While most footballers will be enjoying the summer off, some of the community’s most talented teenage players will be out in America, looking for glory at the JCC Maccabi Games.
Half of the eight squads in Fort Lauderdale in August will be competing in football, with Team Maccabi GB sending out both boys and girls teams in the U14 and U16 events.
Brandon Myers and Ricky Ansher, manager and coach respectively of the U16 boys, are both happy with the squad they have at their disposal. Myers says: “There’s some real quality among the group. We started assembling the squad in January, and while there have been a couple of changes, we now have a settled squad that’s ready for America.”
Training was initially held once a month during the season, though they’ve now increased the frequency of sessions and have friendlies lined up over the next few weeks.
With players from from north-west London, Essex, Manchester and Leeds, Myers says: “We’re blessed to have a real diversity in the squad, displaying some of the best Jewish talent from all over the country. This will be their first experience of an international games for them, which really adds to the excitement, they’re just itching to get out there.”
As to what they can expect from the opposition in the tournament, he expects “a strong Argentina side, in a game that always proves to be competitive and edgy. However, rather than focus on other teams, we want to just concentrate on ourselves.
He adds: “I don’t believe there’s any reason why we can’t return with gold. That’s the aim for myself, Ricky and all the team. GB teams have a history of being successful at the JCC games, and we plan on continuing that legacy.”
With excitement and anticipation in the air ahead of the big kick-off, he says: “Many of the boys have siblings and parents that have represented Team Maccabi GB on the world stage at International Games and they can’t wait to be able to do the same.
The Maccabi GB Girls squad heading to Fort Lauderdale this summer (Photo: Dan Gould)
“This will be my third time representing Team Maccabi GB and the thrill of it never seems to decrease, it’s a very special feeling and I can’t wait.”
As to what he hopes the players will take from the Games away from the pitch, he adds: “To make memories they’ll never forget. I hope they soak in the whole atmosphere, getting to meet other Jews from around the world and walking out in front of a packed stadium at the Opening Ceremony.
“I want to foster a really strong team culture, that extends beyond the Games. I also want to ensure that, for them, this is just the start of their Maccabi journey, and that they go on to participate at many games to come.”
The U16 Girls, like the U14 Girls, will be playing as mixed teams, with one player from Boston joining the former. Ruby Kalms, who will be managing the U16 Girls, says: “I’m thrilled with the talent and personalities we have within the squad. Our team has both impressive footballing ability and a motivation to succeed.
"It’s been great to see how quickly the girls have become firm friends and how that’s improved how they play as a squad.”
As with the boys, Kalms’ squad consists of players from around the country. For most this will also be their first international competition, though they do have experience of tournaments and competitive matches.
Training has been a mixture of drills aimed at certain aspects such as passing and shooting, followed by matches to perfect their skills. They hope to schedule a friendly match before going to the US to finalise their formation and starting team.
Describing what she thinks they’ll be facing, she says: “The standard, particularly from American teams, at the JCC Games is always high. It’s a challenge to bring together a group of girls in a matter of months, most of whom have not met nor played together before.
"However, our expectations have only grown over those months as they have become more confident both in their own abilities and those of their teammates.
“Our goal is, of course, to return with a medal, preferably a gold, but in a wider sense, a successful tournament would see us winning, but in a way where each players is, and recognises that they are, an integral member of the squad.”
Explaining how the girls are “very excited for the Games, recognising the special opportunity to represent both their country and religion on an international level”, she adds: “They’re also looking forward to the activities and social events outside of the sport and living with a host family in Florida.
"I hope they make new friends from all over the world, develop their connections to Judaism and Maccabi GB, and enjoy every minute.
“I competed in the Games eight years ago and am excited to return. The Games helped me to identify and strengthen my Jewish identity, and I hope the same is true for our players.”
U16 Boys squad: Moosh Abi, Zack Gelbart, Edward Goldman, Will Gordon, Jamie Hugh, Alex Levene, Rafi Kaye, Charlie Pincus, Edward Shapiro, Dylan Sugarman, Ethan Tzabari
U16 Girls squad: Naomi Abehsera, Toni Cruise, Talia Djanogly, Ruby Moryoussef, Leah Nilson, Allegra Orkin, Evie Rose, Goldie Rubinoff, Aimee Turschwell