Arsenal and Spurs to David Baddiel and Frank Skinner: Jewish Museum's Four Four Jew

By Ben Miller | 09 October 2013

Exhibition review: Four Four Jew, Jewish Museum, London, October 10 2013 – February 23 2014

A black and white photo of a schoolboy football team
Jews Free School football team (1907)© Courtesy Jewish Museum London
The Jewish Museum’s brief, colourful look at the relationship between Jews and British football is, on the face of it, extremely funny.

The worst Jewish youth club in the world is captured forever on film, opposition supporters sing “does your Rabbi know you’re here?” to Spurs fans on the terraces of the 1970s, and a highly questionable Arsenal jumper, knitted in what must be extra-large, hangs eye-meltingly in a case.

An image of a cartoon showing a rabbi speaking into a microphone
Harry Blacker cartoon© Courtesy the Blacker family
During the 1990s, when their Fantasy Football episodic was merging laddishness with a kind of intellectual humour to ratings-approved effect, Frank Skinner and David Baddiel asked Avi Cohen, an Israeli defender who was at Liverpool from 1979 to 1981, to recreate his only goal for the club.

Shown through a tiny screen and headphones, their spoof involves the ex-player being interrupted by a Rabbi driving a Volvo across the backdrop of a training pitch.

Most spectacularly, Ronny Rosenthal’s glorious miss for Liverpool – the striker smashing the ball against the crossbar of a gaping goal from five yards out – is repeated as part of the clip.

But the exhibition has less to do with charismatic characters and legendary sidenotes. More than anything else, it’s about humanity and identity, which makes it worth seeing for those who might know nothing of the likes of Cohen (who sadly died three years ago) and Rosenthal (whose son, Tom, could form part of the next generation, having recently received his first professional contract from one of his dad’s former clubs, Watford).

The Jewish Athletic Association – later the Association for Jewish Youth – was founded in 1899, and carried the same intention as Maccabi – founded in 1934 – of encouraging Jews and non-Jews to mix and enjoy a shared pastime. Such was the success of that aim that a somewhat qualifying set of guidelines, A Plan for the Inculculation of Judaism in Jewish Youth Clubs, was also eventually produced.

Sport eclipsed what cultural differences there might have been and took over. As Baddiel notes, few Jewish men lack passion for the beautiful game. Many of their ancestors fell in love with Spurs, beginning Tottenham-loving dynasties which have lasted for generations.

This leads, inevitably, to the most contemporaneously contentious part, where fans, analysts, players and leaders offer their opinions on the Cameron-approved use of the word yid.

Some interpret 35,000 Spurs fans singing an insult to their own as a badge of honour, although Dean Furman – who, in his current role as a defender for Doncaster, might not be of a mind to become embroiled in controversy – wants it banned altogether.

An image of a programme for a football match
Arsenal programme cover with Rosh Hashana message to Jewish fans (1965)© Courtesy Arsenal Football Club
Lord Bernstein, who contributes a staff-signed England shirt from his recently-departed tenure as the leader of the Football Association, confesses to agonising over the issue, and that is probably how any viewer who abhors anti-Semitism will be left feeling.

Bernstein, meanwhile, is one of dozens of powerful figures to have exerted their influence on the sport, stretching all the way back to a tobacconist, Joshua Margoschis, who became Aston Villa Chairman in 1896.

David Dein, whose name is forever associated with Arsenal (he was Vice-Chairman for decades before selling his shares to Russians in 2007), broadcasts his personal diaries, and Lord Justice Taylor, who changed the game forever by overseeing the Hillsborough Report, is revealed as the son of second generation eastern European Jewish immigrants.

As well as the seven Manchester United players killed in the awful Munich Air Disaster of 1958, there were 14 further deaths – one of them, Henry Rose, was a famed Daily Express journalist from a family of Russian Jews.

Many of those to arrive in the aftermath of war contributed to the burgeoning amateur parks leagues, which continue to thrive today.

And there are plenty of items for memorabilia lovers to admire, including an Arsenal vs Hapoel Tel Aviv programme from 1951, the collection of Morris Keston, a Spurs obsessive who organised Bobby Moore’s testimonial match, and a programme from the 1967 League Cup final, when Mark Lazarus scored an 81st minute winner for QPR.

Lazarus is part of a wall of players ranging from Louis Bookman – the first Jew to play in the English top flight, signing for Bradford City in 1911 – to David Pleat, a managerial hall-of-famer whose loans include international caps and medals. But although the individuals are interesting, the resounding tale is of football as a unifying force.

  • Open 10am-5pm (2pm Friday, closed Saturday). Admission £3.50-£7.50 (free for under-5s, family ticket £18). Book online. Follow the exhibition on Twitter @jewishmuseum44j and use the hashtag #fourfourjew.

More pictures:

An image of a printed newspaper message advising of a change of time for a football match
That Rosh Hashana message in full© Courtesy Arsenal Football Club
An image of various circular football club badges
Assorted football club-branded kippot (skullcaps)© Courtesy Jewish Museum London
What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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