The Last Word Dan Fried­man Takes On Soc­cer

Forward Magazine - - Contents - By Dan Fried­man Dan Fried­man the ex­ec­u­tive ed­i­tor of the For­ward. Fol­low him on Twit­ter, @dan­fried­manme

Like lilacs for April, Au­gust means sum­mer camp and the be­gin­ning of the Euro­pean soc­cer sea­son.

This com­ing sea­son, two Is­raeli na­tional play­ers, Beram Kayal and Tomer Hemed, will play for Brighton and Hove Al­bion in the English Premier League. They grew up to­gether play­ing for Mac­cabi Haifa, even though, as you may be able to tell from their names, Kayal is an Arab and Hemed a Jew. This par­tic­u­lar com­bi­na­tion — more usual in Haifa than in Brighton — has peace­fully flow­ered on the Bri­tish south coast; the team’s de­but in the EPL is its fruit.

Is­raelis are not quite the new Brazil­ians, but they are ply­ing their soc­cer trade around the world. As well as internationals Nir Bit­ton in Scot­land and Al­mog Co­hen in Ger­many, Kobi Moyal re­cently signed on for the sto­ried New York Cos­mos.

Once the prov­ince of Pele, Franz Beck­en­bauer and Chi­naglia (not to men­tion Mordechai Spiegler, Is­rael’s top goal scorer), the new New York Cos­mos is a force in the North Amer­i­can Soc­cer League, the coun­try’s se­cond tier.

Play­ing for the re­nascent Cos­mos is no mean feat, but, putting stereo­types of Jewish nerds firmly to one side — af­ter all, even David Beck­ham feels Jewish — play­ing for the Cos­mos is not even the peak of Jewish soc­cer achieve­ment in New York City.

As well as Spiegler, the two play­ers who could ac­tu­ally ar­gue over that spe­cific achieve­ment were Erno Sch­warz and Béla Guttmann, two Hun­gar­i­ans from the famed Hakoah Vi­enna team that cel­e­brated its Jewish­ness in its name (Hakoah is the He­brew word for “strength”) and badge (a Star of David, for mil­len­nia a Jewish sym­bol). At­tract­ing top Jewish play­ers from all over Europe, it was the un­crowned cham­pion of Europe in the early 1920s.

Hakoah played “10 games in half a dozen Amer­i­can cities” af­ter its 1926 do­mes­tic sea­son. Like re­cent friendlies that Is­rael has played in Amer­ica (one of which saw Moyal’s in­ter­na­tional de­but), the crowds con­sisted sig­nif­i­cantly of Jews, cu­ri­ous about this proud sport­ing team. The For­ward re­ported that when the team played the New York Gi­ants, the “Polo Grounds looked like a mass Jewish meet­ing.”

It was front-page news when the Brook­lyn Wan­der­ers played Hakoah on May 22, 1926, at Hawthorne Field in Brook­lyn. Nat Agar, a Jewish CPA orig­i­nally from York­shire, Eng­land, was the man­ager of the Wan­der­ers and a prime mover in the found­ing of early Amer­i­can soc­cer leagues. He was one of the peo­ple re­spon­si­ble for invit­ing Hakoah to play in Amer­ica and, when the team left, was one of the peo­ple re­spon­si­ble for invit­ing play­ers to stay in Amer­ica, where anti-Semitism was far less in­vid­i­ous.

Sch­warz, a for­mer Hun­gar­ian na­tional player, signed for the New York Gi­ants soc­cer team af­ter the Hakoah tour. In a sto­ried three-decade ca­reer in Amer­ica, Sch­warz played for, founded and owned the New York Amer­i­cans, helped found a new soc­cer league and later coached the United States men’s na­tional soc­cer team in the 1950s. As late as 1960 he be­came the gen­eral man­ager of yet an­other league, the In­ter­na­tional Soc­cer League.

As a player, Bela Guttmann was on a par with Sch­warz (though a de­fender, not a for­ward). As a coach and a strate­gist, though, he would go on to be more suc­cess­ful than any other Jewish man­ager. His first coach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence was in New York with Hakoah All-Stars and would cul­mi­nate in him win­ning the Euro­pean Cup twice in a row with Ben­fica, beat­ing Barcelona in 1961 and Real Madrid in 1962.

Af­ter that se­cond suc­ces­sive Euro­pean cham­pi­onship, Guttmann asked for a pay raise. On be­ing turned down, he left the club and, le­gend has it, cursed the club — “Not in a hun­dred years from now will Ben­fica ever be Euro­pean cham­pion.” Since then the club has reached eight Euro­pean fi­nals and lost them all.

The im­pact of the 1926 Hakoah tour on the Jewish com­mu­nity was so great that a sum­mer camp — Camp Hakoah — was set up to cap­i­tal­ize on its suc­cess. Headed up by boxer Benny Leonard, it sold it­self (in a For­ward ad, May 1926) as a na­tional ath­letic sports camp to train chil­dren to the “high­est level of phys­i­cal well­be­ing” where “soc­cer is one of the spe­cial­ties.” And, as well as in­cul­cat­ing mus­cu­lar Jewish­ness, it was good value for read­ers of the For­ward. Par­ents could send away their chil­dren away for a nine-week ses­sion to be­come “the avant-garde of the Jewish peo­ple, pro­tect­ing them from every as­sault by our en­e­mies,” and all for a bar­gain $175.


THE SCH­WARZ WAS WITH HIM: Soc­cer star Erno Sch­warz

BRIGHTON MEM­O­RIES: Tomer Hemed and Beram Kayal

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