Four Four Jew
by TOBY LICHTIG
"With the exception of a few minor skirmishes which took place about a quarter of a mile from the Tottenham Football Ground and which were promptly broken up by the police . . . the match at White Hart Lane on Wednesday passed off without any scenes worth mentioning." The year was 1935 and the match in question was an international friendly between England and Germany. The choice of Tottenham as the venue – with its large coterie of Jewish fans – was highly controversial. Pleas to keep politics out of football were roundly ignored. "Although it was stated that the German supporters would not have flags, there were hundreds of small swastika flags waved by them at exciting moments", reported the Jewish Chronicle.
An astonishing 10,000 Germans arrived in England for the match, and many were taken on tours of the capital. Of the 800 London guides employed for the occasion, 150 were said to be German Jewish refugees. "The guides were given strict instructions not to answer any personal or political questions . . . and on no account to take the trippers near the Whitechapel district." Ten months before the Battle of Cable Street, the Chronicle's correspondent noticed a German wearing a "badge of a Union Jack with fasces on it" and wondered "just how close a contact there must be between Nazism and Mosley Fascism in England".
This original article is one of many fascinating exhibits currently on show at the cutely proportioned and cutely entitled Four Four Jew exhibition at the Jewish Museum in London. (It's worth noting that, in Cockney parlance, the People of the Book were once referred to as "four by twos".) The exhibition – which was last week opened by Arsène Wenger – aims to "re-imagine football as a surrogate religion whose passion and tribal spirit have played an integral role in shaping British Jewish identity from the 1900s to the present day". Whether it succeeds in this is anybody's guess, but a century of Jewish contribution to – and obsession with – British football has been documented with loving attention. As well as the (admittedly limited) role of professional Jewish players and managers, including David Pleat, Barry Silkman, Mark Lazarus, the observant Harry "Abe" Morris – Swindon's record marksman and the seventeenth highest goalscorer of all time in England – and a selection of latter-day Israeli footballers (Avi Cohen, "Rocket" Ronny Rosenthal, Eyal Berkovic, Yossi Benayoun, Tal Ben Haim), the exhibition looks at the parts played by various Jewish board members, policy makers, representatives of the FA (whose current chairman, David Bernstein, and predecessor, Lord Triesman, are both Jewish) and, of course, fans.
There is a wealth of memorabilia – programmes, scarves, kippot emblazoned with club crests – and intriguing documents, including an excerpt from a 1965 Arsenal programme giving notice of a late kick off "in order to assist our many Jewish supporters who will be observing Rosh Hashana" and yellowed newspaper correspondence regarding the fraught question of attendance on the Sabbath. One fan reasons thus: "I don't pay. I am a season-ticket holder . . . and when I enter the Arsenal ground on Sabbath it is the same as if I were entering a public park, since no money changes hands".
Other controversies include a 1943 "plan for the inculcation of Judaism in Jewish clubs" (the one religion was feared to be superseding the other), indignation at Manchester City's signing of a German goalkeeper (Bert Trautmann) in 1949 – Rabbi Alexander Altman called on Jews "not to punish an individual German who is unconnected with [Hitler's] crimes" – and the current flare-up about the use of the word "Yid" at Tottenham Hotspur: once a mark of Jewish solidarity ("the highest honour that any player at White Hart Lane can have bestowed on him", according to the Guardian's John Crace), it now feels increasingly outdated, distasteful and open to abuse.
We are also reminded that the now-extinct Jewish club Wingate FC was named after the Christian army officer Orde Wingate, who trained up the Jewish paramilitary organization, the Hagadah, in British Mandate Palestine. "Our version of [T. E.] Lawrence, crazy Orde, a goysiher Zionist", writes the author, TLS contributor and boyhood Wingate fan Clive Sinclair in his short story "Wingate Football Club" (1979), a signed limited edition of which is on sale at the exhibition and £3 shrewdly spent.
Four Four Jew is curated by Joanne Rosenthal in conjunction with various advisors, including Anthony Clavane, whose recent book Does Your Rabbi Know You're Here?, explores similar themes. It runs until February 23, 2014 and anyone interested in British Jewry, football culture and the surprisingly nifty interplay between the two is advised to drop in and take a look.