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The People Of The Ball.

I spent a lovely couple of hours at the Jewish Museum in Camden walking around 4-4-Jew, the exhibition on Jewish involvement in British football.

I admit I thought that after half an hour I would be out of there. I always used to think that Jews in British football started and stopped with Barry Silkman, who played for Crystal Palace, my dad’s team.  But I was still there after two hours and time flew by. It was wonderful.

I sat on an improvised mini-football terrace and watched a 20 minute film  in which pundits, ex-players and ex-Chairmen spoke about their own Jewish involvement in the beautiful game in Britain.

Author and journalist Anthony Clavane related that in the sixties Leeds United fans used to complain that while Leeds Rugby League club had the great Lewis Jones they only had Jewish loans. It was true. But, as Clavane said, had three Jewish Leeds United directors not given Leeds United interest free loans of £10,000 each then Leeds United would have gone bust.

David Bernstein, ex-Chairman of the Football Association, related how the reason he came to support Manchester City was because he loved their Sky Blue shirts. There’s a board at the exhibition on which you can write why you support the football team you do. We each have our own story to tell.

There was a fascinating corner on the time England played Germany at White Hart Lane in 1935. Footage showed the two teams facing each other before the game. During both national anthems and Abide With Me the German team gave the Nazi salute.

How could the FA let this game take place. The Star newspaper described tensions leading up to the match and how Barnett Janner MP (father of Greville) went to the Football Association to protest on behalf of British Jews.

A 1965 Arsenal football programme contains an apology to Arsenal’s Jewish supporters for playing an FA Cup match during Passover. How times change. A few weeks ago Spurs played a game on Yom Kippur without even a word. Maybe Spurs recognised that some Jews would go to that game.

The question left hanging was did football change us or had we changed enough already for that game to have taken place on the holiest day in Judaism?

On the walls were mini screens which showed old footage that lasted no longer than three minutes each. Chief Rabbi Sachs tell the hilarious story of when he went to see Arsenal v Manchester with the Archbishop of Canterbury. They are both Gooners, but Arsenal lost 6-2 at home!

There was a sense at 4-4-Jew that for British Jews football and Judaism are both religions; equally as important. But it shouldn’t be considered a bad thing. Clavane described how Leeds Jews would hide their cars around the corner from synagogue and go off to Elland Road after synagogue. No one admitted it, but they all did it.

And he told how his rabbi bumped into Don Revie, the late Leeds United manager, at a Jewish wedding. The rabbi told Revie that they had the same congregation; he has them in the morning and Revie had them in the afternoon.

You see, it didn’t have to be all or nothing as in keeping Shabbat 100% or not at all. By going to synagogue and then being taken to football at least Jewish children got a sense of the importance of  Shabbat.

There was also a corner of the exhibition analysing Spurs fans singing of “Yid Army” (or the “Y” word lest we offend). There were many quotes from both sides of the argument but how can anyone argue with this quote taken from The Guardian website:

“As a Jewish Spurs fan, it has always been a badge of immense pride to hear 35,000 people at White Hart Lane proudly use an otherwise offensive term as a badge of honour.”

The only thing not to like about 4-4-Jew, for me, is the title of the exhibition. Why did they not call it The People Of The Ball, which I took as the headline for this piece off one of the posters at the exhibition?

“Jew” is also used disparagingly. I can understand the use of “Jews” to describe a collective of people. But “Jew” is used when “Jewish person” is far more preferable.

“Jew” implies that religion is a person’s defining characteristic, when “Jewish person” implies it is one of many. It is a term just as potentially explosive as “Yid”, but no one is banning the “J” word. Even 4-4-Jewish would have been preferable.

So here’s the question for David Baddiel, who wants Spurs fans banned from singing “Yid Army”: What if those fans chanted “Jew Army” instead? It would still invite  sick chants of “Spurs are on their way to Belsen” from opposing fans.

Would Baddiel then campaign that the “J” word be banned as well?