Image: Jamie Trecker
Around the corner from one of London’s flashiest shopping districts, full of green-haired punk kids and French tourists, is a small townhouse with a brushed aluminum door, kitty-corner to a notorious pub called the “Spread Eagle.” You have to buzz to be let in, but once you get past the foyer, a kindly old woman at the cloakroom, you’ll be in the guts of an old piano factory.
“They haven’t made pianos in London for years,” says the guard. “So, we got a nice place to put this mikveh.”
This is the Jewish Museum of London, currently hosting the cheekily-titled exhibit “Four Four Jew,” that celebrates the achievements of English Jews in football. I’d heard about it from my colleague Jonathan Wilson (his book is prominently displayed) and while it immediately made me think of that old Mel Brooks joke about a pamphlet being able to encompass the entirety of Jewish sporting prowess, we went and had a look.
It’s a small but well-curated show, one on the periphery of a number of exhibits around the FA’s 150th anniversary this year. Football was to emigrated Jews in London what basketball and baseball were to the Yiddish-speaking in New York a hundred years ago: a way to assimilate into an alien and, at times, hostile culture that became a passion. For some, football became a path to success. Represented at the exhibition are genuine household names such as David Pleat and Mark Lazarus, alongside barely remembered trailblazers like West Brom’s Louis Bookman, the first Jew to play in Britain’s top-flight.