2012 Champions League final: Bayern Munich vs Chelsea and the Jewish story behind the game

My first post on this blog was about Jewish footballers, managers and owners of teams in the English Premier League. This Saturday night we have some more Jewish footballing news, in the 2012 European Champions League final which will be contested between Chelsea and Bayern Munich.

Chelsea is owned by the Jewish Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, but what does the German club Bayern Munich have to do with Jews? (Much of the rest of this post is taken from the theJC.com).

Interestingly, Bayern Munich has a very Jewish background. In pre-Nazi Germany, Bayern was a club of Jewish visionaries. It was sponsored by Jewish businesses and became a beacon of tolerance and cosmopolitanism. The Nazis suppressed it, and a mixture of post-war guilt and simple ignorance kept the story hidden.

The key figure in the story is Kurt Landauer, a stout Bavarian from a wealthy Jewish family who was club president from 1919 onwards and made little Bayern into one of Germany’s most dynamic football institutions. Landauer shared the vision of his friend and mentor Walther Bensemann, an even more important Jewish German football pioneer, that the game could create friendships between nations. Landauer rejected the notion of Kampfgeist (“spirit of struggle”). Rather, he saw football as a game of creativity, artistry and joy.

Bayern’s 1-7 defeat at the hands of the Budapest club MTK in 1919 changed his life. MTK was another “Jewish club”, and played stylish, intelligent, quick-passing football. Landauer was so impressed by the Hungarians that he spent the next decade recruiting as many of them as possible to Bayern, and all of them happened to be Jewish.

Rarely has so much coaching talent passed through the doors of one club – talent like Izidor “Dori” Kürschner who would later flee to Rio and help lay the foundations of Brazil’s beautiful game, and Kálmán Konrád, who coached Bayern for a season and, in 1999, was picked by World Soccer magazine as one of the 100 greatest players of all time.

By the early 1930s, Richard Dombi, a Viennese Jew, was one of the most coveted managers in Europe. He led Bayern to its first championship in 1932.

In short, Landauer had turned Bayern into a bastion of enlightened values and good football. The club had the best youth training system in Germany and was pushing for professionalism. And it was all doomed. As Schulze-Marmeling says: “Bayern Munich was like a little island in a sea of antisemitism”.

Today Bayern’s Jewish history is slowly being re-embraced by the club.

As a Manchester United fan I was extremely happy to see them raise the Champions League in 1999 scoring two goals in the last minute to make a historic comeback and win 2-1. As both a Jew and an englishman I was even more happy to see the Germans defeated in such fashion. Now that I have become aware of Bayern’s Jewish roots and stand against the Nazis and antisemitism in the 1930’s and 40’s, I won’t be too upset to see Bayern beat Chelsea tomorrow night. I’ll still be hoping for a Chelsea victory though.

You can read more about Bayern Munich’s Jewish history here.

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