Tottenham Hotspur's 'Yid' Chants: To Sing or Not to Sing

Guy MartinContributor IISeptember 19, 2013

Spurs fans can often be heard singing the so-called Y-word in pubs before games.
Spurs fans can often be heard singing the so-called Y-word in pubs before games.Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

When Tottenham Hotspur fans come together, it is normally only a matter of time before the word "yid" is sung, shouted or seen on a flag.

Regardless of the ugly history of the term, it has become almost as much a part of the club's culture as the cockerel crest and pubs on the Tottenham High Road. 

"Yids," "yiddos," "yid army"—you will hear them all at those pubs pre-game, at White Hart Lane or away grounds, and often sung by fans with no links to Judaism.

This has all developed in spite of, and perhaps because of, the potentially offensive meaning of the word.

The story goes that Spurs fans, tired of being labelled "yids" by rival fans because of the club's large number of Jewish fans, took the name on themselves.

They saw it as a means of empowering themselves in the face of intended insults, and it became not just a proud part of their identity, but for some a term to celebrate as if it were the name of a cherished star player.

The chant "yiddo" was directed at players too, as they became popular with fans, as a sign they were welcomed and accepted by the self-styled "yid army." 

And over time as new, young Spurs fans heard the word, they quickly accepted it and were singing it too. They did not even mind being called "yids" by rival fans, any more than Arsenal fans would object to the label "Gooner"a simple play on the word "Gunners."

And why would they mind? Wasn't it part of their identity? Just a unique, harmless way of distinguishing themselves from the Blues, Reds, City, United, and all the other unimaginative names fans of other clubs were known as?

And wouldn't it be boring if all fans sang the same songs, simply inserting the name of their club where appropriate?

The problem became that these fans either did not realise, or showed no regard for, the fact that the term could be very offensive. And Jewish comedian David Baddiel has written in The Guardian just how hurtful it can be.

"Yid is a race-hate word," he writes. "It was daubed across the East End by [Fascist activist] Oswald Moseley's Blackshirts, along with the word Out."

In no other other area of life would this, or any other racial insult, be deemed acceptable. If meant to be offensive, it can be cause for criminal prosecution.

And some people use the Spurs fans' Jewish association as an excuse for genuine anti-semitism. 

An audible minority of West Ham fans referenced Nazi gas chambers in chants last year and Spurs fans have been subjected to attacks from far-right groups on trips to Europe

Again, many fans who suffered in the attack in Lyon would not have been Jewish but they are likely to have sung the "yid" chants during such trips.    

At this point, a few Tottenham fans might even have questioned whether it was worth using the term so proudly if it will lead to them coming to physical harm.

But their chants, and the controversy with them, have continued to the point where prime minister David Cameron had his say on the issue this week.

He told the Jewish Chronicle: "You have to think of the mens rea. 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.”

These comments will perhaps draw a line under this issue, for the time being at least.

At the end of this row, if it is their decision to, Spurs fans will be able to continue using the term, and their "yid army" will live on.

But the row has at least ensured that they are now well-informed about making the decision whether to sing the so-called Y-word or not.

They now have no excuse for not realising how offensive this term can be in a far wider context than football's world of tribalism and rivalries.