The Y word

By David Swaden, I only want to be very brief on the football that I managed to watch. So I will sum Sunday up very briefly: The performance was promising, Gervinho’s still very raw – I loved G-Nev’s “erratic” description of him. Mertesacker was supreme in his reading of the game and finally looks settled. Ramsey was vindicated.

On the last point, can “fans” please remember that Wenger sees the players in training and that’s where that decision was made, we dont have this luxury. People slating Wenger before kick off was cringemaking. The biggest lesson a lot of people would do well to remember is “don’t commit anything to writing something you later may regret”.

So logically, I am now moving on to a controversial and emotive subject, inspired by John Terry’s racial abuse trial.

I cant comment on the Capital One cup on Wednesday as I didnt see it, and the reason for that is the topic of this post. I am a Jewish Arsenal fan. Nothing particularly shocking or unusual about that, the club is based in North London, as are almost a hundred thousand Jewish folk. So on Wednesday I was observing, not Arsenal, I was instead observing but the Jewish Festival of Yom Kippur, or “Day of Atonement”.

The sharper amongst you may now guess where I am going here. I want to give my take on the use of the word “Yid” for Spurs fans, which came about from the area of Tottenham and their board containing significant numbers of Jews over the years.

In short, I am not offended by the “Yid” term, in this context, and neither are the vast majority of my Jewish Tottenham or Arsenal, or other football supporting friends. It is a disambiguated term which the vast majority of Gooners who use it either do not realise or do not intend to use in any way as meaning a Jewish person. There’s plenty of non-Jewish Spurs fans at White Hart Lane who happily label themselves “Yids”, with no connotation to religion whatsoever.

However, there is no doubt that the use of the term “Yid” is problematic, and there are those who have not been totally desensitised by a lifetime of North London rivalry that will naturally be offended. Were a non-footballing Jew to hear it used as an insult at a match, I’ve no doubt they would be upset and really who could blame them? The analogy would hold if “Yid” were to be replaced by derogatory phrases for other races and religions, of which I have no intention of spelling out.

And this is not to ignore that, despite the vast majority’s secular use of the term, we have all heard horror stories of Arsenal, and indeed other fans hissing at Tottenham and anti semitic chants being sung to them. Luckily I have never heard these and would fully expect any fans participating to be immediately ejected and given bans, as with any other kind of racism.

So where do I think the line should be drawn? I think there is a general rule. If a person’s race or religion or sexuality, or similar, is used against them as part of an insult, that is unacceptable. Thus we see that Frimpong’s use of “Scum Yid” was rightly picked up and dealt with by the club. Much in the same way that the Terry case hinges on whether that exemplary bastion of decency called Anton Ferdinand “a black c*nt”, or whether he was merely repeating the suggestion scornfully.

Now you may think I am being hypocritical, and I can understand that charge. After all, I have just said I have no problem with Tottenham calling themselves Yids. I don’t even personally feel uncomfortable when Arsenal fans chant “Yiddos” after “We hate Tottenham”, although I stop short of actually doing this myself.

But that is the point, I feel that way because of my experience. If we want racism to truly be kicked out of football, we need it to be a welcoming atmosphere that sets an example where no-one, as much as possible, feels discriminated against. Start leaving this to assumption that everyone will understand the context, and it is a slippery, dangerous slope.

Having seen an article in the notoriously paranoid and unrepresentative Jewish Chronicle, I don’t personally feel victimised or outraged by badges that say f*** off Yids being sold outside the Emirates. But I would only feel that way assuming they are solely worn inside the stadium and at an Arsenal-Spurs match, and everyone wearing them explicitly understood “Yid” only to mean a Tottenham supporter and nothing else. But can we guarantee that? Of course we can’t. And does it stop me being fundamentally unsettled and worried that the police declined to take action after complaints from people who did take offence? No it doesn’t.

So I suppose where I have arrived is that, whatever it means, and however much I personally understand the context, using an inflammatory term for a religion in a situation where insults and hatred are inevitable will ultimately only have one outcome, as we saw with Frimpong and the badges. So, if we are to accept that there is more to life than football and that football is also ultimately a part of wider life, I think both Arsenal and Tottenham fans have a responsibility to let go of the “Yid” label. Will it ever happen? Almost certainly not, but that’s just my view.

I’d be very interested to hear other views on the subject, so please feel free to debate with me in the comments section.

P.S. I also think that if John Terry either declines to, or loses an appeal over his guilty verdict from the FA, Chelsea should immediately strip him of the Captaincy, but that’s a whole other ball game!

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11 thoughts on “The Y word

  1. Nice article but I do think you’ve drawn the line too far. As a White man, if I went to an NWA gig and bought a “Niggas with Attitude” t-shirt is that racist? I may wear it outside the context of an NWA gig; so should it never be sold? Someone not in tune with that music could mistake it for a disingenuously racist comment? Its the same logic as your argument. Any potentially racist word should never be printed so it can be worn and displayed as it may give cause to suspect racist undertones? Outward displays of racism must be curbed, promoting racist agendas must be curbed; but to curtail words themselves for fear they are intrinsically evil regardless of intent or delivery is, to me, madness.

