The Metropolitan Police took what is understood to be an unprecedented step on Sunday when they arrested a Tottenham Hotspur fan for allegedly chanting the word ‘Yid’ during a football match.
The arrest occurred at half-time of the 3-0 defeat against West Ham United at White Hart Lane and had followed pre-match warnings that supporters could face criminal action for continuing to use the word.
Hundreds of Tottenham Hotspur fans had defied those warnings, however, and loudly chanted “Yiddos”, “Jermain Defoe, he’s a Yiddo” and “We’ll sing what we want” throughout the match.
This prompted chants back of “racists” from West Ham supporters, who themselves had been warned that they would face action for using the word ‘Yid’.
Chief superintendent Mick Johnson, the match commander, had said before the fixture that “racism and offensive language have no place in football”.
Tottenham have a strong Jewish following and the club’s fans have been on the receiving end of anti-Semitic abuse from opposition supporters for many years, including during the corresponding fixture against West Ham last year.
In an act of defiance, many Spurs fans started using the word “Yid” themselves, and chants of “Yids”, “Yid Army” and “Yiddos” have been regularly sung at matches for years without the threat of arrest.
A Met spokesman said that officers had been speaking about the issue with fans on their way into the stadium on Sunday and later confirmed that there had been an arrest.
The supporter, who was in the stadium’s East Stand, was held on suspicion of committing a section-five public order offence. Police are continuing to review footage of the match and it remains possible that further arrests will be made.
Although West Ham supporters were not obviously heard using the word ‘Yid’, some did briefly sing: “We won’t say his name, he’s coming for you.” This was followed by: “Same old West Ham, taking the ----.” At the same fixture last year, some West Ham fans had sung “Hitler’s coming for you”.
David Cameron entered the debate last month when he said that Spurs fans who use the word ‘Yid’ should not face prosecution.
The Prime Minister told The Jewish Chronicle: “There’s a difference between Spurs fans self-describing themselves as Yids and someone calling someone a Yid as an insult. You have to be motivated by hate. Hate speech should be prosecuted – but only when it’s motivated by hate.”
In his pre-match warning, Chief Supt Johnson had said: “This topic has been debated at length but our position is clear: racism and offensive language have no place in football or indeed in society.
“Those supporters who engage in such behaviour should be under no illusion that they may be committing an offence and may be liable to a warning or be arrested.”
West Ham owners David Gold and David Sullivan had both appealed to their supporters before the match on Sunday not to make offensive chants. Gold is Jewish and he had outlined his own personal experiences of the Second World War and the hurt that can still be caused by anti-Semitic remarks.