Does Your Rabbi Know You’re Here? The Story of English Football’s Forgotten Tribe
By Anthony Clavane
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All too often, authors fail to provide their readers with even a modicum of history, a back story upon which the rest of their work can be built. Thankfully, this frustrating trait is conspicuous by it’s absence from Anthony Clavane’s latest book, a fascinating, engaging tale of English football’s ‘forgotten tribe’.
As befits a former history teacher, the author first provides his readers with details of two specific migrations responsible for an influx of Jews to Great Britain. The first, from eastern Europe, was triggered by Tsar Alexander II’s murder in 1881, and supplemented 50 years later by a central European flight from Nazi tyranny.
Once here, Clavane argues, most Jewish immigrants have “been committed to a single goal: Becoming English” and because this incoming ‘tribe’ has tended, initially at least, to be predominantly working class in nature, it has produced its fair share of both boxers and footballers.
Indeed, participating in sports that might be considered ‘rough’ was, according to the author, “one of the ways of countering charges of physical weakness, separateness and ‘Otherness’.”
Clavane’s introduction is essentially a brief social history, but it provides an excellent aperitif to his main course – an examination of English football’s most influential Jews.
He starts with a Lithuanian-Jewish-Irishman, which sounds like the opening line of a bad joke, but refers, in fact, to Louis Bookman, the first Jew to play in England’s top flight. What follows is Clavane’s own first XI, a team determined by their religion, which includes more well-known figures such as David Dein, Roman Abramovich and FA chairman David Bernstein.
Throughout, the author argues that football “has, for the past century, been a vehicle for Anglicisation, a space where ethnic identity has connected, even become intertwined, with national identity.” Those who would rubbish football should take note, while reminding themselves of David Baddiel’s words that today, “it is virtually impossible to be Jewish and male and not interested in football.”
As London’s Olympic Games proved, all sport, not just football, can play an important role in Britain’s social integration. Clavane certainly makes the case for football, reminding readers of the sport’s wonderfully cohesive nature, a feature of which we should perhaps take greater advantage.
We’ve teamed up with Sports Book of the Month & have a copy of Does Your Rabbi Know You’re Here? to give away.
To win this week’s sports book, go to their website (www.sportsbookofthemonth.com) and answer the following question:
Which Jewish player, once hailed as ‘the new Tom Finney’ while at Nottingham Forest, later became manager of Luton Town and Tottenham?