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12.03.2015

Football giyur: how to be a Jew at the stadium

In Kiev on 12 March Dnepr plays against the Amsterdam club Ajax. What do Jews have to do with this?

The Amsterdam Arena is filled to bursting… The Feyenoord fans are hissing at the Ajax fans, as usual. There is a pause in a chaotic chorus of voices – and the entire Amsterdam club sings “Hava Nagila”, jumping and dancing to the rhythm of the good old Jewish song.

The attentive viewer will see many Israeli flags in the stands, and the number of Stars of David around the necks of spectators will even surprise residents of Tel Aviv.

But what do Jewish symbols have to do with the many fans of the great Dutch team, the vast majority of whom are not Jews? For an answer to this question, we must look at the history of the most decorated club in the Netherlands.

In March 1900, the young Floris Stempel invited his friends to the East India café, in the center of Amsterdam. This meeting was the starting point for the main football club of the Netherlands. Stempel and two of his friends who became the co-founders of “Football Club Ajax” registered the new team at the Amsterdam Football Union.

The first match of the future champions of Dutch football was played in September of that year under the authority of the Football Union. On the home field, on the outskirts of Amsterdam, they beat DOSB. At the end of the first official football season for Ajax, the club was in second place out of four teams in one of the lowest city leagues.

In 1906, Ajax won its first serious trophy, the “Golden Cross”, the most prestigious football prize in Amsterdam. In the final of the competition, which was held according to the cup system, Ajax played against AFK, and beat the club 4:3.

The next stage in the history of the club was the era of trainer Jack Reynolds, who was previously the trainer for St. Gallen in Switzerland. With this trainer, one year later, in the 1917-1918 season, Ajax won the Cup of the Royal Federation of Dutch Football for the first time and finished the national championship in first place on the tournament table.

Since then the “Jews” have won the national champhionship 32 times. The last time Ajax won the championship in the Dutch Premiere league was in the 2013-2014 season.

The trailer for the documentary film “SuperJews” about Ajax fans.

But where do Jewish roots of Ajax come from?

Players of Jewish ancestry have featured in the team at various times, including Isaiah Swart, who scored 175 goals for Ajax in the period from 1956 to 1972. Another player of Jewish ancestry, Andy Hamel, played in the team until 1930 in the position of right back, and died in Auschwitz on 30 April 1943, where he was sent after his arrest in Amsterdam.

And the previous president of Ajax, Uri Coronel, comes from an old family of Marranos (a term which the Christian population of Spain and Portugal gave to Jews who converted to Christianity, regardless of how voluntary this conversion was), famed for their charitable activity. Coronel’s family continues the work of their ancestors, heading the board of trustees of an old people’s home under the Amsterdam Jewish community.

However, the main reason that Ajax fans adopted Jewish symbols is that the first home stadium of the team was in the Amsterdam district of Buiksloterham, which in the early 20th century was primarily inhabited by Jews.

Amsterdam residents sometimes call their city by the Yiddish word “mokum”, “place”, remembering the fact that the capital of the Netherlands was the most Jewish city in the country. By the “Amsterdam Arena”, the club stadium of the Ajax, you can buy flags which the local football club calls “the pride of mokum”.

Ajax fans today are proud of their “Jewish origin”. The nickname “Jews”, which fans of other teams intended as an insult, became the name that the army of the club’s fans gave to themselves. Despite the fact that football officials once tried to stop the “Super Jews” from using this ethnic tag, the popularity of the Jewish fan movement in Amsterdam continues to grow.

Another “Jewish” team which the Dnepropetrovsk team “Dnepr” played against in the European league is Tottenham from London. Its fans call themselves the “Yid Army”, for the same reason that Ajax fans call themselves Jews: the club was founded in a district that was traditionally populated by London’s Jewish community.

Despite the Jewish nickname, not all the fans of the London football club have a positive attitude towards Jew. As Tottenham fans themselves say, there are anti-Semites and racists among the fans, but fortunately these groups are not large. At the same time, Tottenham was one of the first European football clubs which officially created a special fan club for LGBT fans.

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