You know what they say: three Jewish Davids, four arguments.
Earlier this week, Josephs bookshop in north London hosted the launch of my paperback Does Your Rabbi Know You’re Here?, which documents the previously untold story of Anglo-Jewry’s 100-year involvement in football. And guess what? The three distinguished guest speakers – two of them former FA chairmen, the other a former Arsenal and FA vice-chairman – all had different answers to the inevitable opening question from the audience: “Should the Y-word be banned.”
For those unware of the issue, the Football Association (FA) have stated that the word “Yid” should not be used at football grounds and warned that its use could amount to a criminal offence. Tottenham Hostpur fans, who call themselves “Yids”, have responded by continuing to chant the word.
At the turn of the 20 Century, Jewish immigrants from Europe mostly settled in London’s East End, an area associated with West Ham United. Yet because White Hart Lane, Tottenham’s ground, was easier to get to using electronic trams, Jews who had bought match tickets in advance felt they were not desecrating the Sabbath - as they were not using a vehicle powered by a combustion engine. Over the following decades, as the community moved northwards, the link was sealed.
This Sabbath desecration business is all very complicated. But it’s got nothing on the Y-word issue.
Interestingly, one of the Davids – Bernstein – had to leave early to attend a Holocaust Educational Trust meeting, which was addressed by David Cameron. It was here, one presumes, that the Prime Minister defended, to the Jewish Chronicle, Spurs fans’ use of the Y word. I agree with Cameron that issuing banning orders against Spurs fans would be wrong. The real culprits are opposition supporters who have sung vile anti-semitic chants at Spurs games for decades. They are the ones who should face bans or criminal charges. Jewish Spurs fans, like gay people reclaiming the word “queer”, have chosen to adopt the word as a badge of honour. Their intentions are positive, celebratory even.
However, I would make three points. First, a large number of Jewish fans of other clubs are offended by the word. To them it is a race hate word on a par with the “N word” and “P word”. Second, opposition fans justify their appalling abuse by citing Spurs fans’ use of the word. And third, the overwhelming majority of Spurs fans who chant it aren’t actually Jewish – so the comparison with “queer pride” doesn’t quite hold up.
Finally, the issue actually diverts attention away from the bigger, and far more interesting, story of the unsung Jewish trailblazers who overcame prejudice and, at times, the prohibitions of their own community, to play a huge role in reshaping, and being reshaped by, the Beautiful Game. It is a story that runs from early 20 Century winger Louis Bookman, the first Jew to play in the top flight, to 1960s star Mark Lazarus, the first Jew to score in a cup final; from superfans like Morris Keston, who temporarily changed his religion to follow Spurs in Egypt a few years after the Suez crisis, to the visionary Jewish businessmen who helped form the breakaway Premier League.
This poignant, and often very funny, story, will be celebrated next month, via the use of memorabilia, film footage and interviews, at a wonderful new exhibition. Rather than focus on such a negative, divisive issue – and one that is marked by so many misconceptions – Four Four Jew will document a 20 Century success story: the 100-year integration of an immigrant community into English society via the world’s greatest game.Reuse content