Library > News > Newsletter > 2015 > November 2015 > His Majesty's Football

His Majesty's Football

A Study in Middle Eastern Coexistence


On April 15, 1941, a small group of Jews took on the British Army between the Yarkon River and the Mediterranean Sea without firing even one shot. That day a football match between Maccabi Tel Aviv and a team of British Army soldiers known as "Mr. Griffin's Team" took place at the now-shuttered Maccabiah Stadium in Tel Aviv. The match, like countless others during the British Mandate Period (1917-1948), reflected a little-known yet widespread form of coexistence between the British, Jews, Arabs and other groups in Mandatory Palestine. "Football Under the Auspices of His Majesty", a digital exhibition on the National Library's website, sheds some light on this phenomenon, using original posters and press clippings from the Library's collections to do so.
Poster – "Replay Football Match"While football was played in the area of Mandatory Palestine prior to the arrival of the British in World War I, it received a huge boost in terms of popularity and stature during the inter-war years. A national football association was formed, overseeing teams of Jews, Arabs, and an array of other groups in the country. Organized games and playoffs drew large crowds and a "national" team even played against other countries including neighboring Lebanon and Egypt. Despite off the field tensions, organized matches were generally played in the spirit of good sportsmanship, with few exceptions. Visiting teams comprised of members of other communities were even often enthusiastically welcomed by their hosts and the home fans.

Despite the general positive atmosphere in which football was played during this period, there were also trying times. On a number of occasions league play was stopped due to political reasons, while on other occasions Arab teams left the league claiming unfair management by its Jewish administrators. Nonetheless, perhaps much can be learned from organized football during the Mandate period, which showed that despite deep-seated political and ideological rifts, certain realms, such as sport, can serve to promote cooperation and coexistence as opposed to violence and strife. The exhibition, an initiative of Yoram E. Shamir and Rotem Kislev who curated its items from the National Library's "Time Travel" Israeli Ephemera Collection, is available in English, Hebrew and Arabic.