Published On: Fri, Jan 2nd, 2015

From Changing the Name to Changing the Game: Leeds United and the Jews

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Leslie Silver, former Chairman of Leeds United, passed away on December 28, and the Yorkshire Evening Post saluted not only his career in football, but the impact the team made on the Jewish community in Leeds.

When Leslie Silver joined the board in 1983, the Whites also had a Jewish Chairman, Manny Cussins. This was a sea change from 20 and especially 60 years previous, when in 1930, Leslie Goldberg, a right back for Leeds United, had to change his Jewish name to Les Gaunt to please the ears and attitudes of mainstream Protestant English sports fans.

When Goldberg a.k.a. Les Gaunt got his start in the 30s, the Jews in Leeds lived much as they did in Europe, tended to dwell in tightly knit enclaves and were reluctant to stand out or mix too much, if at all. Mike Elbogan commented on the historical situation, “that way, you didn’t meet any anti-Semitism.”

And there was plenty of it in British society, but the outrage over such attitudes began in the 60s, when newspapers featured the problem of anti-semitic discrimination in golf clubs. Leeds United in the 1960s was something local Jews and non-Jews could agree on and talk about. In 1961, Manny Cussins joined the board, and Don Revie, also Jewish, became manager. This brought Jewish sports fans out as spectators in large numbers, so much so, that the football games became a part of Shabbos. Anthony Gilbert, a rabbit at Etz Chaim shul in Alwoodley recalled that when he was a boy, “Shabbos stopped at three o’clock because people went to the match at Elland Road. Maybe the fact they went to Elland road was part of the shabbos as well, as far as they were concerned.” Leslie Silver as chairman of the club continued the strong Jewish ties to Leeds United.

The Yorkshire Evening Post concludes, “The involvement of great men like Leslie Silver has changed the circumstances for the city’s Jewish population immeasurably.”

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