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As a Jewish Spurs fan, I saw Y-word chants as a form of solidarity. But they have to go

By Mark Solomons

Mark Solomons is a journalist, PR specialist and lifelong Spurs fan. This article was published in The Guardian on Monday 14 February, 2022, and we thank Mark for giving his permission to use it in full.

In 1982, I started work, joined a union and bought my first Tottenham Hotspur season ticket with my first week’s wages. As a bolshie teenager I figured before too long that I could rely on the three S’s: Spurs, the Smiths and socialism. They’ve all let me down since.

Yet I continue to fork out on a season ticket, just as my dad and his dad did, along with thousands of other Jews who lived alongside them in Stepney and Whitechapel. My son is following the tradition. After 2,000 years of suffering, what’s a few more decades?

However, unlike his dad and previous generations, his experience at Spurs is unlikely to include the kind of antisemitism we faced from away fans, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s. The Chelsea fans singing: “I’ve never felt more like gassing the Jews,” the West Ham fans with their version of I’m Only a Poor Little Sparrow, which included the Y-word and also the line “I hit him with a brick”.

Spurs fans, mostly non-Jewish, adopted the Y-word in their own chants as a form of defence and defiance. If we owned the word, then its use by others would cease to be so offensive. But in recent years, the whole Y-thing has become the subject of increasing debate about whether it is time to drop it from chants, particularly those emanating from the Park Lane end.

On Thursday 10 February, Tottenham put out a long and, it must be said, well-argued and considered statement calling time on the use by fans of the Y-word. It claimed most of the 23,000 supporters who took part in a club survey were, at the very least, uncomfortable with its use.

I suspect many of them are from the greater Spurs diaspora rather than those who go to matches – particularly away games, where songs such as The Thing I Love Most is Being a Y** and Y** Army are sung by, if not the majority, then a substantial minority.

It’s no surprise that Tottenham have acted now. Football is trying hard to eliminate racism and discrimination and the club, quite naturally, feel chanting the Y-word is incompatible with this.

For what it’s worth, I don’t chant it, but that’s not because I object. It’s because I sit in the section reserved for grumpy old men who spend the whole game kvetching about players and their inadequacies.

I have always been defensive about our use of the word against those who campaign to ban it, notably David Baddiel, a Chelsea fan with whom I agree on almost every other matter pertaining to antisemitism. I’ve felt the chants, and the spectacle of thousands of non-Jewish Spurs fans identifying with Jews, to be a source of pride. For me, it spoke to inclusivity, acceptance and solidarity.

But when I speak to Jewish friends who obstinately support other teams – mostly Arsenal, some West Ham – they tell me they genuinely feel uncomfortable about the chants. And that makes me feel uncomfortable about its wider impact, however it feels to us in the stadium at Tottenham.

It is hard, perhaps impossible, to dictate to a football crowd. So don’t be surprised if official disapproval results, for a while at least, in the chants being voiced more loudly than ever. If they peter out, it will be because something equally scabrous but less culturally loaded replaces them. I won’t be sad. Perhaps it’s time.