Four Four Jew: Football, Fans and Faith, at the Jewish Museum

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Four Four Jew: Football, Fans and Faith, at the Jewish Museum


Thu, 17/10/2013 - 09:15


Jews Free School football team, 1907 (Photo: Courtesy of Jewish Museum London)
17 October, 2013

FACED not only with rabid anti-Semitism on the streets and the playing field, Jewish football players had another hurdle to overcome: the disapproval of their orthodox community leaders.

Playing football on the Sabbath was not acceptable, in their eyes.

Yet as a quote emblazoned on a display at a new exhibition at the Jewish Museum in Camden Town, there is not a British Jewish man who doesn’t love football.

And, as the exhibition shows, this love of the game not only has roots going back to the turn of the previous century, but that Jewish people have played a large role in the shaping of British football, and British football has played a large role in the cultural history of Anglo-Judaism.

The show – packed with extraordinary artefacts illustrating extraordinary stories – was curated by Manchester United fan Jo Rosenthal, who works at the Albert Street museum.

She trawled the country to hear of the link between the national game and Jewish culture.

“I visited the homes of around 60 different families, all involved at some level with football, to hear their stories. We have the view of the players, fans, sports writers, to groundsman, club directors,” she reveals.

One of the stories – illustrated by a Pathé Newsreel dating from 1935 – reveals the day Nazi Germany took on England at White Hart Lane. It was hugely controversial, the club’s large Jewish support warning of trouble as 10,000 Germans made their way to Spurs.

The FA flew a Swastika from the roof of the West Stand – prompting the brave action of a man called Ernest Wooley, an anti-fascist Spurs supporter. He clambered up rickety gantries, past stewards and policemen, to haul the offending article down before half time. He was fined three shillings and six pence for “damage”.

The idea for the exhibition came from a best-selling book published last year by Anthony Clavane called Does Your Rabbi Know You're Here?

The author drew on the museum’s archives to write his history of Jewish involvement in football and it prompted the museum to consider this show.

“He saw the material we had and suggested it would make a good exhibition,” says Jo. “It is a strong story and we felt it would bring together many elements of what our museum is about: Judaism, of course, but also Anglo-Jewish culture seen through a particular prism.

“It would let us look at the wider spectrum of the enjoyment of football and Judaism.”

The relationship between Jewish people and certain football clubs is not confided to Spurs and Arsenal – though one quote from supporter Charlotte Seligman rings true for many: “In my family, supporting Spurs is as much a tradition as arguing on a Friday night.

“As the exhibition shows, Jews have attachments to football clubs the length and breadth of the country,” says Jo. “From Millwall and Brentford, QPR and Orient and Chelsea in London, though to Leeds, the Manchester clubs, Newcastle and Sunderland – all have sizeable Jewish support.”

The story starts in 1900: it looks at how football was used as a tool to assimilate and integrate into British culture Jewish people fleeing pogroms in the east.

This links into the use of football today, says Jo: “We see football used successfully in modern community cohesion projects, and in many ways this was the experience of non-Anglicised Jewish people coming at the end of the Victorian period,” says Jo.

Pictures of football teams from the likes of the Brady Street Boys Club – a famous Jewish sporting club in the East end – include captions in football reports saying how the teams brought  “... Jews and non-Jews together in friendly rivalry.”

To the Jewish communities already in England, this was a way of helping newcomers assimilate into the ways of the English. And there was another point to be made. In the same way Jewish boxing clubs were encouraged to demolish the stereotype of the weedy, Torah-studying Jewish boy, football clubs showed another side of Jewish manhood: if they could cut it on the football field, they would win respect on the streets, it was believed.

“There was this idea of the typical, observant, orthodox Jew from the east, who was focused on study,” says Jo.

“It gave a new idea of what UK Judaism could look like.”

The show then takes the viewer through to the modern day game, recounting such episodes as how Manchester’s Jewish community reacted to the signing of German POW Bert Trautmann: newspaper articles by Jewish leaders called on people to give the man a chance, and not to tar all Germans as Nazis.

It also includes the story of football writer Henry Rose, who perished in the Munich air disaster, and how the streets of Manchester came to a standstill for his funeral. Celtic director Ian Livingston has lent his specially embossed Tallif – a prayer shawl – that is bedecked with the famous green and white emblems (“I’d heard of Leeds United supporters with the Leeds colours on their prayer shawls. I wanted one for my team...”).

There is on display items from the career of former Spurs boss David Pleat, and the diaries of former Arsenal director David Dein, and tells the remarkable story of female Rabbi Ariel Freidlander, who also happened to be QPR’s official club photographer.

As Jo explains: “We have brought together memorabilia, rare objects, old and some new film footage to tell the story of the clubs, the players, the fans – and above all, the ‘religion’ that is the Beautiful Game.”

Four Four Jew: Football, Fans and Faith runs until February 23, 2014 at the Jewish Museum, 129-131 Albert Street, NW1.

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