopted the chant as a defence mechanism in order to own the term and thereby deflect anti-Semitic abuse. They do not use the term to others to cause any offence, they use it as a chant amongst themselves.
“The club believes that real anti-Semitic abuse such as hissing to simulate the noise of gas chambers is the real evil and the real offence. We believe this is the area that requires a determined and concerted effort from all parties and where we seek greater support to eradicate.”
There is a lot in that, and Tottenham’s position would be unassailable if they had acted seriously to stop the abuse by their supporters of Sol Campbell and by extension anyone suspected of being gay. But the infamous incident at Portsmouth where substantial numbers of supporters kept up the chant all the way through the evening match and were filmed, and had bought their tickets through the club, suggests there is a certain laxness about Tottenham here.
But I would say also, there is a laxness at Arsenal too. Arsenal has family enclosures, where one might hope that extremely foul language was not being shouted out by supporters around and about. Otherwise what is the point of the family enclosure in an all seater stadium? (Actually the whole family enclosure system at Arsenal is a nonsense since anyone over 65 who wants to get a discount as a result of being a pensioner has to go into the family enclosure!!!).
I did complain on behalf of a friend recently, and was told that anything heard should be report to a steward. But that is nonsense. The stewards were a few feet away and could hear the word C*** as well as the anti-Semitic words all the time. Why did it need a supporter to complain? They should have been taking action.
I don’t suggest there is any simple answer here. Tottenham’s response within itself is valid – its own supporters use the offensive word as a means of self-defence – and that in itself is a clever defensive use of language. Arsenal has no real comparison. We started out in the 19th century with the team being called “The Reds” and the fans being called the Gunners. By the inter-war years the team and fans were called the Gunners. Sometime around the 1980s the hard-core fans (the nearest we had to Ultras) became the Gooners. Now we are all Gooners. Not an offensive word anywhere.
There is a further problem. At the Portsmouth v Tottenham game there was filming of all the Tottenham supporters going on, and they all had bought their tickets from Tottenham, so they could be identified, and could have been arrested for homophobic and offensive behaviour. The police and the club were all guilty of a dereliction of duty.
But at many games this is not so easy. At the average Arsenal away game there is singing about the profession of the mother of whoever happens to be the Tottenham manager. Is that to be allowed or not? And there are several chants that end with a fading out of “Yid-do Yid-do”. Is that to be criminalised?
And what of Liverpool fans doing airplane impersonations in reference to the Munich disaster? And I suspect there is a Man U equivalent relating to Heysel stadium, reserved for Liverpool fans.
I have no idea of the answer – only that there are some extreme positions which should be prosecuted. But I am just not sure where lines are drawn.
Football has always been the game of the people, and by and large people are quite often thoroughly unpleasant. We live under a government that seems in total denial that there is any such thing as social pressure which makes people behave in unpleasant ways, so they are left prosecuting individuals.
But maybe, as I have suggested before, they also ought to look at the sort of society that their policies create.
Except that as all these old Etonians and old Harrovians say, “there is no such things as society.”
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