A chant about Alvaro Morata brings a debate about intent and acceptable language back to the forefront
During Chelsea’s 2-1 victory over Leicester City at the King Power Stadium, members of the traveling fans sang a song about new striker Álvaro Morata which contains the term ‘Yid,’ a derogatory slur for Jewish people. The club was quick to denounce the chants, and Morata followed suit, tweeting out his disapproval following the match.
Since I arrived, I have been able to feel your support every single day, you are amazing and I’d like to ask you to please respect everyone!
— Álvaro Morata (@AlvaroMorata) September 9, 2017
Chelsea communications director Steve Atkins had strong words for those engaging in this despicable behavior. “People should know that the police will be investigating and they will investigate all future such episodes… We must be clear on this because it has to stop. Chelsea Football Club finds all form of discrimination abhorrent. The language used in that song is totally unacceptable.”
In an announcement on their website, the west London club confirmed that it would be working with the police and the Football Association to identify those involved and has also threatened bans for any season ticket holders found guilty. They have also urged any fans who witnessed those who were chanting to take advantage of anti-discriminatory outlet Kick It Out’s reporting methods, which provides ways to inform the proper authorities in a discreet yet effective fashion.
That fellow Chelsea fans, like myself, would be disgusted by such news and move to condemn it as quickly and completely as possible isn’t surprising. And many of the people I have talked to and interacted with on social media who are fans of the club have done just that. However, there remains a righteous indignation among a minority of supporters who feel as though this is all much ado about nothing.
Dan Levene recently wrote an article for Eurosport addressing the anti-Semitic chants and detailing exactly how and why fans were out of line for singing them. He also suggested that Chelsea could be docked points by the FA for persistent discriminatory abuse, as this wouldn’t be the first time the club have had the embarrassment of coming under such scrutiny. And while the FA is committed to banning anyone found guilty of using the chants they will not be taking actions against the west Londoners.
Amazingly, Levene was treated to tweets saying he wasn’t really a Chelsea fan, that he was a coward, a grass—someone even called him a racist. Consider the part of the chant which contains the anti-Semitism: ‘He comes from Real Madrid, he fucking hates the Yids.’ Why anyone would attempt to defend something as unnecessary and crass as that in order to cheer on their favorite football team is perplexing, at best.
In the first sentence of his article Levene attests that he can’t recall a single game, in 34 years of following the club, during which he didn’t hear the word ‘Yid.’ Apparently, enough Chelsea fans have a shared history of hearing the slur and have come to terms with it not being offensive. But it isn’t up to those unaffected by the menace of discrimination to decide for those it does affect that abusive words aren’t meant to offend.
While the vitriol directed at Levene for pointing out the obvious is surprising, it made me recall conversations of a different nature. Over the past year and a half, there has been a movement to remove confederate monuments in states across America where they have stood for decades. For African-Americans, the monuments constitute an ever-present reminder of the indignities and oppression of millions. Still, there exists a bigoted and reactionary contingent of Americans who contend that these monuments comprise an important part of the country’s history and, as such, should remain in the positions of prominence they have occupied since their construction.
In September of 2013, the FA released a statement condemning the use of ‘Yid’ or ‘Yiddo’ by all fans, including Tottenham’s. “The FA considers that the use of the term ‘Yid’ is likely to be considered offensive by the reasonable observer and considers the term to be inappropriate in a football setting,” it read.
In his response to the FA’s statement in 2013, former Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust chairman Darren Alexander said, “If Spurs fans genuinely are going to stop using this word then it should be our decision. We sincerely believe that no Spurs fan ever uses the Y-word or shouts ‘Yid Army’ in an effort to offend anyone. THST is categorically against ejections and banning orders for use of the term by Tottenham supporters in a match environment. Our view has always been that should Spurs’ fans’ use of the Yid identity come to an end, this should be as a result of the feeling among the Spurs community that it was time to move on.”
Alexander acknowledged the fact that the epithet may bother Spurs’ Jewish supporters, yet believed that it holds no malicious intent toward fans of the club. According to the THST statement in the Telegraph, it has become a “term of endearment,” reclaimed as a badge to be worn proudly by fans of the north London club. But this reclamation has had an adverse effect, either desensitizing fans who wouldn’t normally use the word in a hateful way or providing others a comfortable space in which to bandy a derogatory slur with little to no repercussions. What’s more, Jewish supporters like David Baddiel reject the Telegraph’s claim, asserting that Yid is a race-hate word, and one that they wish to have no association no matter how ‘positive’ the connotation.
It is utter nonsense to suggest that Jewish people feel more welcome walking into a stadium and hearing chants of ‘Yid’ or ‘Yiddo,’ considering the fact that such words were and still are used as insults. We can rest assured that the underlying message in the Morata chant isn’t one of Jewish pride and solidarity. Originally used to describe Jewish immigrants to London’s East End in the late 19th and early 20th century, the term became synonymous with Spurs as traveling to Tottenham was a relatively cheap endeavor from that location and Jewish supporters quickly swelled the fanbase.
Alexander’s stance has only served to perpetuate and embolden those who would willingly use the term to characterize Jews at a football match or anywhere else. Furthermore, the FA is made to look rather silly when you consider that they might be more inclined to punish one club for their fans’ behavior for something they’ll allow another club’s fans to do.
Just months after the FA released their statement condemning the use of the slur, three Tottenham supporters who had been arrested for chanting the slur had their charges dropped after the “context in which [the slurs] were used” provided “insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction.” After further pressure from the Tottenham Hotspur Supporters Trust, who fiercely rejected the FA’s statement, London metropolitan police announced that the use of the word at Spurs’ matches would no longer be an arrestable offense.
Speaking during Chelsea’s pre-match press conference ahead of their Champions League fixture, Steve Atkins made no mistake about defining the manner in which he felt the word was used and also denounced those who would try to find excuses to use it. “People that use this kind of language against others always try and argue a grey area. There is no grey area. That language used was anti-Semitic. We have a zero tolerance policy towards it.”
Racism and anti-Semitism are abhorrent and disgusting, always. There’s no condoning things so incredibly vile. However, apologists for confederate statues and anti-Semitic chants in English football alike offer up excuses for their existence, which center around the false premise that they’re part of a shared history without which we would somehow suffer. But a shared history of intolerance does not make intolerance acceptable, it only makes it more common.
Intolerance must be met with a strong response and Chelsea’s decision to work with police and Kick It Out is proactive. It could be more impactful still if the Chelsea Supporters Trust were to make a statement condemning the chants and calling upon fans to stop engaging in them. A concerted effort to remove them from the club’s future would be admirable and it would aid both Chelsea and its supporters’ image. It might also motivate THST to rethink their own approach to the slurs and whether or not they want to continue using them as terms of endearment for fellow Spurs fans.
Follow Amadi on Twitter @amadoit_.