Let the Yid Army roar!

This post was also published in The Independent on Friday 11 Feb 2022.

Photo: The Independent

I confess, for my sins, I am a Tottenham supporter. It’s a terrible lot, having my emotional well-being tied to the fortunes of 11 random strangers living halfway across the world from me. Especially when this is Spurs we’re talking about: that once-great, might-be-great-again team that blows hot and cold like my grandfather’s old heater. I have tried, truly, I have tried to stop following them, cut myself off emotionally, dismount that dopamine rollercoaster. And yet, every time I do, I hear a snippet of news: “They’re in the Champions’ League Final!” Or, “Bale is back!” Or, “Antonio Conte has taken over!”. And, like a puppy being offered a treat, I go bounding back to that same place of adrenaline, occasional ecstasy, and frequent, bitter disappointment.


Why? Because Spurs are the Yid Army.


And I am a Jew.


Please, take a minute to understand the world from my eyes. Antisemitism is real. Jews around the globe are being targeted for verbal abuse and intimidation, not to mention physical violence up to and including murder. I live in Israel, the only country in the world whose utter annihilation can be advocated in polite company; Iran is going hell for leather to get the nuclear weapons to do it, while most everyone else gives apathetic shrugs. Antisemitism is the only socially acceptable form of racism today.


Emulating R' Zev Leff shlit"a - learning mishna at a Spurs game

So when I had the opportunity a few years ago to visit the UK and go to a live Spurs game, I was at first disconcerted and even a little alarmed by the people around me suddenly yelling "Yid Army!" Were they looking at my kippa? Then my companions explained the background, about Tottenham’s historical support for Jews during times of open antisemitism...and it dawned on me that these fans were actually expressing a kind of love and solidarity with me and my people. Tens of thousands of non-Jews, all effectively telling me, "We've got your back, mate. We're all Jews here."


In that moment, I never felt prouder to be a Spurs supporter.


So, I am not in the least offended by the "Yid Army" chants. On the contrary, I love them.


In point of fact, the "Y" word is not derogatory at all. "Yid" is simply Yiddish (yes, that's the name of the language) for "Jew". We've been calling ourselves "Yids" for centuries. It's not the word that's offensive, it's the context in which it's used. For instance, "Hey, you, f-ing Yid!" sneered by a skinhead with a swastika tattoo is about as offensive as you can get. "Yid army!" cheered by a friendly Spurs fan is not offensive. It's the diametric opposite of offensive.


But now the club has officially asked its supporters to stop using the "Y-word". And I just don't agree. They quoted some research they did, surveying fans' views. I straight away burrowed down into the data of what the Jewish respondents said. And it turns out that 36% of them ‘regularly’ chant, 30% ‘occasionally’ chant and 34% choose not to chant the term. That's 66% who are in favour of the Yid Army.


What of the 34%? Well, only 35% of those, i.e. 12% of the total, feel offended by the chants. So, you have 88% of Jews who are totally ok with the chants, and 66% actively enjoy them.


So why are Spurs only looking at the tiny minority who don't like it? And what is there not to like, since the word itself is not derogatory, and the context is supportive?


I suspect that the discomfort some feel with the “Yid Army” chants is the fear of a reaction from opposing fans: if Spurs fans are cheering for the Yids, then opposing fans will take up antisemitic slogans in response.


That may be a valid concern. But preventing Spurs fans from identifying with Jews is not going to make antisemitism go away, any more than asking Jews to wear baseball caps rather than yarmulkes. It’s just masking the problem, and frankly it’s an own goal: the antisemites aren’t going to love Jews any more just because Spurs fans stopped cheering “Yid Army!”—but Jews will feel less supported.


In these times of rampant antisemitism, we Jews need more love and support, not less.


Please don’t stop the chants. Let the Yid Army roar!