Spurs of the moment

February 6, 2014

It is worth adding some historical context to Emma Rees’ discussion (“Kick up a fuss and reclaim your linguistic property”, 23 January) by casting a critical eye over the invention of tradition. Although Tottenham Hotspur has long been recognised as London’s “Jewish” football club, the acknowledgement and demonstration of that identity by the crowd has become explicit only in the past 15 years or so, and has gathered pace with the general commercialisation of football since the birth of the English Premier League in 1992.

My strong impression, from attending White Hart Lane “religiously” (Church of England in my case) for almost 50 years, is that organised chanting associated with the appropriation of the “Y‑word” didn’t happen before the 1990s. Rather, identity construction, and the affirmation of parochial tribalisms before that, was against the more easily recognised othernesses of the times, ie, team colours and skin colour. My recollection was that, as well as healthily venting our spleens on our nearer neighbours (whose names I will not consign to print for fear of causing offence), Nottingham Forest and Terry Cooper (Leeds United) came in for particularly harsh treatment – although we were hardly unique in that respect.

Interestingly, the black power salute of Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the Mexico Olympics podium in October 1968, was not imitated by the crowd in soccer stadia. And even after that hitherto pejorative term “black” had been well and truly mainstreamed by the vocal duo Bob and Marcia in 1970, subsequently embedded in popular culture and ultimately littered in government tick-box documentation, Walter Tull’s portrait was still nowhere to be seen. Indeed, at that time Tottenham and most other clubs did not celebrate diversity; rather, in the 1970s many non-white supporters had reason to believe that football grounds were intimidating and sometimes dangerous places to be.

Placing too heavy an imprint of the present on the past is something that historians counsel people against doing. In this case, so too would THFC supporters of a certain vintage.

Glory, Glory and COYS!

Peter D’Sena
Discipline lead for history
Higher Education Academy
(Long-suffering THFC supporter, 1965 to date; bronze member)

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