The past few days have reminded me that there is still so much to be proud about Jewish football. As a product, it is knocked all too often, but the message is clear. It is far from dead in the water and I can tell you that the passion, demand and appetite is still there. From top to bottom, the people involved and connected to it really care.
As you'd expect, there are a whole host of awards evenings pencilled into the diary at this time of year and I try to attend as many as possible.
The first half of my week was spent at EDRS Synagogue. One could feel the nachas at the Maccabi Junior Football League awards with kvelling parents seeing their young heroes collect silverware.
While the 11-a-side game is on the decline numbers-wise nationwide, the MJFL have done well to open avenues to as many young footballers as possible, be it small-sided games, indoor and outdoor, friendly or competitive. As league chairman Laurence Thorne said, they are a step ahead of FIFA and the FA, which I guess can only be a good thing.
It was also refreshing to see a number of female players in attendance as well, and the recent rule change which allows girls to play in mixed teams until 13 will hopefully attract even more.
Twenty-four hours later I was back in my seat for the turn of the JC MSFL. Daran Bern and Ben Sollosi, the top two winners on the night, spoke about their club Redbridge Jewish Care A being a family. Newcomers to the event have told me how impressed they were with the way that the teams turned out and behaved. Of course this is something we take for granted but I can assure you that not every league awards evening is as civilised.
It is always great to see new players recognised and Bern and Sollosi have been a credit to the MSFL family this season, and even the referees got a cheer!
From grass-roots all the way to League 1, we are seeing players of varying ability doing what they love most. Playing football. Not for one minute am I suggesting that all these players are world-beaters, but there are now more Jewish teams and players rubbing shoulders with the elite than ever before. The sport is becoming more and more acceptable within the community as a means of making a living, and not only as a chairman, director or agent.
We are now seeing more young Jewish players on the books of professional clubs. I've lost count of the number of times I've heard of pupils from as young as year two at primary school admitted into academies. It is a big decision for some families who want their children to receive the best education but times are changing.
We are also seeing more Jewish clubs punching their weight in the circles of non-Jewish football. London Lions are playing at the highest level the club has ever achieved in the South Midlands League, while their youth teams have excelled in the Watford Friendly Leagues. In London, Brady Maccabi, HMH and Pinner JFC are also providing a high level of football to their members while the same can be said of teams in Manchester and at Haroldeans.
Only problem is, I've have enough sweaty handshakes this week to last me a life-time, but I wouldn't change that for the world.