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Jews and the AFL: Some of my best friends and relatives are Carlton supporters, but

February 15, 2011 – 4:17 pm30 Comments

Myer Brott, a Jew born in the Polish town of Lowitch in 1915, holds the record as the longest serving Carlton member

By Philip Mendes

This week the NAB cup started again, and those of us suffering from summer-long withdrawal symptoms have regained our voice. But more prescient is the link between Jews and the AFL. Anyone can point to those Jews who are influential in the AFL – Graeme Samuel as master of the universe, those who are prominent at club level such as David Smorgon and Ross Levin, commentators such as Mark Fine on SEN, the only AFL senior player Todd Goldstein, and those who serve as medical professionals such as Harry Unglik.

But the real question everyone wants answered is how many Jews support each AFL club. Well I am going to answer that query by delving back into my own history. From 1972-1981 I attended the Burwood campus of Mount Scopus College. And in those days every male Jew had a football team, and almost every male Jew wore one of those old VFL woolen jumpers to sports sessions. Mine was Fitzroy which requires some explanation given that we neither lived in Fitzroy or had any connection with Fitzroy, and didn’t even know Ernie Joseph, the Jewish businessman, who was then President of Fitzroy.

In fact, my father had grown up in an avid St Kilda-supporting household. But, his first love was cricket and St Kilda Cricket Club in particular. So when St Kilda Football Club left the home of the St Kilda Cricket Club – the Junction Oval – in 1964 to play their home games at Moorabbin, he felt betrayed. So he stopped supporting St Kilda Football Club which he regarded as traitors. Then when Fitzroy moved to the Junction Oval in 1970, he adopted them as his new team. So that’s how I came to support the maroon and blue.

But I was in a small minority. I would estimate from my admittedly imperfect memory the roll call in Grade 3 (1972) as follows: about 60 per cent Carlton, 20 per cent St Kilda, 10 per cent Collingwood, a small number of Essendon and Richmond, one South Melbourne, no Melbourne, no Footscray, no North Melbourne, no Geelong and no Hawthorn. There was one other Fitzroy supporter who soon left the school. A later replacement also departed quickly. They were obviously pussies rather than lions. The breakdown in secondary school changed little. One or two Melbourne supporters popped up, and the St Kilda supporters became quieter and quieter in the dismal post-Alan Jeans era. There were also a few South Africans who either stuck to rugby, or alternatively were too gentle to support AFL.

So why Carlton? I assumed it was because many of their parents had first lived in Carlton after arriving in Melbourne as refugees from Hitler in the 1930s and 1940s. And there was also a bit of group think and conformity involved. At that time, Carlton was the most successful club in the competition, boasting Big Nick, the flying doormat Bruce Doull, Robert Walls, the great indigenous goal sneak Sid Jackson, and the greatest of them all – Jezza. When the kids flew for marks, they would all yell Jezza – trying to imitate Jesaulenko’s famous mark over the hapless Graeme Jenkin in the 1970 Grand Final. I would yell Ruscuklic when I flew for a mark – he was the high-flying Fitzroy full-forward in the early 1970s – but no one took any notice.

I hated the Carlton masses. Their fanaticism and arrogance bred in me a life-long dislike for the Carlton Football Club that has only mellowed slightly over the years as they transformed from leader to also-ran. I remember almost every Monday morning on the school bus, two older Carlton supporters would taunt me as I jumped into my seat: “What happened to Fitzroy?” The sneer would be even louder when Fitzroy had fallen victim to Carlton. And that is to say nothing of Carlton stealing Fitzroy’s champion young wingman Frank Marchesani at the end of 1980, or John Elliott’s later despicable refusal to allow Fitzroy to attain match-day reserved seat or catering fees whilst they were guests at Princes Park from 1987-93.

Has much changed since the 1970s? In pure numerical terms I think not much. The many wooden spoons Carlton acquired in the last decade don’t seem to have reduced their avid Jewish support base. Three of my closest Jewish friends and my uncle, who lives in Israel, still passionately support them. St Kilda also still seem to have plenty of Jewish supporters spurred by their relative success of the last five or so years. A few other clubs have or have had Jewish Presidents and committee members, but lack major Jewish rank and file support. But nobody has done an empirical survey. Surely the Monash Centre for Jewish Civilisation can offer a scholarship for a worthy scholar to investigate this important topic.

