Jewish impact on the English Football League
By Ilan Herrmann
Since Louis Bookman, the first Jew to play in the EFL back in 1911, the broad range of Jewish players, coaches, managers and owners that have featured in the EFL have helped shape the beautiful game in England. Though today the well of players has dried up Jews still remain prominent in the sphere of club ownership. This article looks at the impact of Jews in the English Football league over the years.
Lazarus and English Players
Possibly the most memorable Jewish footballing moment in English football was in 1967 when Mark Lazarus, a Briton, scored the winning goal for QPR in the League Cup final at Wembley.
Other native English Jewish players who have featured, are Barry Silkman, who played for Manchester City amongst other clubs and David Pleat. Pleat represented England at schoolboy level. His first club as a senior player was Nottingham Forest. Pleat made an impressive 185 Football League appearances for the five different clubs for which he played, scoring 26 goals. Silkman, an enigmatic character, played in the midfield for Manchester City in 1979 and then at Leyton Orient from 1981 to 1985. In the 1990s he became a football agent and in 2013 was considered to be in the Top 10 most influential agents in the game.
At its height Leeds United had a strong Jewish association which actually lasted several decades. At one time in the 1960s they had three Jewish board members, including the influential Manny Cussins. This encouraged a strong Jewish supporters base and Leeds had a reputation, akin to Tottenham, of being a ‘Jewish club’. They became league champions in 1969. Manny Cussins became club chairman in 1972 and with revered coach Don Revie, they won the FA Cup in 1967 and were finalists, losing to Bayern Munich in the European Cup final in 1975.
The Leeds Jewish association continued as Cussins sold the club to Jewish businessman Leslie Silver in 1981. The demographics had changed and it wasn’t as ‘Jewish friendly’ with political, social and economic changes influencing the discourse in and around Elland Road. Silver brought Howard Wilkinson on as coach and Leeds won the coveted league in 1992. Silver sold the club four years later.
In 2021 Leeds now back in the Premier league, a trio of directors were appointed just before the 2021 season ended. One of them is Australian Jewish investor Peter Lowy. The Lowy's have been involved in the game as owners and administrators in Australia. In an interview Lowy reminisced of how Leeds was his team from a young age listening to them playing win the radio. He is 'home' in a way at Leeds and is looking forward to helping them reach even greater heights.
Leyton Orient also had a very strong Jewish association. Harry Zussman was the owner in the 1960s. In the 1961/62 season the team won promotion to the Premier League for the first and only time in its history. The club was financed by two other Jewish businessmen, Les Grade and Bernard Delfont. Orient’s wave of Jewish players through the years included Monty Berman and Arnold Siegel just after the war and Mark Lazarus, Barry Silkman and Bobby Fisher in the ’70s and ’80s.
Louis Bookman (originally Buchalter) was the first Jew to play in the English League. Bookman was an Irish sportsman of Lithuanian Jewish origin who represented Ireland in both football and cricket. The son of a Rabbi in Lithuania, Louis arrived in Ireland in 1895 when his family emigrated to escape antisemitism. His family subsequently adopted the name Bookman.
Bookman moved from Belfast Celtic to English club Bradford City in 1911. The First World War forced him to return to Ireland where he played for Glentoran and then Shelbourne. He returned to the EFL signing for Luton Town in 1919 and played over 100 games for the club before joining Port Vale in September 1923.
Leslie Goldberg, an immigrant from Russia, was a strong candidate to become the first and only Jew to play for England’s national side, but history had other plans. In 1937 Goldberg made his debut for Leeds United replacing England defender Bert Sproston. Goldberg was seen as a future replacement for Sproston for England. After 21 appearances and the promise of national selection at hand, Goldbergs career was put on hold as the winds of World War II blew menacingly through Europe and the EFL was halted.
When the league eventually resumed, the Leeds back line was changed and Goldberg was not in the starting line-up. He was transferred to Reading in 1947. After 71 appearances for Reading, in a 1950 clash against Norwich, an ugly incident occurred. His wife Peggy afterwards said: "They went for him deliberately, or so I was told. It was a bad break. His friend, up in the stand, heard the bone break. There was anti-Semitism involved." Goldberg’s leg was broken and his career was over.
Goldberg became a successful scout for Reading following his career as a player.
The first Israeli player to be associated with an English team was the legendary striker Mordechai Spiegler. Spiegler played three friendly games for West Ham United in 1970. In the same year he became the only player ever to score a goal for Israel at the World Cup in Mexico (vs Sweden).
Spiegler was certainly cut to make the grade in the EFL so why only three games? There were stumbling blocks. The Israeli FA would have to approve the move, he would need to organise a work permit and the Football League Management Committee would have to rubber-stamp the transfer. It all proved to be too much for the club and so Spiegler returned to Israel to his club Maccabi Netanya.
