Sunday 22 September 2013

Four Four Jew

That other feature on  Sunday  deserves a post to itself, as it was quite interesting.

Using David Cameron and Ed Miliband's statement that the use of the word 'Yid' by Spurs supporters isn't anti-Semitic as a peg, the BBC's Bob Walker went to Four Four Jew, a new exhibition at London's Jewish Museum charting the historical links between football and the UK's Jewish community. 

He talked to Jo Rosenthal, the exhibition's curator. She said the story
...began with the establishment of youth clubs by the settled, wealthy British Jewish elites in Britain who saw all of these working class immigrants arriving to major urban centres, like the east end of London, like Manchester, Leeds, Glasgow, and wanted to turn them into British citizens. And the youth clubs and the sports clubs that were established were a big part of doing that. The idea was that by getting these young lads to engage with the national game, to be sportsman-like, to play on the football field with their British contemporaries, the idea was that through that they'd be making the point that (a) Jews wanted to belong to their host society and (b) were showing that they weren't weak, and bookish and uninterested in sport.
A debate within the Jewish community ensued, as thousands joined the youth clubs. Jo highlighted a pamphlet called The Plan for Inculcation of Judaism in the Youth Clubs which worried about whether Jewish boys knew more about football and boxing than they did about studying or the synagogue.   

Jewish attendances at professional matches rose steadily. In 1965 kick off at one Arsenal match was even delayed to accomodate fans marking the Jewish new year and the club later apologised for playing a match during Passover.

Anthony Clavane of the Sunday Mirror - and author of Does Your Rabbi Know You're Here? - said that clubs like Spurs earned their large Jewish following from their use of the public transport system [trams and trains were acceptable, driving in combustion-engine powered vehicles unacceptable] and a clever use of the rules relating to the Sabbath [beginning matches at 2 o'clock, allowing time for synagogue and chicken soup.]

In spite of all of this there were only a handful of professional Jewish players, and some of those faced anti-Semitism. Mark Lazarus of QPR was one such player, facing anti-Semitism from parts of the crowd and some players. He didn't stand for it though, and put his boxing skills to use at times!

Nowadays, Bob noted, anti-Semitism tends to take the form of Holocaust-related chants directed at Spurs, and Spurs supporters. The response from Spurs supporters though "is becoming increasingly controversial" - approvingly chanting "Yiddo" at their favourite players and calling themselves "Yids". [Not being Jewish myself, I can't tell quite how offensive this is to some people. It certainly doesn't appear to be meant to be offensive, quite the reverse, but Bob noted that "many Jews find {those words} highly offensive".]

The Football Association wants the chants to stop, saying they could be a criminal offence. David Cameron (and Ed Miliband) disagrees - as does Darren Alexander of the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust, who says 
Personally, as a 42-year old Jewish male, I find it laughable. I think over a period of time the meaning of words change. I actually find it empowering. Now when Spurs fans use it it's a positive term. It's not to the detriment of any Jewish person, or anyone else. It was something in the late '70s and early '80s that was thrown at us. We've turned it around, and we've used it as a positive.
Spurs are now asking their fans if the word should be banned.

David Conn of the Guardian followed, saying that he believes that the original impulse to be part of the community still spurs on supporters, even today:
Obviously now Jewish people are well established and much more comfortable and more integrated, but I think a lot of Jewish people do still live in a Jewish community and a lot of them have a predominantly Jewish social life. Supporting a football club and going along to it takes them out of that and makes them feel like a part of the general population in a wider community. It was obviously much more fierce an experience in the past but I think that is still part of it now, and I think that's been a big part of it over the years.

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