    Spurs fans call themselves yids. Happily so if my Spurs friends are anything to go by. It’s in no way directed at Jewish people as a whole or specifically. It’s a word used in another context; in this case to denote a group of fans who AFOPTED the word. It’s the evolution of language. I’m sorry, but without an explanation to the above I can’t agree.

    1. Thanks for the comment Jonnus. I agree Spurs fans have happily adopted the phrase, and in their eyes, and mine, without connotation to religion. As it happens, Spurs fans of a certain age will tell you it was embraced by their fanbase far more as a response to antisemitic chanting from other fans. But it is the very fact that it is used in a derogatory way that is the problem. Your NWA t-shirt example is a good one. No-one would have a problem I’m sure with your t-shirt, however, if someone who didnt like NWA started shouting “we fucking hate the ….,” well you know the word, I’m sure that wouldnt be seen as acceptable. It’s the fact that it has been brought into hate rivalry, not the word itself. The onus is on both Spurs and other fans to stop in my opinion. One of the main things is this is a very ambiguous topic, which is why it is rife for debate and I certainly am not saying your opinion is wrong.

      1. mind if I say ” so what “. I’m sick & tired of minorities being offended. We whitey Christians put up with all this intolerant ethnic ” i’m offended ” crap. Get over it

        The denial of natural justice for Terry by the FA is astounding

  2. My opinion is it is all just name calling. Why is it more serious to describe someone by their colour, than calling them a peodophile?

    To me it’s like calling a pillar box red…. it is red. and the majority of people I know (I live in Sydney) are multicultural and are proud of their backgrounds, if they are greek, Indian, Eygptian etc. people share their cultures – be it food, music etc.

    Going back the JT situation – in my opinion the C**t part of the insult is more insulting, yet if Anton called JT a white C**t the offense is seen in a lesser category and not seen as a racist slur. Which confuses me.

    The fact is you can insult someones mother, wife, children, you can wish cancer on them etc. but if you mention the colour of their skin it all of a sudden becomes a legal issue.

    This makes no sense to me, and after being attacked and mugged a few years ago in Brixton by a group of black youths I asked the Police to register the offence as a racist attach I was advised I was the wrong colour fro that to be the case.

    The Race card is played to often without need. Race discrimination is an issue, but name calling will always be name calling. If colour is used it should be dealt with in the same manner as any of the following discriminatory factors – Tall, short, fat, thin, gay, straight, nothern, southern, etc. etc.

    1. Totally agree with this comment and Jonnus. I can understand people being frustrated when they see the imbalance in how racist laws are applied. To me it’s the act that is racist name calling is name calling and little more.

  3. In these politically correct times it is pointless and neanderthal to use a racist insult to describe an opposing fan….I alweays use Spuds or Spudscum to describe a Tiny Tott and studiously avoid the Y designation as being insensitive and ignorant, regardless of the context and location.

  4. When I was young going to Spurs, in the 1970s, rival fans would use the Y word as an insult, Spurs fan to sing it as a means to empower the Jewish Spurs fans and 30 years later its a problem! Why?
    The other thing is that the utterly ridiculous claim of anti-semitic abuse in Spurs songs is the most ignorant and racist claim you could imagine….. 1) The Y word songs are designed to empower Jewish fans against racism, and 2) The Y word refers to Jews. Jews from Eastern Europe. NOT SEMITES!!! Semites aren´t necesarilly Jews, they are Semites. Semite refers to an ethnic group NOT a religion!!! Semites are Jewish, Christian, Muslim and any religion they choose. They are people from The region that used to be known as Palestine. NOWHERE NEAR EASTERN EUROPE. Get it right at least. If people are going to make an accusation of racism don´t be so pig ignorant that you don´t even know that the songs in question are pro- jewish, not anti-semitic and at least know who The Semites are.

  5. ChrisMeerkat…..In actual fact semites generally were and still are from North Africa, Western Asia, Asia Minor and the Arabian Peninsula. Jews are usually either Sephardim who are those Jews associated with the Iberian Peninsula or Ashkenazim an ethnoreligious group who trace their origins to the indigenous Israelite tribes of Canaan in the Middle East, probably began settling along the Rhine in Germany, from Alsace in the south to the Rhineland in the north, during the early Middle Ages.
    The issue of using ¨yids¨ as a descriptor of Tottenham fans is a non-starter since it has no immediate or modern reference to Jewish fans in particular but rather the general Spuds population, regardless of their ethnic or religious affiliations. Gooners are not all goons but Spuds are all ¨ydis¨……so to speak.

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