The Israeli Connection
A host of Israeli players subsequently made their mark on the EFL. Avraham Cohen played for Liverpool from 1979 - 1981. Cohen struggled to establish himself as a regular, making just 18 appearances and scoring just one goal in his two-year spell with The Reds. He was released in November 1981 and rejoined Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Sadly, Cohen was involved in a tragic motorcycle accident on 20 December 2010 and succumbed to his injuries 8 days later in a hospital in Tel Aviv. Liverpool marked the death of Cohen with a pre-kick-off applause prior to their premier league game against Wolves on 29 December 2010. The club also played a friendly game against the local Jewish community in honour of Cohen.
Benayoun is one of the most prolific Jewish players to have played in the EFL. In 2005 he moved to West Ham United for a fee of £2.5 million. In May 2006, he played in the FA Cup Final for West Ham against Liverpool in Cardiff, losing on penalties after a 3-3 draw. He made 63 appearances for The Hammers scoring 8 goals.
In 2007, Benayoun moved to Liverpool from Spanish club Racing Santander. Particularly memorable was a hat trick he netted in Liverpool’s 8-0 demolition of Turkish side Besiktas in the Champions League. Arguably his most important goal was on 25 February 2009 when he climbed to header home a cross from Fabio Aurelio to give Liverpool a 1-0 win against Real Madrid in the Champions League round of 16.
Benayoun made 92 appearances for Liverpool, scoring 18 goals. He then moved to Chelsea in July 2010, debuting against Manchester United in the FA Community Shield. He made just 14 appearances for Chelsea, scoring 1 goal. He subsequently transferred to Arsenal where he made 19 league appearances, scoring 4 goals. His last English club stint was at QPR where he made 16 appearances, scoring 3 times.
Rosenthal, a powerful striker, signed to Liverpool in 1990 for a fee of £1.1million, becoming the first non-British player to move to an English club for more than £1million. After four years at Liverpool, Rosenthal transferred to Tottenham Hotspur and finished his career with Watford. His stats read: Liverpool 74 appearances 21 goals. Tottenham 88 appearances 4 goals. Watford 30 appearances with an impressive 8 goals.
Other notable Israeli players are: Tal Ben Haim (Manchester City 2008) Eyal Berkovic (Manchester City 2001) and Tamir Cohen (Bolton Wanderers 2008)
Hemed, a striker, is probably the most recognised Jewish player currently playing in the EPL. Hemed played for Maccabi Haifa and then for Mallorca in Spain. In 2015, he came to Brighton & Hove Albion. Hemed scored his first goal for the Seagulls from the penalty spot in the final moments of an away game at Fulham to seal a 2–1 victory. On 23 August 2018, Hemed joined Championship side Queens Park Rangers on a season-long loan. Two days later, he scored his first goal for the club in his debut against Wigan Athletic in a 1-0 win at Loftus Road.
Furman, originally from Cape Town, began his footballing career as a youth team player at Premier League club Chelsea. However, he did not make the breakthrough into the first team and decided to move on. He played for Bradford, Oldham and then Doncaster United before returning to South African soil to play for his current team Supersport United based in Johannesburg. Furman has had regular call ups to the South African national team, Bafana Bafana, and has captained the national side on a number of occasions. Furman has 48 caps for South Africa.
Two Jewish club managers that stand out are David Pleat (mentioned earlier) and Avraham Grant. Pleat had two spells as manager of Luton Town FC, and four as manager of Tottenham Hotspur (three of which were as caretaker manager).
Avram Grant arrived in England in 2006 after having coached in the Israeli first division, to take up his appointment as the Technical Director at Portsmouth. In July 2007, he became the Director of football at Chelsea. After Jose Mourinho left his post as manager of Chelsea in September 2007, Grant took over the position. His record with the Blues was actually quite impressive, but not sufficiently to the liking of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich. Grant steered Chelsea to the final of the European Champions League as well as the League Cup, but unfortunately Chelsea lost both matches. Under Grant’s reign Chelsea also contested the League title until the last day of the season, but were pipped by Manchester United. His contract was terminated at the end of the season.
Grant had a further spell managing Portsmouth and later moved to West Ham in 2010. He was sacked after West Ham were relegated to Championship football.
Undoubtedly the most significant impact in English football by Jews has been at the top of the chain, as club owners.
The Russian billionaire, who loves his soccer, took ownership of the companies that control Chelsea in June 2003. Abramovich embarked on an ambitious programme of commercial development with the aim of making Chelsea a worldwide brand on the same scale as the big guns, such as Manchester United and Barcelona. Chelsea’s financial injection through Abramovich enabled the club to dabble into the transfer market and to secure world class players.
Chelsea was transformed from a mediocre mid-table team to one of the best teams in the EPL. Since Abramovich took charge, Chelsea has won 13 major trophies: the UEFA Champions League, the UEFA Europa League twice, the Premier League five times, the FA Cup four times and the League Cup three times. These stats make Chelsea the second most successful club in the past decade with 15 trophies, second only to Manchester United, who have bagged 17 trophies.