Philip Mendes was greatly saddened by the death of Fitzroy in 1996, but after some grief moved on and regularly attends North Melbourne games with his son Lucas. He retains a long-term ambition, however, to write a book on his younger AFL memories to be titled, “Superboot Bernie Quinlan and Fitzroy’s last Golden Era, 1978-86.”

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30 Comments »

  • Sol Salbe says:

    Thanks Philip. This article made me feel part of the community. Saw the headline and picked the writer at once. Philip’s North Melbourne allegiance is as recognisable as me mate Michael Burd’s love for Carlton.

  • Dennis the sensible one says:

    Michael Burd is a Melbourne supporter

  • JANICE says:

    Why aren’t there any Jewish sociologists at Scopus in the parent body to tell you so?

  • Great piece. I think the Jewish support for Carlton goes back way before their successful years in the 60s/70s, and is more closely linked to that being one of the first “settlements”.

    Collingwood and Fitzroy were popular among people whose shmatte trade was in those suburbs.

    Richmond was for those “second generation” youngsters (i.e. who had no family precedent) growing up in the late 60s/early 70s and who didn’t want to follow Carlton. Unfortunately, there are far too few of us.

    This subject is definitely worthy of further research!

  • Marky says:

    ..and Melbourne was for those who started barracking in or around 1964-such as Jo Gutnick. Alas-in hindsight, not a very good choice. Not even one piece of silver since

  • Mandi Katz says:

    David – I realised that about Richmond supporters when I moved to Melbourne in the 80s. I had about half a dozen Jewish friends who were Richmond supporters – they all had immigrant dads who were not interested in footy – and Richmond was huge when their barracking awakening took place – around grade 2 or 3 – in the early 70s. There may be more of you than you realise!

  • Mandi Katz says:

    oh and nice piece Philip – we need more Jewish sports sociology!

  • Malki Rose says:

    A much needed breath of fresh air Phillip for those of us who like to breathe footy, thank you!

    I’d like to know where this meshugas of Jews supporting Collingwood came from, there doesnt’ seem to be a sociological origin? or is there?
    Thought it was just for toothless ugg-boot wearers? (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) When did Yidden start including themselves in that charming demographic?

  • @Malki – read my comment about this

  • Marky says:

    I agree it is absolute meshugas to follow Collingwood. I hate and abhor Collingwood..

  • Liam says:

    Brilliant, Philip!

    We might disagree on Israel but can we at least agree that we all hate Collingwood?

  • Malki Rose says:

    Ahh so you did mention it, not sure why I didn’t see that… (something naarishkeit about total exhaustion)..
    But I can’t think of a single Collingwood supporter I know that has any family history with the area or the shmatteh industry…
    hmm?
    Perhaps they just like ugg boots?
    Finally something to truly unite Yidden… (except “collingwooden”)

  • Philip Mendes says:

    An interesting addition to this is that I was told last night at a Jewish political meeting that Peter de Rauch, who is vying for a spot on the North Melbourne Board, is actually a Mount Scopus College graduate. He is not Jewish, but his father was a teacher at the school.

    Oddly I have never held any hatred for Collingwood. There was always lots of their supporters, but that was about it. There was one Collingwood supporter back in 2006 at Telstra who really irritated me by yelling out “hot pies” everytime they scored a goal against North Melbourne which on that day was pretty regular. But it was silly and juvenile, rather than obnoxious.

    In more recent years I feel Essendon supporters have taken over from Carlton supporters in terms of arrogance and a born to rule mentality.

    PM

  • My parents immigrated to Australia in 1973. For a number of years after this they operated a sandwich shop in Mcaulay Road, Kensington, the suburb adjacent to North Melbourne. They had several staff who worked shop.

