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Why Spurs Fans Must Never Stop Singing The Y-Word

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My earliest football-related memory takes me back to Stamford Bridge somewhere in the mid-nineties. Yet the action on the pitch remains to me as hazy as the date, score or any other facts arising from the game. All I can really gather in my mind is an interminable whistling from the fans surrounding me. I knew even then, at the age of 8 or 9, what it denoted and to this day I don't recall feeling as alienated, as a British Jew, as I did then.

It was the hiss of the gas chambers.

You can only imagine what other hate filled slurs were screamed from the terraces that day, though my dad and I didn't stay long.

Since then, I've been fortunate and have mixed in circles where racism rarely features. A while ago at university, a friend of a friend who came to stay for the weekend repeatedly referred to me as Shylock, Shakespeare's literary depiction of a miserly Jew. Quite imaginative, yes, but I wondered if he would dare to conjure up an equivalent black or Muslim literary caricature in similar circumstances.

Over the years, Tottenham Hotspur FC has built up a reputation as a Jewish club. This is because the North London area is relatively densely populated by Jews and many of the club's owners, including current chief Daniel Levy, are Jewish. Though Arsenal also hold links to the faith, it is not quite so prevalent, perhaps because their roots lie in Woolwich.

In a moving response to anti-Semitic chants from rival fans, the Spurs faithful, most of whom are not Jewish, adopted the banner Yid Army. Rather than disassociate themselves from the religion, they embraced it. But now politically correct censors are lurking with their rule books as comedian David Baddiel and Peter Herbert of the Society of Black Lawyers intend to make the chant illegal.

Baddiel rightly questions whether a Brixton-based club would allow their fans to chant the N-word at matches.

But there are key differences. The N-word evokes images of slavery which spanned centuries and the term itself suggests black people are inferior. Yid is a neutral term for Jew that depends entirely on intent. Baddiel said the test is to walk up to a Jewish person outside of football and shout 'Yid' in his face and see how he reacts. But if you bellowed 'Jew', 'Muslim' or 'Christian' at somebody you didn't know, it would be equally inflammatory, though these are not inherently offensive terms.

At a time when free speech is particularly vulnerable and people are being arrested for daft or even menacing expressions of opinion such as burning a poppy, do we really want to start banning words without really taking into consideration their intent and etymology just because it upsets certain people?

One of the champions of free speech, Salmon Rushdie, said: "There is no right in the world not to be offended. That right simply doesn't exist. In a free society, an open society, people have strong opinions, and these opinions very often clash. In a democracy, we have to learn to deal with this."

Many people have been offended by Baddiel's comedy routine over the years, but that does not mean he should be gagged. Likewise, while Spurs' recital of Yid may cause offence to a self-righteous minority, we absolutely cannot as a society keep resorting to the censors, particularly when intent is decent.

The most poignant stance on the matter came from a blog by Lee Taylor, a Spurs fan brought up in Hackney in the 70s who got caught up in racism as a kid. He became a skinhead and "did all the things you're supposed to do - Union Jack badges, red laces in your boots and hanging around street corners looking aggressive to anyone different to you".

But when Lee attended his first ever Tottenham game, he got talking to a black boy from his school. They soon became best friends, travelling up and down the country to watch games together.

He said: "We were no longer black or white - we were yids.

"We became the Yid Army, standing up for the Jewish community who support our team.

"We wear that badge with pride. There is nothing wrong in being Jewish and the 36,000 people alongside me agree.

"Your hissing sounds will not intimidate me as I have the rest of the Yid Army by my side!"

What better tonic for the startled and isolated 8-year-old child at Stamford Bridge, and for the multitude of others who have been made to feel insignificant because of who they are? For Spurs fans, Yid is not synonymous with Jew. It incorporates all minorities and makes Tottenham unique as the outstanding multicultural, accepting club in Europe.

The most common chant of the past decade at White Hart Lane concerns a devout Christian black man: 'Jermaine Defoe, he's a Yiddo'. With all the racial issues in football of late, this message should be reinforced, not condemned.

The most worrying assertion by Baddiel is that the use of Yid by Spurs fans incites followers of other clubs to be racist. For me, that is like saying black people should not play football as it only encourages morons to make monkey signs at them, as we've seen in recent weeks. If we let racists take away our emblem of togetherness, then they've won.

Surely then the comedian and Peter Herbert should focus on bigots with intent to hurt rather than a touching adoption of a minority symbol as a badge of honour.

As Lee puts it, "we are all as one, one community, we are Yids together".