Joanne Rosenthal fits the cynical profile of the Manchester United fan. She lives in London — although she was raised in Salford — and rarely attends games. But she is a pivotal player in the upcoming Jewish Museum, Camden, exhibition showcasing the Jewish contribution to football, on and off the pitch, and the influence the beautiful game has exerted on Jewish life in this country.
As the curator of the JC-sponsored Four Four Jew, Rosenthal has sourced a treasure trove of material from footballing personalities past and present. There’s the teenage diary of ex-Arsenal and Football Association luminary David Dein: “He meticulously documents the important things in his life, loving football and seeing his team, but also going to JLB or Maccabi.” After the 1958 Munich air crash — in which Manchester United players, supporters and journalists died — Dein switches to red ink for the related diary entries, evidence of the impact of the disaster on the then teenager.
Former Spurs boss David Pleat “came in with a suitcase full of stuff covering his whole career. There’s England youth and schoolboy caps, his Maccabiah medal, photos from his playing days.”
Featured players date as far back as Louis Bookman, an English league star in the early 1900s who represented pre-partition Ireland. Among the exhibition items is a medal Bookman won as a member of Dublin’s Adelaide Road shul team. Then there is Harry Morris, Swindon Town’s record goalscorer, who was banging them in regularly in the 1920s and 30s, and Mark Lazarus, the tricky winger who scored the winner for QPR against West Brom in the 1967 League Cup final, the first played at Wembley. Football journalists are also represented, as is the more recent phenomenon of agents — one of Rosenthal’s favourite items is some informal snaps of Mel Stein with poignantly boyish client Paul Gascoigne at his signing for Lazio.
And there is plenty in the “strange but true” category. For example, in 1966 Chelsea played the European champions Real Madrid in a benefit match for British Ort and JNF and Four Four Jew has the programme to prove it. Also included is the first Jewish New Year message in an Arsenal programme (1965) and a particularly grovelling apology from the Gunners the following season for the rescheduling of a league game on Pesach. And did you know that Arsenal’s first floodlit game was against Hapoel Tel Aviv in 1951? Probably not.
The role of the game in integrating Jews into British society is evidenced through material on Jewish youth clubs and Wingate, the north London side which has competed in non-Jewish leagues.
As for football and religion, this is variously covered by club kippot, soccer-themed barmitzvahs and the prayer for England’s World Cup campaign in 1998 (it obviously did not extend to penalty shoot-outs). And former Reform Judaism head Rabbi Tony Bayfield has donated a wartime air raid precaution rattle, chalked with the claret and blue of his beloved West Ham.
Among the film footage is an affectionate portrayal of a dire Orthodox Manchester team and a Leeds United training session in 1930 featuring Jewish player Leslie Goldberg: “The trainer is in a lab coat and smoking a cigarette,” reveals an amused Rosenthal. A film about the GB women’s squad which participated in the 2009 Maccabiah particularly resonates with the curator, who has played the game from a young age, latterly for Hampstead ladies. “I was a winger until I did my back in and then played in midfield.
“The area I grew up in Manchester was very much United, but because we were Orthodox, we couldn’t have gone to games on Saturday,” she recalls. Although the exhibition was not her idea, “it made sense for me to curate it. It has brought together the two passions of mine. The really nice thing is that most of the research for this has not been in museums but in people’s houses. There have been at least 50 donors of objects.”
She was particularly taken with Lazarus “because of the insight into the bygone era before players were a class above normal citizens. You would have expected him to say that the highlight of his career was the Cup-winning goal. But he said it was ‘whenever I could hear the crowd enjoying what I was doing’.”
Four Four Jew opens on October 10