The Arty Semite

Jewish Roots of the 'Beautiful Game'

By Dan Friedman

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British Jews have never accounted for more than 1% of the population. And their contribution to soccer has always been obscured. But, in his well-researched and compellingly-written history, “Does Your Rabbi Know You’re Here?: The History of Football’s Forgotten Tribe,” Anthony Clavane explains the outsize contribution of British Jews to British soccer and their pivotal role in the creation of the English Premier League.

For America this is the first World Cup. In 1994 the USA (under the guidance of Alan Rothenberg) hosted the games but, beyond the Hispanic community, the nation’s interest was really only piqued by the world’s interest and in a proprietary concern of providing hospitality — it might just as well have been the cricket World Cup for all that mainstream America cared.

John Oliver’s primer about the evils of FIFA is one of the proofs of the current interest. The printed guides to the games in local papers across the country, The New Republic’s dedicated World Cup blog and The New York Times’s three front page stories over the past month are further proof.

NBC making a multibillion dollar deal for blanket coverage of the EPL was a significant statement of intent too, as to which league lights up America’s households.

Americans and Brits think Jews aren’t sporty — which would come as a surprise to the founding New York Knicks, the Jewish American boxers of the early 20th century and Hakoach Vienna, the Jewish soccer team (and Austrian national soccer champions, 1924-25) whose predominance in Austrian sport was only interrupted by racist politics.

Noting, but not fully elucidating, the obstacles that have faced Jewish sportsmen in modern Britain, Anthony Clavane tells the story of the myriad contributions of Jews to the world’s favorite sport, and the world’s favorite league.


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