If you try to buy tickets for a Tottenham Hotspur Premier League match at White Hart Lane, you’ll notice that each game is priced into one of three categories based on the level of the opponent. The category with the highest ticket prices contains many of the top teams in the league — notably Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool. However, the last team in that grouping would surprise some Tottenham fans from overseas. That team is West Ham United.
What makes West Ham United such an enticing opponent worthy of charging top dollar? They are also from London, but so are Queens Park Rangers (Category B) and Crystal Palace (Category C), so that does not really explain the draw. Seemingly unbeknownst to most supporters that do not grow up in the London area, Tottenham vs. West Ham is a very heated London derby that has intensified in recent years (especially from West Ham’s perspective) because West Ham rarely play their traditional rival, Millwall.
This rivalry has received notable media attention both on and off the pitch in the last three seasons. On the pitch, two seasons ago, Tottenham scored a winner deep into stoppage time at Upton Park through Gareth Bale to win 3-2.
Last season West Ham defeated Tottenham three times in all competitions, including a 3-0 victory at White Hart Lane that started the demise of Tottenham manager Andre Villas Boas.
The first match this year between the sides at Upton Park was also won with a late, late winner by Eric Dier on his debut for Tottenham.
However, this fixture has also come under close scrutiny for alleged racist chanting by supporters.
In November, 2012, West Ham chanted about a Spurs supporter who was stabbed while watching Tottenham play in Rome in addition to chants mocking the mass genocide of Jews in World War II.
In the days leading up to the match between the two sides last week at White Hart Lane, media headlines in the UK were dominated by an incident of racism involving another London club, Chelsea, whose fans were filmed preventing a black man from entering a train in Paris.
Despite being a Tottenham supporter, I made a trip to Upton Park with my older brother earlier this season to see West Ham play Newcastle and I came away with the sense that West Ham have the most passionate fans out of all the London Premier Clubs and as a result have the best atmosphere at their home matches. The experience of seeing 35,000 sing “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” as the teams walk out onto the pitch is bone chilling. West Ham, in comparison to the bigger London clubs (Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham), have a fanbase that is from more modest means, primarily composed of blue collar workers from London’s East End, which is one of the most economically deprived areas in all of the United Kingdom. As a result, this leads to very passionate support but does introduce some lunatic fringes. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, one of the most feared hooligan firm was West Ham’s Inter City Firm, abbreviated ICF. West Ham’s derby with Millwall is considered by many to be the fiercest in all of England and when the two teams met in 2009 a Millwall supporter was stabbed.
Enamored by the amazing home support and unperturbed by the reputation among some West Ham supporters’ for racist chanting and violence, I decided to buy my ticket for the Tottenham vs. West Ham match at White Hart Lane as close as possible to the away section. The Park Lane, which is adjacent to where the away fans are located, is the area of White Hart Lane that sings the loudest and most consistently. In previous matches, I had sat all around the ground but I really wanted to experience the Park Lane and I figured this game would be a good time to do it and I expected a fantastic but fierce atmosphere.
Upon departing the tube at Seven Sisters station to board buses to the ground about an hour and fifteen minutes before kick off, I noticed that there was a much stronger police presence than in any of the other matches I had attended at White Hart Lane, including the 5-3 victory over Chelsea on New Year’s Day.
A large swath of police officers was walking very swiftly towards something that I can only assume were West Ham fans. Soon after boarding the bus to make the approximately one mile journey to White Hart Lane, the bus driver announced that everyone had to get out of the vehicle because the road was blocked. The reason why the road was blocked was because West Ham fans were being escorted by police into the stadium. I worked my way around them and made my way to White Hart Lane but waited at the corner of Tottenham High Road and Park Lane to see them enter the stadium because this was an experience I had never encountered before in the United States. The West Ham escort that I had weaved around that was coming from the South interspersed with another police escort of West Ham fans that was coming from the North and they made their way to the gates. Walking down the Park Lane to my entrance, police were shoulder to shoulder while West Ham and Tottenham fans yelled at each other through the line of segregation.
I got to my seat, which was five seats away from the tarp that separated the home and away fans. The atmosphere was tense as losing to West Ham is one of the worst feelings a Spurs supporter can have. Losing to Arsenal or Chelsea is okay because those two teams are consistently at the top of the league, but West Ham are a team that Tottenham often look down on.