    It became rapidly evident to my parents that they needed to have an allegiance to a VFL team and so took the path of least resistance and devoted their loyalties to the same team that their staff were loyal to. A sensible move.

    Since then North Melbourne was the only team in my family that one could barrack for. This broadened to sections of the extended family as they too immigrated to Australia.

    And now there’s a next generation who similarly are taking on the same allegiance to North Melbourne as that of their parents and grandparents.

    I am not a keen football follower and these days only show a passing interest in the sport, and that tends to be more about the aesthetics of the players than their ball-handling skills. As to my allegiance, it remains loyal to North Melbourne, more because that holds dear to me a part of my family’s history than for any other reason.

    As to who I barrack for, in the words of a friend, whoever’s wearing the white shorts. :)

  • janice says:

    ….. how interesting the comments by Costello today about A.F.L. being anything positive in having overpaid bogans as role models…?

    Would parents from Scopus et al be comfortable in allowing some of these men into the school??

    What’s the policy and association with footballers and jewish schools being good role models?

  • Sam says:

    Janice said:
    ….. how interesting the comments by Costello today about A.F.L. being anything positive in having overpaid bogans as role models…?

    It is the same as any profession (if you want to call it that, there are rogues as doctors and entirely selfless dedicated ones.
    As far as The West Coast Eagles, I can think of two prominent examples of role models in recent years. The very gifted (as a footballer only) Ben Cousins and the indigenous player, David Wirrpanda. The latter was also a very gifted footballer making his AFL debut at 16, playing both forward and defender positions with outstanding success. He now heads a foundation which is credit to him, see this link. http://www.dwf.org.au/

  • Dennis the sensible one says:

    Having met dozens of league footballers over the last 20 years, I could count one one hand the number who fit the ‘bad bloke’ description.
    As a Scopus parent, I’d love for footballers to visit the school on a regular basis.
    Cricketers on the other hand…

  • JANICE says:

    Thanks for your input guys…keep the thread going any more peeps?

    Would Costello be invited to the school after this?

    (Insert smirk here)

  • Deborah stone says:

    My husband went to Scopus & supported collingwood bc nobody else did. I was so puzzled about the politics of barracking when I moved to Melbourne I wrote a feature for The Age on how people chose their teams. My favorite was someone who told me it was bc his granny knitted him a coloured scarf so he chose the team to match.

  • Marky says:

    In the 70’s a case was brought before a judge regarding a young boy who was treated cruely by both his parents. They regularly beat him “black and blue”. The judge ruled that the boy should move in with his uncle, who would be given custody. However, the boy complained to the judge “my uncle is more cruel than my parents and beats me even harder.

    So the judge asked him “do you have anyone suitable to take care of you?”

    To which the boy responded “yes, the Fitzroy Football Club”

    Judge: “why the FFC?”

    Boy: “Because the FFC are not capable of beating anyone..”

  • philip mendes says:

    Ironically, my dad grew up in Brunswick Street Fitzroy, and indeed, my first home, for my first three months on planet earth was living above my dad’ds surgery, which at that stage was a converted terrace home in Victoria Parade, Fitzroy. While I have never received a definitive answer as to why my father grew up supporting the good old dark Navy Blues, I am sure it was because that the majority of his Jewish childhood friends grew up and supported Carlton.

    When my father started taking Adrian and myself to the football, primarily to Princes Park, during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, it was at the beginning of Carlton’s golden era of winning premierships. If they weren’t winning Grand Finals, they were more often than not in the finals, therefore as an impressionable boy, it was very easy to continue in my father’s footseps and follow a successful team containing a number of te champions (and more!) like the ones you mentioned in your article.

    Danny Shavitsky (via Philip Mendes)

  • Dennis the sensible one says:

    So Philip, who will you be barracking for in 2015 once North relocates or goes bust?

  • frosh says:

    Dennis,

    As far as footballers visiting schools, Chris Judd could visit the schools and teach economics, politics, and Middle Eastern Studies:

    Iran is one of the big oil-producing countries in the world. So when it announces plans to enrich uranium, or anything which is of possible conflict to the ambitions held by the US or the United Nations, the price of oil goes up. When the price of oil goes up, the more money Iran gets for its oil.

