The ‘Y-word’ debacle is further evidence that wider state and social mistrust of football supporters remains.
Amidst the furore over the Metropolitan Police’s change of stance regarding Tottenham Hotspur supporters’ use of the word ‘Yid’ this weekend, it would have been easy for fans of other clubs to overlook the issue. However, the desire of the FA to strip one of their own clubs of a facet of its history and identity, along with the Met’s willingness to rewrite the rule books of football policing seemingly overnight, are further evidence that football supporters across the country should remain concerned about the establishment’s efforts to control their interaction with the game they love.
As a Spurs fan, I have grown to love our use of the ‘Y-word’. It does make me feel part of something; a sense of unity and a means of identification. It feels almost integral. However, there can be no doubt that the use of the term remains contentious and – whilst Spurs fans may not like to admit it – genuine conversation involving all parties is required in order to offer clarity and understanding, if not to reach a decision over the appropriateness of our continued use of the word.
However, herein lies a significant bone of contention, from the supporter’s point of view – currently, there is no discussion; no dialogue. Input has come solely from key contributors on one side of the ‘debate’; those views that carry weight in a modern society burdened by, and fearful of, political correctness.
Tottenham fans rightly feel angry and marginalised, a significant part of their identification being publicly chastised by those who appear to be as blinded by their own views as they consider the supporters to be. On Sunday, West Ham United fans chanted ‘racists’, fingers pointed in the direction of the Spurs fans adjacent their corner of White Hart Lane. The chant, albeit with tongue somewhat in cheek, was a fair summary of the accusation Tottenham fans feel has been levelled in their direction – what was, for decades, considered an acceptable badge of honour, has almost overnight been portrayed as an act of religious hate and a criminal offence. The FA and the Metropolitan Police, seemingly kicked into action by pressure from both the Baddiels and Peter Herbert (of the Society of Black Lawyers), have gone out of their way to force the issue.
The FA’s apparent willingness to round so quickly on a group of supporters of one of their own professional clubs, despite little apparent previous condemnation of the use of the word by fans or others within the game, is of particular significance. The organisation, long since usurped by the Premier League as the kingpin of English football, already enjoys a rocky relationship with fans unhappy with its management of the England team and unconvinced about its youth and grassroots development policies. If it seeks to create a battle with supporters over the content of their chants on the terraces, it runs the risk of stoking a fire which most considered had very nearly burnt out.
The actions of the Metropolitan Police will serve to fuel the feeling of contempt held by supporters; a feeling which, having perhaps been temporarily quelled in the ‘00s, is beginning to undergo resurgence. The uncovering of the role of South Yorkshire Police in the Hillsborough conspiracy; West Yorkshire Police’s implementation of a ‘bubble’ at Huddersfield Town’s home match against Hull City in March 2013; Metropolitan Police confiscating a banner held by Manchester City fans at the Emirates in protest against high away ticket prices; Stoke City fans locked in a pub by Greater Manchester Police; the supposed misuse of football banning orders to unfairly target fans – all examples of poor football-related police-work, which only serves to increase friction between fans and the ‘force’.
A recent report by the Football Supporters’ Federation suggested that fans were still subject to policing which was “disproportionate, overly aggressive and indiscriminate”. The Met’s over the top and morally, if not legally, suspect decision to change their implementation of the law – leading to the arrest of a Spurs fan on Sunday for a section 5 public order offence – should serve as a warning to fans of other clubs that they too are at risk of potential changes to the way in which football matches are policed.
Whilst it is understandable that the authorities seek to maintain the control they wrestled back from football hooligans in the 1990s, the constant flouting of their jurisdiction is over-the-top and unnecessary. Football supporters are a changed beast and, like many other groups within society, the overwhelming majority pose little threat and carry no ill intention. In actual fact, football fandom represents much of what our modern society should be about – community, positivity and togetherness – through the bad times and the good. The constant attempts to undermine and stereotype supporters are both needless and unfair.