West Ham started with their typical repertoire of songs about fifteen minutes before the match started. The disgusting “Viva Lazio” chant was heard on one occasion but for the most part the chants were pretty much in line with what West Ham sing at “normal matches.”
Once the match started, the Tottenham supporters started to match the West Ham supporters tit for tat as the two sides basically alternated chants in sync with the ebb and flow of the actions on the pitch.
During the first fifteen minutes with the scores still level, a chant came out from the West Ham end that to my American ear sounded like “He talks like your mom, He talks like your mom, Harry Kane he talks like your mom” in the same tune as Tottenham’s “He’s one our own” chant to which I let out a little chuckle because the chant sounded like a downright pathetic jab at our Harry.
There were more “Viva Lazio” chants heard from the visiting supporters.
During a lull in the action, some Tottenham supporters started chanting “No noise, from the Pikey boys no noise from the Pikey boys, no noise!” Despite not knowing at the time what a “Pikey” is and had never heard the term used outside of its association with West Ham fans (similarly to how the terms “Scouser” and “Chav” refer to Liverpool and Chelsea fans respectively), I joined in with it because the tune is quite catchy and it’s always fun to exchange banter with the opposition’s fans. At Chelsea we sang “Mourinho’s right, your fans are sh*te” so this just sounded like another version of that.
“No noise, from the racist boys, no noise” came the retort from the West Ham side of the divide. I laughed and turned to the person next to me “aren’t West Ham fans the ones who are known for being racist?”
West Ham went ahead in the 22nd minute, silencing the Spurs fans for the vast majority of the match while the West Ham faithful sang vociferously while their team was leading. Chants such as “It’s happened again, it’s happened again, Tottenham Hotspur, it’s happened again,” which is a reference to the 3-0 league and 2-1 Capital One Cup victories at White Hart Lane last season.
Other chants heard included West Ham’s parody of “Oh When the Spurs Go Marching In” which went “Oh When the Spurs go 2-nil down” while the Spurs fans commiserated at their team’s terrible performance. The Harry Kane chant was heard a few more times from the West Ham end but I did not really think anything of it because it sounded like “talks like your mom.”
Tottenham fought back to equalize 2-2.
Walking out of White Hart Lane and down Park Lane, the Spurs supporters were very boisterous, singing “Yid Army,” and “Spurs are on their way to Wembley” but after turning onto Tottenham High Road and integrating with the West Ham supporters, everyone went silent. This was quite odd but everyone feared the prospect of violence given the lack of police to separate fans.
Later that night, news reports surfaced pertaining to alleged racist chanting on the National Rail Service through the Jewish neighborhood of Stamford Hill on the way to the match. Furthermore, the BBC wrote that former player Kevin Kilbane had filed a complaint to the FA about the use of the term “mong” (so apparently the thick British accents deceived me and they weren’t singing about anyone’s moms) in the West Ham chants because it was offensive to his daughter who has down syndrome. Personally, I had never heard the term “mong” before, but a quick UrbanDictionary check defines “mong” as “Lacking in physical and cerebral ability. General retardation.” It is very understandable why Kilbane was upset. However, the West Ham fans probably saw it as banter and I’m willing to bet that some do not know what the term “mong” means.
Last week, The Sun newspaper came out with a report that Tottenham were being investigated for chants referring to West Ham fans as “pikeys,” which is supposedly classified as a racist term. I, someone who joined in with those chants and used the word “pikey,” had no idea what the word meant so I once again had to research the origin and meaning of the word that I had been singing in the Park Lane at White Hart Lane just three days earlier. An article published by the BBC in 2008 told me that pikey was “a term of abuse and in the eyes of the law using it can even be deemed a racist offense, given its association with Irish travellers and Roma Gypsies.”
I felt embarrassed by my ignorance in joining in on a chant that is clearly offensive.
There is a learning experience to be taken from this. Fans needed to be better educated on what is and is not okay to sing at matches. Terms like “Yid,” “Scouser,” “Bin Dipper,” “Chav” and “Pikey” are not okay.
While the hooligan element of English football has been — for the most part eradicated —the bigotry still remains. The occurrences on the Paris Metro and at White Hart Lane recently are not isolated incidents and are part of a more widespread problem.
These problems are not just limited to West Ham, Tottenham and Chelsea but to English football as a whole.
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