Lesson
Duration:
1 class period

Recognising Antisemitism in British Football

Essential Questions

  • What are the positive and negative aspects of sports and fan culture? In what ways can these aspects foster a “we and they” dynamic?
  • How does antisemitism become part of a culture and its institutions?
  • How might people challenge traditions that are offensive? 

Overview

This lesson explores contemporary antisemitism in the context of football (soccer) in Britain. Enormously popular around the world, football can foster intercultural exchange and provide team members and fans with feelings of camaraderie and belonging. Strong ties of membership to a particular football club can also promote “we and they” thinking. Traditional rivalries and “banter” among opposing fans have sometimes served as a pretext for expressions of antisemitism, racism, and other forms of intolerance. However, the overt expression of intolerance is not the only issue. In The Changing Face of Football, the authors Back, Crabbe, and Solomos argue, “The possession of the appropriate ‘cultural passport’ is not merely reliant upon wearing a particular football shirt but on a conformity with the team’s cultural identity....These implicit forms of racialized exclusion are however disguised from the public’s gaze by their very normalcy.”1

Using the familiar topic of sports, this lesson asks students to reflect on their own experiences as fans or members of a team and to consider what it means to participate in a team’s cultural identity. It also draws on news stories about antisemitism in football fan culture from a variety of viewpoints, providing students with the opportunity to analyze and better understand how sports and fan culture can simultaneously inspire feelings of pride, belonging, and inclusion as well as victimization, hurt, and exclusion.

Learning Goals

  • Students will be able to recognise that sports and fan culture can promote feelings of pride and inclusion among some members in ways that simultaneously exclude others, through both conscious and unconscious expressions of hatred and prejudice. 
  • Students will understand the distinction between the intent and the impact of behavior; unintentional or unconscious acts of intolerance and prejudice, including antisemitism, can still have real and harmful consequences on others.
  • Students will be able to recognise contemporary manifestations of antisemitism.
  • Students will understand how individuals and groups have spoken out and stood up against antisemitism and have promoted a more inclusive fan and sports culture.

Context

Over the last several years, antisemitic incidents have frequently been reported at sporting events in Britain and throughout Europe. In Britain, several incidents have occurred during games featuring the Tottenham Hotspur (“Spurs”) Football Club, based in north London, which is home to a large Jewish population. Due to Tottenham’s reputation as a “Jewish club” based on its geography, rival fans have for decades directed antisemitic abuse—including use of the pejorative term “Yid”—at Tottenham supporters. From the 1970s on, Spurs fans have also referred to themselves by the unofficial nickname “Yids” or the “Yid Army.” Many supporters claim that they use the word as a rallying cry in response to antisemitic abuse from rival fans. However, the majority of Spurs supporters are not Jewish. 

Although the exact origins of associating the word “Yid” with Tottenham are contested, by the 1980s it was used by both Tottenham rivals and supporters within a fan culture of rampant antisemitism. A Jewish Tottenham fan remembers the stadium atmosphere in the 1980s:

My dad took me to the 1981 FA Cup Final against Manchester City,” he says. “I remember seeing people wearing kippah and tallit at the match, not because they were religious but because they were identifying with being Tottenham fans, being Yiddos. I remember Leeds fans doing the ‘Sieg Heil’ and throwing coins at the Tottenham fans. In the late ’80s, a lot of fans used to take Israeli flags to the games. We played Arsenal in the League Cup semifinal in 1987 and they unfurled this massive swastika with ‘Arsenal Nazis’ written on it. [After that], they made a plea for Tottenham fans to stop taking Israel[i] flags to matches.”2

This culture of antisemitism at Tottenham matches continues today. In some cases, antisemitic taunts have escalated to violence, as when a mob attacked Tottenham supporters in Lyon, France, in February 2013 and reportedly gave Nazi salutes.3 A number of incidents have also occurred at recent matches with rival team West Ham. In an interview with David Gold, who is Jewish and the co-chairman of West Ham United, writer Jacob Steinberg discussed the impact of antisemitic chants by West Ham fans:

