Jewish football identity scandal

Facebook pictures show banned footballers playing under false names

By Danny Caro and Marcus Dysch, February 11, 2011
Admission: Rob Lerner

Admission: Rob Lerner

When a Sunday footballer proudly posted pictures of himself in action on Facebook he had no idea he was about to become embroiled in one of the biggest rows in the Jewish game.

For he should never have been playing at all - he had been suspended over claims he might not be Jewish.

And the only reason he managed to get on to the team sheet that day at all was because his manager had used a false name.

Now he, and others, are at the centre of an investigation into the fielding of ineligible players, a claim that has seen their club suspended indefinitely and fined heavily.

The team concerned is Holy Mount Zion, who play in the MSFL League. The league had become suspicious that some players were not Jewish after receiving complaints from opposing teams and had asked manager Rob Lerner to provide proof. Officials even set a deadline and threatened to suspend HMZ if it were not met.

When the deadline passed, the league named 10 suspect players and ordered the club not to field any until they could all provide proof that they "were of the Jewish faith".

Then Nigel Burns, a league official and a qualified FA referee, went to officiate at HMZ's match against Faithfold.

Mr Burns' suspicions were confirmed when he heard players calling to each other with non-Jewish names, such as Mariusz and Javier.

Afterwards, he approached the players and one of them identified himself as Danny Potter, a name that had appeared on the team sheet. He asked: "Why do they call you Mariusz?" The reply: "It's my nickname."

He asked Danny Potter and another player their dates of birth. Neither matched those supplied earlier.

But what none of the players could have foreseen was that a JC photographer had captured them in action.

The JC sports desk sent the pictures to manager Rob Lerner with a request for caption information. One player was identified by the manager in an email response as Danny Potter. Another was Simon Laub.

But the Facebook images told a different story. In reality, they were Mariusz Mielniczuk, a Polish-born personal trainer, and Javier Guevara, a banker who had previously studied and worked in Bogota.

As a result, the league committee called Mr Lerner and his club captain Dan Lowen to a meeting.

When asked to explain the inconsistency, Mr Lerner "put his hands up," according to Mr Burns. "He fully admitted it."

HMZ has now been banned from playing any more games and the results of many of their fixtures could be rendered void, throwing the league into chaos.

When asked by JC sports editor Danny Caro why he had supplied the wrong names, Mr Lerner said: "I didn't have much choice. I had to, it is the only way I could get a team out."

He confirmed that the players knew they were playing under false names and were "not 100 per cent comfortable with it".

With 50 clubs and hundreds of games each season, fielding teams of exclusively Jewish players is a longstanding issue for many clubs. Some turn up with ten or even nine players, and take their chances.

It is still not known who is or is not Jewish among the HMZ squad. Four of the ten have been able to provide proof but the six others include players from Colombia, Poland and Italy.

Apart from Mr Mielniczuk, who we were told was in Cuba on holiday, only one spoke to us: Luigi Minale, a 28-year-old university researcher from Milan. He said he was Jewish, but would not comment further. The others include Jaime Augusto, Millan Quijano, a colleague of Mr Minale at University College London. Mr Quijano grew up in Bogota, Colombia, and moved to London in 2007. Others were midfielder Guri Singer and Andrés Tamayo.

League chairman David Woolf said: "HMZ's fixtures have been suspended until such a time that all six players have had their registrations cleared.

"The club came to a meeting and admitted that they had been telling lies. The league is concerned that the club is not to be trusted. They're doing the Jewish community a disservice."

Managers of other MSFL sides have called for HMZ to be expelled.

Simon Beresford of Faithfold C said: "I think it's absolutely disgusting what they have done. They have shown a complete lack of respect towards the Maccabi League and all of the clubs and people involved with it."

Team JLGB manager Robert Silverman said: "If they have fielded unregistered players on a number of occasions, they should be expelled."

Mr Lerner, who was team secretary of the year in 2006, said: "My conscience is clear. The only regrettable thing, with hindsight, was the decision to field players whose registrations were withdrawn, but had we not, we would have been unable to field a team, and to an extent, we deceived our opposition.

"We've accepted our punishment without question as rules are rules."

Asked if he had ever fielded a non-Jewish player, he said: "No."

Last updated: 10:48am, February 11 2011