Lord Sir Allen Sugar, though a self-professed atheist, affirms that he is proud of his Jewish heritage. The British-born businessman and politician was Chairman and co-owner of Tottenham Hotspur from 1991 to 2001. Spurs only won the League Cup in 1998, with Sugar as Chairman. In February 2001, Sugar sold his share holding in Spurs to ENIC Sports, a conglomeration owned by Jewish businessman Joe Lewis. The current Spurs Chairman is Daniel Levy. Under his leadership Spurs have had a steady and impressive spell.
Spurs owner, Joe Lewis, known as “The Boxer” because he shares a name with the great heavyweight champion, came in as the 388th richest person in Forbes’ 2018 list of billionaires.
Spurs has had a strong Jewish association throughout its history and the supporters have been nicknamed the ‘yid army’.
David Newman explains how Spurs got to be the ‘Jewish Club’:
“The theory is that back in the immediate pre- and post- World War II period, Tottenham attracted almost all of the Jewish support in London possibly as an outcome of the transportation links and connections which existed at the time. Few people had cars, and it was much easier for people to travel directly from Liverpool Street and Bethnal Green train stations in the East End (Jewish neighbourhoods) direct along the Kingsland Road to Tottenham, than it was to reach Highbury which entailed changing buses and trains on the way – even though the actual distance involved was not that great. As Jews moved out of the East End, their first port of call was often in the Stamford Hill and South Tottenham neighbourhoods which are close to the Tottenham ground.”
Gaydamak is a French and Israeli businessman. In January 2006, Gaydamak declared his intentions to follow in the foot-steps of his father by owning a football club. He became the co-owner of Portsmouth alongside Milan Mandaric. His father was the owner of Israeli side Beitar Yerushalayim. In June 2009, Gaydamak sold Portsmouth to Sulaiman Al Fahim and stepped down as Chairman. His time as Chairman of Portsmouth was not without controversy as he was accused of asset stripping the club of £32 million before selling it.
David Dein is the former Vice-Chairman of Arsenal Football Club and former Vice-Chairman of the Football Association. Arson Wenger held Dein in high regard saying, “David has contributed highly to the success of the club in the last 10 years and even before that. Red and white are the colours of his heart." Wenger also said, "David Dein is needed in football because this guy has revolutionised this club [Arsenal] and also English football. He is top quality.”
American billionaire, Glazer, began the take-over of Manchester United with a 3.19% ownership share in 2003 and by 2005 had skilfully managed to secure 100% ownership. Glazer also owned NFL team Tampa Bay Bucs. His passing at 85 years old in 2014 saw his sons Avram and Joel inherit ownership of the club. Manchester United is the most valuable European football club, estimated to be worth about 3.25 billion Euros.
In 2009, Bloom became the Chairman of Brighton & Hove Albion after securing a 75% shareholding in the club and investing £93 million in the development of the club's new ground. Bloom a sports bettor and property investor, is also an avid poker player and says, “I’ve been a football fan and a gambler since the age of about seven or eight. My interest in both developed at the same time."
Bloom is a longtime fan of Brighton and his family has had a long association with the club. His uncle Ray is a director and his grandfather, Harry, was Vice-Chairman during the 1970s.
Lerner is an American billionaire investor and sports-team owner. While studying at Cambridge University, Lerner, whose family had interests in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns developed an interest in English soccer. In August 2006, Lerner secured a £62.6 million agreement with Aston Villa to take over the club. He became the majority shareholder and appointed himself as Chairman. In May 2016, Lerner sold Aston Villa after Villa's relegation to the Football League Championship. Lerner recorded a major loss as he invested approximately £120 million into the club and only managed to recoup £65 million in the sale ten years later.
Photo Credit: Lincoln City
We conclude this article with an emphatic South African Jewish connection to the EFL. In 2017 Lincoln City won promotion back into the Football League after a six year absence. They also reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, becoming the first non-Football League side since Queens Park Rangers in 1914 – and first outright since the non-League became feeder to the League – to reach the quarter-finals. Lincoln City beat two Championship teams and Premier League Burnley along the way.
Clive Nates, a co-founder of Peregrine Capital, a hedge fund management company, invested into the club in 2016. In 2018 Nates was voted in as club Chairman. Two of Nates’ friends Sean Melnick, the founder and Chairman of Peregrine Holdings and Ashley Mendelowitz, a founder of A2X Markets, decided to invest into the club as well. Another investor who serves as a director for Lincoln is Greg Levine. All are Jewish and all of them South African. As at the time of writing the club stands at the top of League 2.
About the author
Ilan Herrmann is the publisher of the Soul Sport magazine. He played football at provincial, Pro-Club and Maccabi levels, in South Africa. He is the son of legendary footballer Jorge Santoro Herrmann. Ilan served as the spiritual leader at various Johannesburg congregations for 20 years. He runs Soul Workout, a non-profit organisation.
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