Top lawyer Simon Johnson has swapped football for communal politics.
The 47-year-old, who led England’s bid for the 2018 World Cup alongside Prince William and Prime Minister David Cameron, is now donning a communal cap as the interim chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, in the wake of Jeremy Newmark’s departure last month on health grounds.
But the Prestwich-born media and sports lawyer is no stranger to communal leadership.
As a teenager, the former Bury Grammar School student served as the BBYO youth club Whitefield president and sat on the national executive committee.
Today he is chair of Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue, a member of the United Synagogue Council, and the man who headed a consultation process for the US on what kind of chief rabbi was wanted, prior to the appointment last December of Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis.
In a professional capacity, the King’s College, London, graduate, who trained at Denton Hall solicitors, has acted as a sports and business consultant for clients including the Rugby Football Association.
His previous positions include director of rights and business affairs at ITV, director of legal and business affairs at the Premier League and director of corporate affairs at the Football Association. He is said to be a ferocious networker with a contacts book the envy of many, which will stand him in good stead as he enters the Anglo-Jewish snake-pit.
Unknown to many at the Premier League and FA, Johnson developed his early passion for sports as a member of the North Manchester Jewish Soccer League.
But despite growing up in the heartland of Manchester United and Manchester City, Simon Johnson is a Leeds United fan.
He once told guests at a British-Israel Chamber of Commerce business breakfast that he was against a 3pm Wembley kick off for an England-Israel match because it coincided with Shabbat and managed to get it played later — though not as late as he would have liked.
The game was part of the Euro 2008 qualifiers and the police would not let a match start later than 5pm. (Israel, additionally, were anxious not to have to play on Rosh Hash-anah, which fell the following week that year.)
He told JC Sport: “As a Jew I’m disappointed about the time, but it would be improper to try and use my influence to get it changed.
If England were playing any other national side, the kick-off would be 3pm— but we moved it to 5pm to try to accommodate as many people as possible.”
He has worked with UJIA sports committees and backed campaigns working with Israeli football authorities. He has told the JC: “As an individual I was really proud to have the chance to work with Israel. At times of ill-judged boycotts, the Israeli FA continues to contact the FA and asks for help with projects such as Kick Racism Out Of Israel Football. No other FA in the world has asked for similar assistance.”
Johnson worked closely with Fabio Capello in his early days as England manager.
He is married to Joanna (née Feld) whose family used to run the kosher Cumberland Hotel in Bournemouth.
The couple, who live in Hampstead, have three children, Ellen, Lucy and Max.