Now 77, Gold has seen a lot but it is a story from his youth that demonstrates how abhorrent those chants were. "You're saddened by it," he says. "Those who think it's all part of football, the words that come out in the day are not that important. What those people must understand is the terrible pain that it causes. The pain is unbelievable. It's not the words. The pain that I feel is like a dagger in the heart. What flashes up in my mind is the antisemitism when I was a boy....”4

Spurs fans’ use of the term “Yid” has also caused controversy. The word—which derives from “Yiddish” and translates to “Jew”—has a history of use as a derogatory term in Britain and was employed in the 1930s by both Nazis and British fascist groups. In recent years, the Football Association, the anti-racism organization Kick It Out, and celebrities like comedian David Baddiel have pointed out how offensive the word is and have called for Tottenham supporters to stop using the nickname. Many Tottenham supporters, however, claim that they use the term with pride and that it is a fundamental part of their history and fan culture.5

Citations

Materials

Activities

  1. Develop a Classroom Contract

    • Use the Contracting teaching strategy to develop a contract for facilitating difficult discussions. If you have already developed one, use this opportunity to revisit your contract to address the language introduced in this lesson. 
    • This lesson addresses the use of the derogatory term “Yid” or the “Y-word.” It is difficult to use and discuss dehumanizing language in the classroom, but its use throughout history and its presence in this lesson’s materials make it necessary to acknowledge it and set guidelines for students about whether to say it when reading aloud or quoting from the text. Otherwise, this word’s presence might distract students from an open discussion of human behavior. We believe that the best way to prepare to encounter this language is to create a classroom contract identifying guidelines for respectful, reflective classroom discussion.
  2. Reflect on Fan Culture, Membership, and Belonging

    • Ask students to use journals to reflect on their own experiences as members of particular communities. For example, they might be fans of a sports team or musical group, or they might participate in arts or other activities. We want to help young people understand that these communities have cultures. They have insider language and perhaps specific dress, rituals, and other practices. Ask students to jot down some of the elements of the culture they have in mind. Making an identity chart for that culture might be useful as a visual representation of the specific rituals and practices associated with it.
      • Guiding questions might include: How do students express their affiliation? (Through social media? Watching games or matches? Attending events? Singing chants or songs? Talking to other fans? Wearing T-shirts, hats, or other clothing that advertises their membership?) What role does their participation in this culture play in their lives? Why is it important to them? If they don’t have their own example, do they know other people who are immersed as fans of a team or group?
    • After journal writing, have students share in small groups. After sharing their own experiences for a few minutes, have them develop a description of fan culture to share. What is fan culture? Why is it important? What does it provide to fans and to a team? How can fan culture be both inclusive and exclusive at the same time?
  3. Introduce Tottenham Hotspur Football Club 
    To give students background on the fan culture of Tottenham Hotspur, have them read Fan Culture at a Tottenham Match. You can also distribute copies of a photo of fans displaying an Antisemitic Flag at Football Match.

    • Ask students to read the article independently, underlining key words and phrases tied to fan culture as they read. 
    • Have students create an identity chart with “football/Tottenham culture” in the center. What are some of the rituals and practices affiliated with this specific community? 
    • In their journals, have students create a double-sided journal entry. On one side, have them write some of the words and phrases they found that capture fan culture. On the other side, have them reflect upon the effects of these examples: How do they promote inclusion? Exclusion? Both at the same time? 
    • Have students share their thinking in small groups. 
  4.  Recognise Examples of Antisemitism

