Those of us who read voraciously around the game tend to have various texts that they turn to almost as gospel - Inverting the Pyramid, Brilliant Orange, Why England Lose and all the rest of them. We've all read Moneyball and desperately tried to apply its teachings to soccer. We all bemoan football not generating fiction in the way that baseball does. We jealously eye the quality of writing that cricket seems to generate. If one football writer could describe our heroes like Gideon Haigh describes Shane Warne we'd be very happy rabbits.
One of my Christmas presents was a book about football - Does Your Rabbi Know You're Here? by Anthony Clavane (author of Promised Land).
One of the common themes in British footballing history is the narrative that says a particular group ''doesn't do football''. This used to be said about Jews. It used to be said about Black players. It is still said, albeit whispered, about homosexuals and those from Indian and Pakistani backgrounds.
In this exploration of English football, Clavane highlight's 'English football's forgotten tribe' and focuses on Jewish footballers, owners and administrators down the ages. More importantly, and what makes this book, is his use of football as a prism to show how the Jewish communities relationship with Britishness and how it views itself.
Many other aspects of the game - often overlooked are discussed: why the émigrés in the 1930s tended to support Arsenal (and why Arsenal have, in many ways, been more comfortable with their Jewish support than other clubs); why many Jews supported Spurs; the sometimes tortured relationship with the Jewish fans within their fanbase; Orients' rise to the old Division 1; the filthy anti-semitism on the terraces which fans and players alike have had to suffer; the anti-semitism occasionally evident in the media and the boardrooms; the need for many Jewish players to change their names or hide their history.
At a time, however, when we hear the sickening hissing chants and we are dissecting the use of Yid either as a badge of honour or as anti-Semitic abuse this is an important book. We may ask questions as to why comparatively few Jews - particularly British Jews - are playing at the highest level*. Whereas black managers and owners are thin on the ground that proposition is inverted when considering the Jewish community.
Those owners have made an enormous difference. Without David Dein and Irving Scholar we wouldn't have the Premier League. All that has happened since then - good and bad in English football - can be traced back to the forward thinking Jews who governed the two North London clubs. Roman Abramovich has changed football forever with his acquisition of Chelsea - undermining the traditional Northern dominance of football and turning London, increasingly, into one of the European footballing powerhouses.
Most enjoyable is Clavane's focus on each chapter on a particular character - Morris Keston, Mark Lazarus and others beside. This focus ties the book together and brings it to life. Some of the names will be well-known, others less so but the focus allows Clavane to tell stories and litter the book with interesting and intriguing stories. He always, however, returns to the main narratives. It is a deeply personal book and all the better for it.
Football, at times, has been a divisive matter within the Jewish community - with some Jews wanted to be 'more English than the English' whilst others worried about the influence of football especially this game played largely on the Sabbath. Was there a tension between being a good Englishman and being a good Jew?
Clavane argues clearly that 'being a Good Sportsman and a Good Jew are not incompatible aspirations, and Englishness are not mutually contradictory'. His teacher may have thought otherwise but football is for the Yiddisher boy. Indeed, David Baddiel is probably right here: ''it is virtually impossible to be Jewish and male and not interested in football''.
Simply put this is a must-read for football fans. It must join the books above in our list of sacred texts. It is, I think, the best book about the wider aspects of the game I've read since Brilliant Orange. I can offer no higher praise than that.
*And we should ask the same questions of why some other minority groups are under-represented. My guess - scouts tend to scout in traditional areas and traditional looking players (e.g. we know that blonde players are comparatively over-scouted).