James Lawton: Proper way to fight anti-Semitism is not by enlisting in a 'Yid Army'

It is the eagerness to hate in the game which has become so dispiriting

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The Independent Football

Harry Redknapp chose well the word to describe what is happening inside so many English football grounds.

There was a rage in his voice for the most compelling of reasons because the latest atrocity of the spirit came in a match between Spurs and West Ham, the clubs where his youth was shaped in the company of some of the greatest players ever to grace the English game.

Men like the quicksilver genius Jimmy Greaves and Bobby Moore, who reached a pinnacle of sportsmanship the day he embraced and exchanged shirts with football's ultimate performer, Pele.

Redknapp said that what was happening was a convergence of filth and who could disagree?

How else can you categorise the behaviour of those West Ham fans who gloried in the violence inflicted on peaceable Spurs supporters – and left one of them fighting for his life – in Rome and at the same time launched the latest tide of anti-Semitic chanting?

Filth it is. There is apparently no longer anything that can be declared safely out of bounds. No chant or gesture is so vile that it cannot be aired, no impulse so unspeakably wretched that it must be contained.

Not so long ago some of football's leading names pleaded for the game's version of truth and reconciliation when Manchester United visited Anfield a few days after Prime Minister David Cameron apologised for the monstrous injustices inflicted on the dead of Hillsborough.

It was time to start healing wounds and crying for decency. But could the haters let it be? Of course they couldn't. Some Liverpool fans gestured the flight of a crashing airplane. United supporters sang of victims who are never to blame. Before it was done, the new day of peace reeked of the old filth.

Those who pleaded for a new start might just as well have howled into the night.

And so it goes, on and on and on. At Stamford Bridge it was shocking to see the institutionalised hatred directed at Rafa Benitez. Whatever the complaints Chelsea fans may have had over the dismissal of their hero Roberto Di Matteo, they could not be legitimised by the operating spirit of a lynch mob.

It is the eagerness to hate which has become so progressively dispiriting – and which has persuaded so many parents that taking their children to an English football match is to risk the warping of their spirit, their understanding of quite what constitutes grown-up conduct.

Nearly 40 years ago one heard the great manager Bill Nicholson bellow over the public address system at Feyenoord to rioting Spurs fans, "Stop it... You make me ashamed to be an Englishman."

Old Bill Nick sought to draw a line but sadly it was obliterated long before he died.

West Ham's Big Sam Allardyce yesterday stiffened his reaction to Sunday's outrage at White Hart Lane with the statement that no one can condone racist chanting. Well, no, but surely we have passed the point of a moral debate about what is right and wrong. Surely we need to draw a line around all the disfiguring behaviour and call it a cordon sanitaire, a line of quarantine, a point at which football must fight to preserve for itself some meaning beyond the worst of tribal hatred.

Some will be encouraged by the initiative of Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck in suing for peace with the referees after the appalling treatment of Mark Clattenburg. It may just be a sign that there is indeed a dawning sense that English football has never been more in need of some dramatic reappraisal of the degree in the slide in its values.

There may also be some reconsideration at Tottenham of their first stance in approving of the self-styling of a large group of their supporters as the "Yid Army". Tottenham agreed with the Metropolitan Police that this had a positive purpose, that the intent was to take ownership of the word that perhaps more than any other in history, certainly European history, had come to represent the most murderous hate.

What do you really do with such a word once you come to own it? There is nothing to do with it but wipe it from the language of a decent society.

Beyond debate, though, is football's need to clean its house. More than that, the call must be for fumigation.

However well-meaning, Tottenham's toleration of the song of a largely gentile "Yid Army" is still a form of dealing with the devil. Chelsea's move towards some kind of accommodation with Clattenburg is certainly welcome but it hardly diminishes the scale of the problem the whole affair underlined.

The crisis concerns both deteriorating standards of behaviour and discipline. So the hate-mongers have to be hunted down and banned, just as those within the game who so regularly abandon their responsibilities have to feel the threat of something more than censure. Mere disinfectant will no longer do.