    • Return to the reading Fan Culture at a Tottenham Match and ask students to circle words and phrases that they recognise as manifestations of antisemitism. Have them choose one of these examples and write about it in their journal. Why did they choose this example? 
    • Ask students to share their example with a partner. Together, they should consider their examples and examine some of the consequences of the behavior they identified. They might consider: Why are names or labels important? What happens when offensive names are reappropriated? How might the meaning of the word “Yid” be different for Jewish and non-Jewish Tottenham supporters? What might be some of the consequences when the use of an offensive term is accepted or ignored? 
    • Have students return to their small groups and share their analysis of the reading. (Students should choose a recorder for notes, a reporter for sharing with the whole group, a timekeeper, and a facilitator.) We suggest the following questions for students to guide their small-group discussions:
      • How does fan culture contribute to “we and they” attitudes? Where did students see examples of antisemitism and intolerance? In what ways does the cultivation and expression of fan culture intersect with examples of antisemitism? Are there examples in which behavior was not seemingly intended to be hateful but still excluded or stereotyped others? 
      • How might sports and fan culture help to make a behavior seem acceptable even when it normally is socially unacceptable in other contexts? How does antisemitism become “normal” in the example we are exploring?

      Teacher note: A behavior can be unconscious, based on a lack of knowledge and awareness. This doesn’t mean it won’t have important effects and consequences, or that it isn’t an example of antisemitism and intolerance. Students may disagree about the examples identified or point out that spectators may not intend to be antisemitic. You may want to share how social scientists Cecelia Clegg and Joe Liechty’s work on sectarianism6 helps explain the importance between intent and impact and the way that group behavior can perpetuate intolerance. They state,

      One way to gauge whether or not speech, an event, an action or a decision can be judged to be sectarian is to look not only at the intention of the person or group involved, but also at the outcome or potential outcome of the speech or action, in as far as this can be foreseen....[Furthermore]...a sectarian system can be maintained by people who, individually, do not have a sectarian bone in their bodies....Sectarianism does not really require any direct, active response from most of us, it simply requires that we do nothing about it....7
  5. Identify Upstanders

    • Together, read An App for Challenging Bigotry as a whole class. Use the Read Aloud strategy to structure a popcorn-style reading.
    • Have students pair and discuss: What was the specific problem? How does the app respond to that problem? How does this story offer a model for speaking out and standing up to antisemitism and racism? What questions and concerns does it raise? What are the limits of speaking out using this app? What else might be needed (from fans, teams, or broader society) to address racism and antisemitism at sporting events?
  6. Reflect as a Group 

    • As a whole class, reflect on your learning together. What is fan and sports culture? How can it promote a sense of belonging and membership for some while excluding and dehumanizing others? How might intolerance and prejudice become “normal” in sports and fan culture? How do you recognise something when it has become “normal” or “just part of the culture”?
    • As a class, create a working definition of antisemitism. Does it matter if it is conscious or unconscious? What are the different ways that one could create a more inclusive, tolerant fan and sports culture? How might an awareness of conscious and unconscious prejudice shape your efforts?

     

Citations

  • 6 : Clegg and Liechty give the following definition of sectarianism: “Sectarianism is a system of attitudes, actions, beliefs and structures: at personal, communal and institutional levels which always involves religion and typically involves a negative mixing of religion and politics,...which arises as a distorted expression of positive, human needs especially for belonging, identity and the free expression of difference,...and is expressed in destructive patterns of relating: hardening the boundaries between groups; overlooking others; belittling, dehumanizing or demonizing others; justifying or collaborating in the domination of others; physically or verbally intimidating or attacking others.”
  • 7 : Cecelia Clegg and Joseph Liechty, “Moving Beyond Sectarianism: A Resource for Adult Education,” Irish School of Ecumenics (2001), accessed September 13, 2016.

Extensions

Tottenham supporters’ use of the word “Yid” falls within a broader culture of antisemitism at sporting events. If you have time, use this extension activity to address a more explicit example of antisemitic behavior at a football match and to explore some of the consequences for a Jewish fan.

Have students read the Guardian article “Antisemitic Chants Are Sickening” and discuss it in pairs or small groups. Guiding questions might include:

  • The author says he experiences a “crisis of identity.” Why does he feel that way? How do antisemitic actions affect his sense of belonging to and membership in a group?
  • How might people challenge traditions of a group they belong to that they discover are offensive?

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