While the Premier League may dominate in terms of glamour and thrills on the pitch, a battle is being lost against increasingly ugly behaviour in the stands
Anti-semitism. It never ends well, and yet 74 years after the events of World War Two seemed to have proved that blaming the Jews for everything was a definitively bad idea, it was back on the agenda on Tuesday night, ahead of the first leg of Chelsea’s league cup semi-final with Tottenham.
In the build-up to the tie the Metropolitan Police revealed they were working with both clubs to clamp down on anti-semitism with a plan that involved the deployment of 100 additional officers, uniformed “spotters” and a text message hotline for anyone wanting to report abuse. The net result was three arrests, including a 17-year-old boy who was hauled in minutes before kick-off on suspicion of a racially-aggravated public order offense.
The irony of racism in football is that unlike its practitioners, it evolves. As recently as the early 90s a fan dressed as Hitler before a North London derby at Highbury, provoking revulsion, but also some laughter. Arsenal might have one of the most ethnically diverse fan base in the country (second only to Tottenham according to this Twitter survey) but some of their fans used to think absolutely anything was fair game when it came to “winding up” the opposition. This included hurling Mars Bars at Spurs captain Gary Mabbutt on the grounds that he was a diabetic and freezing them first to ensure they did more damage on impact.
While that wasn’t racist, a song called “gas ‘em all,” most certainly was, given that it included the words: “We all love Hitler, ‘cos he was the best, he got six million and we’ll get the rest.”
Tottenham fans responded to years of similar abuse by attempting to reclaim the y-word, habitually thrown at them as insult by the less enlightened supporters of pretty much every team that played them. There was a logic to this as Pakistan cricket fans based in the UK had brilliantly defused some of the racism they faced by singing: “If you’re Paki and you know it clap your hands,” at English cricket grounds.
Tonight's game between @SpursOfficial and @ChelseaFC promises to be an exciting game and we hope that remains the focus.
But let's be clear – antisemitism is unacceptable and has absolutely no place in football. If you see or hear it, report it to us. #TOTCHE pic.twitter.com/ynrkWnQWW0
— Kick It Out (@kickitout) January 8, 2019
When Spurs supporters began to sing the Yid Army song, however, it put their board in a no-win situation. It was easy for Arsenal’s board to condemn anti-semitism, because they didn’t need to defend a song that contained racially offensive language.
It’s similarly easy for Chelsea’s board to say they have a zero tolerance policy on racism, especially now John Terry has gone. Tottenham’s official policy, however, is to have zero tolerance for anti-semitism while arguing this song is not intended to cause offense.
This may be true, but it effectively torpedoes any chance of prosecuting a rival fan for using the word yid as a racial epithet. In 2013 the Jewish comedian David Baddiel, a Chelsea fan, argued that there was no way the authorities would tolerate a group of predominantly white English fans using the N-word to describe themselves, whatever their intention.
It’s no surprise that this issue has resurfaced. In the six years since Baddiel wrote his article, hate crime in the UK has soared (up 40 percent last year alone) and these statistics don’t include the Chelsea fans who were prosecuted for singing: “We’re racist and that’s the way we like it,” and shoving a black man off a train in Paris.
Reports of racist incidents at English football grounds also continue to rise, up 22 percent last season according to the charity Kick It Out.
If those arrested on Tuesday night go to court, their lawyers will almost certainly point to the thousands of Tottenham fans who sing “Yid Army” at every single match. The song might be innocent, but it offers hardcore racists the defence of hypocrisy. For that reason alone, it’d probably be a good idea for Spurs fans to stop singing it until the real fascists are driven back into their sewers.