I was listening to a radio commentary in April 2010 when the Spurs full-back Danny Rose, in his debut match, scored a sensational goal against Arsenal. So Spurs score a goal, so what? But Danny Rose… Danny Rose? Perhaps he’s Jewish. My heart leapt. The picture in the paper the following day suggested that he almost certainly was not. Of course not. What did I expect — Broadway Danny Rose?
But I did feel let down. Jewish physicists have won the Nobel Prize the last three years running, very nice as far as it goes, but an Anglo-Jewish Premier League footballer would be a better thing altogether. And now Spurs fans aren’t even allowed to call themselves “Tottenham Yids” on pain of arrest. Is that good for the Jews? For Spurs? The Jewry’s still out. On the day the ban was introduced they lost at home to West Ham for the first time in 14 years.
To find a real Jewish superstar in English team sport you have to go back 100 years, but what’s 100 years to people who have been around for four millennia? Albert Rosenfeld, son of a Sydney tailor, came from Australia to play rugby league for Huddersfield. Precisely a century ago he scored 80 tries in a season, a record that has never been equalled. The only other authentic Jewish great was the South African Wilf Rosenberg, the “Flying Dentist” who scored 44 tries in 1960-61, playing rugby league for Leeds.
In his wonderful book Promised Land, Anthony Clavane describes how Leeds changed from a rugby city to a football city in the 1960s, how Leeds rugby league, built around one Lewis Jones, gave way to Leeds United, built on “Jewish loans”. It was the takeover of the club by Jewish businessmen, prominent among them the furniture magnate Manny Cussins, that set it on its way to 60s and 70s greatness.
Clavane knows how hopeless things at Elland Road were before but, born in 1960, he is too young to have gone through the actual pain. I am a Leeds United supporter and I am old enough to have experienced the years of hopelessness, before a largely Jewish board and our non-Jewish Moses, Don Revie, led us from slavery to freedom and much-hated supremacy.
Clavane’s is one of the many voices at the immensely enjoyable Four Four Jew show at London’s Jewish Museum, a celebration of our obsession with the game. You don’t have to be a Tottenham Yid or any other sort of Yid to be a football fan, but it helps.
A couple of generations ago football was one of the best ways for Jewish kids to establish relationships with their British contemporaries; today it is a Jewish male obsession. David Pleat (né Plotz), player-manager-pundit, describes himself as an Englishman born into the Jewish faith who loves football. He speaks for many.
In the New Testament, Paul says: “And now abideth faith hope and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” In Four Four Jew somebody says: “Our rabbi told us three things — don’t eat bacon, don’t marry out and don’t support Manchester United.” The greatest of these is “Don’t support Manchester United.”