First a Geordie, Then a Jew

All this talk of divided loyalties and split allegiances is rather odd in my eyes.

All this talk of divided loyalties and split allegiances is rather odd in my eyes.

I was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the proud capital of the Geordie nation. I grew up following the local soccer team, Newcastle United, which last won a trophy in 1969 - the year after I was born.

The last time my beloved Magpies won a domestic title was in 1955, when it lifted the F.A. Cup for the third time in four years.

For most of the 18 years I spent in Newcastle - watching home games from the stands and following away matches on the radio - the team languished in lower reaches of the First Division or underachieved in the Second Division. I came close to experiencing the joy of triumph - in 1976 and 1978 - only to have my little heart broken twice in a cup final.

In 1985, my last year in Newcastle before immigrating to Israel, my team gave me a glorious send-off; with Kevin Keegan, Chris Waddle and Peter Beardsley in the squad, Newcastle ran away with the Second Division championship and joined the big boys in the First Division.

Since then, I have followed the team via a series of surrogates: first, by listening to the BBC's World Service wherever I found myself in Israel; later, as technology caught up with, and then fed, my passion, on the Internet.

It is safe to say that, when it comes to soccer, I'm in a monogamous, long-term relationship with my team. And, like a healthy marriage, I'm still very much in love after all these years.

That is why there has never been room in my heart for any other team.

Actually, that's not strictly true. I will always root for any team that plays Newcastle's sworn local rivals, sunderland. (And yes, I know that place names take a capital letter, but in the case of sunderland, I think grammar should take a back seat to emotion.)

Being Jewish complicates things a little. My heart swells whenever Israelis excel in any sport. The sound of Hatikva ringing out at the Athens Olympics brought tears to my eyes and gave me goosebumps.

Similarly, the (limited) achievements of the Israeli national team are a matter of national pride for me. The heroic (if futile) victory over France at the Parc des Princes in the 1994 World Cup qualifiers is one of my most cherished sporting memories.

England, on the other hand, has never won a place in that part of my heart reserved for soccer teams. The great English players who graced the international game were the same players who inflicted pain and humiliation on Newcastle in the league. How could I possibly cheer them when they wore the white of England, when I had screamed abuse at them when they wore the red of Liverpool or Arsenal? The only time I was moved by an England performance was in 1975, when Malcolm Macdonald scored all five goals in a 5-0 victory over Cyprus. And who did Supermac play for? Newcastle United.

In terms of sporting affiliation, I am a Geordie first and foremost. Then, I am a Jew - and as such, my affiliation lies with any Israeli team or sportsman against any opponent. As long as it's not Newcastle, of course.