Soccer / When the Jews Won in England

Almost eight decades before Maccabi Haifa's historic visit to Old Trafford in two weeks' time, 79 years ago yesterday, a Jewish club from Vienna registered one of the golden moments in the history of soccer.

Asher Goldberg
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Asher Goldberg

Almost eight decades before Maccabi Haifa's historic visit to Old Trafford in two weeks' time, 79 years ago yesterday, a Jewish club from Vienna registered one of the golden moments in the history of soccer.

Hakoah Vienna's 5-0 victory over West Ham United at Upton Park was the first home defeat for any English soccer club at the hands of a non-British Isles opponent.

The history books tell of Hakoah Vienna ending the 1921/22 season in second place in the Austrian league after having played very attractive soccer. The responsibility for the club's success was credited to its Scottish coach, Billy Hunter, and Arthur Barr, who was the team's tactician.

While Barr was responsible for the tactical side, Hunter introduced coaching techniques which were completely new in Austria at that time.

The club was run by Dr. Ignaz Hermann Kerner, a Jewish Zionist, but at the same time an Austrian patriot who was honored as a military doctor in World War One.

The Jewish sports club was Kerner's brainchild and he managed to recruit the best Jewish soccer players from central Europe to play for the outfit.

In the spring of 1923, Kerner and Barr negotiated with West Ham about a match between the two clubs to be held in Vienna following the FA Cup final - which West Ham lost 2-0 to Bolton Wanderers.

West Ham had won all its other matches on its European tour, but was held to a 1-1 draw in front of 60,000 spectators in Vienna. It was considered to be a shock result.

In the celebrations held by both teams after the game, the English team complimented their Viennese hosts, and Bela Guttman, the center forward was the subject of most praise.

Guttman, a Jewish player from Hungary was also the proprietor of a ballet school and he impressed with his elegant style of play. Later in life he was destined to coach the great Benfica side of the 1950s and `60s and was the man credited with having discovered Eusebio.

West Ham, seeking to restore their honor, politely asked for a rematch. The details were finalized and the club was to visit London on September 3 1923, becoming the first Austrian side to play on British soil.

Hunter began preparing his players meticulously, despite the Viennese newspapers predicting a great downfall.

Hakoah left for the long trip to London on August 23 with as many as 100 traveling supporters and a reporter from the Wiener Sporstdagblat.

The train journey took the team via Berlin to Rotterdam, spirits were high and there were plenty of hi-jinx along the way. The sailing from the Netherlands to England was under stormy conditions and all the travelers, except for Dr. Kerner, suffered from sea sickness.

Hakoah arrived in London a week before the highly-touted game and stayed at a hotel on Manchester Street, near Oxford Street and, as well as sightseeing in the great metropolis, Hunter took his players to watch Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal in training as well as to see West Ham.

The game was to be held on a Monday, on the Saturday beforehand, the Viennese players watched as West Ham were beaten at home by Sunderland in a league match. After the final whistle, the players took to the pitch themselves and held a training session of two and a half hours. They felt every blade of grass on the pitch and tested their skill in every aspect of the game.

A midfield player by the name of Hausler had a terrible toothache but he was too scared to tell his coaches, because he knew Barr would not allow a player who is not fully fit to play.

On the day of the match, the ground was full to capacity with 40,000 spectators.

In the first 20 minutes, West Ham piled on the pressure, but the Hakoah goalkeeper Halpern, with the help of defenders Polak and Shouir and Bela Guttman, stood firm to keep a clean scoresheet.

Slowly Hakoah began to wrest the initiative from its host with a short-passing game and good movement by the players.

After half an hour's play, Guttman began a move in which he passed the ball to Hausler, who then found the team's star striker, Nemes, a phenomenally fast player in those days. He broke through the defense, leaving the four West Ham defenders in his wake and shot high into the net. Five minutes later, Hausler forgot all about his toothache as he found Nemes again. This time a powerful shot ended in the back of the West Ham goal to double the score, which received great applause from the English crowd.

Lajos Hass scored the third goal with a shot to the stanchions which sent the teams to the halftime break with a comfortable cushion for the second period.

Egon Polak, one of the team's wingers recalled in a book he wrote that at halftime the substitutes cheered the team on and encouraged them to continue their domination, while Hunter only had a few quiet words for his players.

"The Englishmen displayed their best qualities in the second half, but Hakoah did not let up. We were carried on the wings of our excitement. Each one of us reached new heights and I believe that on that day no team in the world could have stood up to us.

Every trick we tried was executed to perfection and the English crowd, which understands football well, appreciated it," Polak wrote.

Towards the end, Nemes and Norbert Katz added two more goals and the scoreline was set at 5-0 to the visiting team.

The first to congratulate the team were the West Ham players who came to Hakoah's dressing rooms to applaud their opponents.

George Kaye, who in later years became the manager of Liverpool said: "You are the best team I have ever seen, and believe me, I have seen hundreds of games of football."

As a reward for their success, the players received a five-day holiday in Paris on their way home.