Sam Gilbert | The Y Word

How a football club in North London shows solidarity in the face of hatred.

Tottenham Hotspur F.C. Stadium / Photo credit: Sam Gilbert

By Sam Gilbert

The first time I heard the word Yid, I was sitting in my neighbor’s kitchen, visiting them on Christmas day with my Dad. I was 8, and when it was used at the table, my shocked Dad immediately stood up and took me home. Of course, I had no idea what the word meant, but I remember how he couldn’t quite get me to understand how a word could be especially hurtful to our family, and why someone would use it at all.

In truth, I am not sure my understanding of where hatred comes from has gotten much better in the years that have passed since then, but now I hear the word Yid every time I go to watch football, sometimes with my Dad, and it’s one of the reasons I go at all.

Tottenham Hotspur Football Club is and has always been, a Jewish club. The Jewish club may be more apt. But for the 61,537 fans who cram themselves onto freezing terraces to watch their beloved ‘Spurs every week, less than 5 percent of them on any week will be Jewish themselves. Despite that, the mass majority take immense pleasure in singing chants that center around the word Yid, the crowd favorite built on the chorus “The thing I love most is being a Yid.” They do this to show respect for the club’s Jewish heritage, and more importantly, that there is no room anywhere in what is often called the English game for hatred.

Like all racial slurs, the word Yid has a horrific history. Originally emerging in the 19th century as Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrants sought refuge and work in the dockyards of East London, it is a word designed and spoken to make Jews feel un-English and unwelcome. Of course, unless it is sung by those 57,000-odd Gentiles on a match day. Or the 6,000 who take it on the road on away days. 

In the 1930s, as Blackshirt fascists marched up Cable Street to express just how unwelcome Jews were in Britain, and clashed with the labor unions and gentile neighbors of those Jewish Londoners; that same clash spilled into the grounds of Britain’s football. After the war, things got little better, with football grounds such as Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge being infamous for their fans making hissing sounds at visible Jewish fans on match days to invoke the gas chambers of the Holocaust-while hateful chants against ‘Yids’ were unleashed whenever

Tottenham played a rival team.

It is unclear when the word was claimed by Tottenham fans, but its impact has been of incredible cultural relevance to Britain’s football scene and is felt throughout the country. For a British Jew who loves football, and whose identity has often been the first thing to be singled out in the schoolyard or in the workplace, it is a feeling that matches the magic on the pitch to hear that horrific three-letter word spoken by bullies all their life, sung in euphoric empowerment.

In the midst of the Israel-Hamas War, antisemitic incidents in Britain are skyrocketing at a rate that echoes the dark days of the 1930s. As the blackshirts marched then, extremists march today into Golders Green and other hubs of Jewish British life to demonstrate how unwelcome we are. The answer is not to stop going out, to stop going to work or school, or to stop going to football.

Solidarity is an action, it must be performed passionately, persistently, and preemptively to stamp out hatred and keep it out. When Tottenham fans sing Yid, they make a space welcome, they include. It is that spirit which is needed outside of football and in every area until there is really no place for intolerance.

By singing, silence is replaced by speaking out. The other is brought inside society, welcomed and accepted. 

In Philadelphia, where I now live and study, I still go to watch the ‘Spurs. For as long as I’m here, that’ll be at the supporters’ bar in Center City. There, thousands of miles from home, I hear how much 30 Philly natives “love being a Yid.” And I have to say, I do too.

Sam Gilbert is a junior in the College studying History, currently on exchange from Queen Mary University of London for the 2023/24 academic year. His email is

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