    In my limited knowledge of world politics, I can’t see where the incentive lies for the Iran Government not to announce things that are controversial because when it does, it gets more money for its black gold.

    I would like to compare the situation of Iran and the price of oil with teams in the AFL languishing at the bottom of the ladder. At the minute, there seems to be little incentive for teams in 14th, 15th and 16th spot to win games.

    They are not going to make finals and the more games they lose, the more likely they are to get top draft picks at the end of the year…

  • BD33 says:

    For those of you fortunate enough to have viewed the “Collingwood Army” on TV in the recent advertisement launched for Collingwood’s membership campaign, you perhaps are not aware of the sequel. After reaching the MCG, a good number of the Collingwood Army continued on to the East Melbourne Shule which was especially opened for the occasion for Maariv prayers. It is very heartening to see so many upstanding members of the Jewish Community supporting the Collingwood team.

  • Mark Symons says:

    Re David’s comment: “…Richmond was for those “second generation” youngsters (i.e. who had no family precedent) growing up in the late 60s/early 70s…”
    and Mandi’s “…Richmond supporters… all had immigrant dads who were not interested in footy…”

    Well, some of us Richmond supporters have indeed become that way for longstanding family historical reasons. My late grandfather, Sam Symons, who was born in Australia in 1896, lived in Richmond, and thereby started a family tradition of Richmond supporters that has reached 4 generations (and that’s not including the new generation of infants and toddlers who, from the moment they are capable of speech, are being taught to say “come on the tigers” alongside Shema Yisrael), and whose zeal remains undiminished despite the nigh on 40 years in the wilderness of lack of finals success.

  • public says:

    St kilda scandal begs me to ask this question as there a lot of jews who support this team…

    What’s the associaiton with this club and any jewish day school now?

    There must be people in the know in the jewish community who would have known about this at a corporate level…?

    Sad and disgusting to say the least for it’s decent support base!!

  • john s says:

    Perth Jews are split slightly different.

    The families who had been there pre-1987, tend to be strong supporters of Carlton (often due to Melbourne familial links) or Geelong (due to the great Polly Farmer).

    Migrants who arrived from the late 80s-mid 90s are avid Eagles backers. More recent migrants (esp Saffers) tend to back the Dockers.

    Football club allegience does the tale of a community!

  • sam l. says:

    in the late 1960s there were a few jewish families who worked in richmond, my dad & uncle owned the rising sun hotel (where the 69 premier team came on their pub crawl) and friends in the old abattoirs and so on. growing up in jewish day school surrounded by carlton supporting kids tought me what arrogance is. and today those kids are just the same. i married a carlton supporter and tell my friends – i married out… its been a long time, but the tiger will roar again soon, then watch out all the rest.

  • Steven Deutsch says:

    Hi Philip, I apologize for all the crap I gave you on the bus. Yes, I along with all Carlton supporters were extremely arrogant. I have since seen my club plummet and only now may get some naches once again. But that is life and all teams have ups and downs. I vividly remember the loss to Fitzroy in the fog and loved Alex R when he came to the Blues, pity he couldn’t kick straight (he kicked 10 behinds one game. I also mourned the loss of a local team when the Lions (and Sth Melb) disappeared. Anyway we all grow up (even Scopus boys) and learn that there are more important things than footy, although I have hardly missed watching a game over 10 years despite living in Israel.
    Anyway My best Fitzroy team (from my 70’s and 80’s memories)
    Thornton Merrigan Pert
    Murray Roos L Serafini
    Irwin Lyon McMahon
    Conlan Quinlan Murphy
    Rendell Beecroft Osborne
    Alexander Wilson Harris

    I/C Barwick Lynch Searl Ruscuklic

    Cheers mate

  • John Seabrook says:

    Great site with good, intelligent insights and memories of how allegiances were formed. Richmond seems to have more support than many may have expected. Might be a portent of a long awaited resurgence. If so, a great pity that David Mandie won’t be around to see it. A Richmond man if ever there was!

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