VIDEO – A new book has made the historical link between London’s Tottenham Hotspur football club, with its famous Jewish following, and Russia 1881 – the year Czar Alexander II was assassinated.
The ensuing political upheaval saw the migration of 2 million Jews to the West, propelled by a wave of pogroms that swept across the Russian empire. While the majority of these refugees went to America, a small proportion settled in the United Kingdom.
The Sunday Mirror journalist explores how football became an important factor in helping Jews assimilate into British society in the first half of the 20th century, telling the stories of lesser-known Jewish heroes such as Louis Bookman.
Along with this, you will find information on players Avi Cohen, Ronnie Rosenthal, Eyal Berkovich and Yossi Benayoun, as well as Chelsea chairman, Russian-Jewish billionaire Roman Abramovich.
On the way, Clavane punctures the stereotype of Jews as unathletic, and explains the traditions behind iconic Jewish football institutions, such as Tottenham Hotspur.
"Jews have always had to face anti-Semitism in Britain," Clavane says. "There was constantly this fear that we would be discriminated against. The idea that became ingrained in the Jewish community was that if you 'became English,' it would be hard to do that. By playing football, Jews could integrate into English life and protect themselves from discrimination."
Distinct Jewish sensibility
However, while football indeed provided common ground for Jews and their compatriots, there were also shocking, and often forgotten moments, such as the match in 1935 between England and Nazi Germany where Tottenham officials flew the Nazi flag to represent the German team.
Clavane first visited Israel
in 1975 and has been back many times since, but he believes Israel can feel slightly alien to an outsider, even a Jew, a feeling shared by Israeli football players in England.
Clavane’s research gave him a greater appreciation of his own roots. He was born in Leeds, but his grandfather came from Lithuania in the early part of the 20th century, changing his name from Clavinsky.
Looking into his family history raised a key question: What does it mean to be an English Jew?
Clavane’s answer is that there is a Jewish culture in England not wholly defined by many of the usual things associated with Jews, a distinct Jewish sensibility exists – something Clavane explores through the paradigm of football.