‘…I do genuinely believe that the word, and its use at Tottenham, has helped me to understand an element of history that so many choose to ignore’
The impact of the Y Word
Firstly, let me preface this piece by saying these are the views of a non-Jewish Tottenham fan from North London and should thus, in no way, be taken at higher value than those of any Jew – whether they’re a Spurs fan or not. It’s a personal story of my relationship with Tottenham, the Jewish faith and the ‘Y word’.
I began going to Tottenham aged five and was largely oblivious to the use of the word and its connotations. I would hear 30,000ish people stomping and clapping and saying a word – it took me a few games to figure out what that word even was. Similarly for chants using the word such as ‘Who let the Y*** out?’. Growing up as a British Asian Hindu, I had no real exposure to Judaism pre-Tottenham.
As I grew older, I began to learn the context behind the word, why it was viewed as problematic, and why many Jews were both offended and disgusted by its use at Spurs. And, being totally frank, I sang it anyway. I continued to wear it as a badge of pride, as many Spurs fans do – a sign of equality, a means of making Jews feel included and part of the club against a tirade of anti-Semitism that has reared its ugly head with some force in recent years. I have since gone on to learn that it never truly went away.
I remember being in secondary school and playing ‘FIFA’ with mates, or discussing it, and often hearing them refer to the word ‘sweaty goal’ or ‘Jew goal’ – when you run at the keeper, square the ball to an unmarked teammate who taps the ball into an open goal. Even then, the connotations of the word rang alarm bells in my head, and I remember telling friends not to use it as it implied the usual tropes – Jews are cheap, this way of scoring goals is cheap and below the belt. I also played the role of Shylock from ‘The Merchant of Venice’ in a GCSE Drama production at school, a role I both chose to play and one that taught me even more about the Jewish plight in William Shakespeare’s time. It’s still my favourite Shakespeare play.
My sixth form college in London was incredibly diverse – with students of various backgrounds; Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, atheists and of course – Jews. For those who have followed my story on Twitter (story lol, you’re not a celeb Nik), you’ll have also seen I spent seven years as a voluntary Press Officer at Wingate & Finchley Football Club in the seventh tier of the English game. For those of you, I assume most, who aren’t aware, Wingate FC was founded in London in 1946 as a way to combat anti-Semitism in the UK after the Second World War. Both of these experiences brought me in contact with more Jews than I had been before, and many grew to be among my closest friends – and still are to this day.
My own pride in the word didn’t end there. At university, I wrote my English degree dissertation on the topic of ‘anti-Semitism and alterity in dramatic literature’ – based on three well-known plays – because of my growing understanding of the atrocities that Jews have faced throughout history, not just in the past two centuries.
When travelling around Europe on city breaks, I always seek out the city’s Jewish quarter, Holocaust museum or remembrance site. Perhaps I would have done all of this without Tottenham, but I genuinely believe my long-standing understanding of the issue helped me to appreciate all of this more.
Obviously, I continued going to Spurs and continued singing the Y word as it bellowed around White Hart Lane, then Wembley and the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. To me, it was still a case of defending our own fans, providing a counter attack to the horrible hissing, Hitler chants and foreskin songs that were sent our way by opposition fans. In this case, they deserve calling out.
West Ham are, far and away, the biggest culprits of this. The club has an incredible education job on its hands because if those songs were sung about other minorities in public, there would be serious criminal repercussions. In my experience, Chelsea sit in second place. Ironically, both clubs have owners with Jewish heritage (David Gold and Roman Abramovich). And, I still stand by the fact that both these clubs – among others – are much more in the wrong than Spurs fans on this issue.
The issue around Israel and Palestine is a contentious one, and I’m not about to enter a political debate here – this is neither the forum nor am I the right person. However, I have seen swathes of anti-Semitism in the UK as a result of actions taken by a government thousands of miles away. British Jews are not at fault for the actions of the Israeli government, many I know don’t even agree with Israel. But they’re all tarred by one, big, anti-Semitic brush nonetheless. This gave me more reason to chant the Y-word louder.
However, in light of the events of the past 18 months or so, with the rising global voice for equality after the killing of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter protests and various other instances of minority groups standing up and refusing to be knocked down, I’ve begun thinking.
Yes, I have always referred to myself as a ‘Y**’. Yes, I have always referred to Spurs fans as a collective group of ‘Y***’, including the ‘We sang it in France…’ chant. And yes, I have only ever done this with pride and as a show of allyship. However, if the call – as per The Athletic’s recent piece – from the majority of Jews, Spurs or otherwise, is that we should stop using the word, perhaps it’s high time we did?
At the end of the day, if the people we’re trying to defend feel the word does more harm than good, that’s the ultimate opinion that should matter. I firmly believe our use of the word helped to bring a sense of togetherness at the club, especially for Jewish fans, but there’s also every chance it gave the anti-semites a stick to beat us with. And, at the end of the day, their use of the word will cause far more offence to Jews than non-Jews.
Our fans, however, can be just as guilty – look at the way Daniel Levy is described by many: “tight git”, “cheap” and “bargain hunter”. Do any other owners or chairmen receive that criticism on such a wide scale?
It may sound extreme, but I genuinely believe that my experience as a Spurs fan shaped my relationship with and understanding of the Jewish plight and anti-Semitism. I’m often the first to jump to Jews’ defence, be it online or in person – because of the casual nature of tropes thrown around. I don’t claim to be the best ally ever, or anything of the kind, but it’s allowed me to appreciate the issue so much more.
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