The Use of Yid: Are Offensive Terms Okay When They’re Chanted in Football?
The Origins and Connotations of the Word
First and foremost, it is important to note that ‘Yid’ is a derogatory and offensive slang description of a Jewish person. It carries an underlying notion of anti-semitism. However, within this blog I will be assessing the different contexts that it is used in and specifically the impact it has had on football. I will focus on the widespread use of the word that has been heard in chants and in common usage by fans of Tottenham Hotspur and how this could be tackled.
The term ‘Yid’ is derived from the variation of Jewish dialect known as ‘Yiddish’. It was a language that was commonly used before the tragedy of the holocaust and had notable similarities to the German language. The term then began to be used as a disparaging term with racist, anti-semitic connotations. In the 1970’s the Jewish community decided to attempt to overcome the word being used as a slur against their religion. In a manner that echoed the adoption of the N-word amongst the black community as a powerful identity of their community, the Jewish population also decided to recontextualise and reevaluate the use of ‘Yid’.
Yid became a form of a defence mechanism, deflecting anti-semitism and regaining ‘ownership’ over the word. Jewish believers began to use the word as an endearing term for one another. This form of self-designation of their own people as Yids was a way of trying to remove the offensive connotations of the word. However much like the N-word for black people, it remains a racist and derogatory slur if it is used by anyone outside of the Jewish community.
Tottenham Hotspur: The ‘Yid Army’
Spurs have a large Jewish fan base. The assumption is made as the Jewish population of North London is high and the three chairmen of the club since 1982 have all been Jewish businessmen. The fanbase and the club are vulnerable to those with ignorant, anti-semitic agendas and have been subjected to abuse from rivals. Fans of opposing teams have occasionally been heard to use chants and songs that are fundamentally anti-semitic, it has even gone as far as Nazi salutes and deeply disturbing references to the holocaust. This is quite clearly abominable and has no place in football.
It is the Spurs’ fans own use of ‘Yid’ that is also deeply controversial. In reality, the proportion of Jewish fans is not as high as is widely assumed. Despite this, fans within the stadium are often heard bellowing ‘Yid Army’ in ‘support’ of their own team. The Yid Army was a phrase created by the Spurs fans but has also been used by opposition fans against them. The Oxford English dictionary even added a second definition of ‘Yid’ in the 2020 edition. As well as defining it as an offensive term for a Jewish person they also added that it could be defined as a ‘player or supporter of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club’.
This was reacted to badly by many in the footballing world and in Tottenham Hotspur. What this seems to imply is that in the context of football and football fandom, ‘Yid’ can be seen as an acceptable term. It has become so normalised within this context to the extent that 50,000 fans can sing the word at the top of their voices on a Saturday in ‘support’ of their team. What if this was the same with the N-word to refer to a black team or chants of ‘P*** army’ to refer to a team of sub-continent ethnicity? This wouldn’t be seen as acceptable. Therefore, the fact that the use of ‘yid’ has become normalised by Spurs is troubling and people may have lost sight of it’s inherently racist connotations that are equivalent to those of the N or P-word.
There is no justified distinction between using yid in the context of football and outside the context of football. It is unacceptable to shout ‘Yid’ at a stranger in the street and it is equally offensive to chant it at a football game. It is also irrelevant whether you are using the term to support your own team or not. It cannot be used in a positive way. It is a derogatory term.
Some may argue that if it is used without malice within a Spurs game, by their own fans in support of their team, then this is different and acceptable. In my opinion it is unacceptable regardless of the intention with or context in which it is used. What about the numerous non-Jewish fans that are in attendance in the stadium that join in with the chants? They are not entitled to say the word in any sense. It is equivocal to a white person chanting the N-word. It is not a term that belongs to them and they do not have the right to say it. Furthermore, there will also be Jews in attendance, in support of Spurs or of the opposition that will understand the term for its fundamental disparagement of their religion. No fan of any team deserves to attend a football game and be exposed to, feel intimidated by and abused with racist chanting.
Tottenham Hotspur recognised the rising issue and conducted a review of the use of the word amongst its fanbase. The survey and focus groups produced damning results. 94% of participants acknowledged the ‘risk of anti-semitism’ associated with using ‘Yid’. However, around 33% admitted to using it at football games whilst only 12% would use it outside of the football context. Presumably, this disparity comes from the difference in proportion of the actual Jewish community within the fanbase and those that just join in with the chants despite their non-allegiance to Judaism and having no inherent right to use the term. However, the most potent statistic is that over 50% of respondents agreed that it should be removed from chants.
Of course, there is a difficulty with clamping down on the use of the word. Tottenham cannot eject 50,000 chanting fans each week for singing it. It is not as simple as a ‘removal from the stadium’ policy. The club, the FA, and the footballing world could instead lead initiatives in trying to mitigate the overt use of the offensive term.
Education is absolutely vital. Football fans, especially young fans who have limited awareness of the historical origins of the word, may have a significant level of ignorance about the underlying connotations and anti-semitic implications of the word. A considerable emphasis on highlighting the offensive nature of ‘Yid’ may go some way in diminishing and eventually removing its use in football and a wider context.
I begin my conclusion by reemphasising how I began; ‘Yid’ is an unacceptable term. It can be compared to the N-word to describe blacks and the P-word for Asians. The Y-word belongs to the Jewish community. It has no place in a footballing context nor in society as a whole. It has become wrongly normalised and is seen in a different light to the other terms I compared it to. Education and awareness is vital. Ignorance of the connotations and the anti-semitic nature of the term plays a large part in its use in football games.