Louis Bookman: Ireland’s Jewish soccer pioneer
2017-07-18 11:40:52 -
By Ken McCue

Throughout the 19th century, Jewish people in the Russian Empire were forced to flee their native land amid a series of increasingly violent, religiously motivated pogroms. The Buchalter family from Lithuania were among the countless thousands who sought asylum in western Europe.

Among the displaced was a young Louis Buchalter who, along with his father, mother and eight siblings, settled in Dublin. Louis’ father, a rabbi, soon changed the family name to Bookman in order to make it easier to assimilate into Irish society.

Young Louis Bookman found it easy to find friends of his own faith playing soccer for the local team, Adelaide, who had boys from the Lennox Street synagogue in their ranks. Yet despite being on the winning side at the U18 All-Ireland Cup in 1908, Louis’ parents banned him from playing the game.

Louis defied his parents, however, and went on to sign for Belfast Celtic in 1910. After making his debut as an Irish international amateur in a 0-2 defeat against England, he was signed by reigning FA Cup champions Bradford City.

Louis Bookman made rapid progress on the field of play, and gained his first professional Irish cap in 1914 against Wales, a match Ireland won 2-1, then went on to beat England and win the Home Nations series by drawing 1-1 with Scotland in Belfast. Soon the young lad was in great demand and eventually signed for West Bromwich Albion for a fee of £875 –  an incredible amount in its day.

But there was a dark side to Louis’ success, as he was at the same time a victim of vicious anti-semitic abuse.

Fed up with being treated as an ‘alien’ in England, he returned to Ireland after one season with West Brom to play for Glentoran in east Belfast and later Shelbourne in Dublin.

With his confidence back, Louis returned to the English league with Luton Town, and in 1921 he was selected for a series of internationals that included a 1-1 draw with England at Belfast’s Windsor Park. Following that came another run in Dublin to finish his soccer career with Shelbourne, though he would continue as a sportsman for many more years with the Railway Union cricket club, gaining 14 caps for his adopted country.

Louis Bookman died in 1943 at the age of 52, five years before the founding of the Maccabi Football Club in Dublin, many of whose young Jewish players were inspired by Louis’ achievements. They went on be successful innovators in their own right, as founding members of the Amateur League and eventually winning the League and Cup double in 1984.

Sadly what evolved into the Maccabi Sports Association is no more. But the great history of achievement by Jewish sports men and women over the years is a story that I and Saul Woolfson will explore as co-authors of the forthcoming history of Maccabi Sports in Ireland to be published next year. For more information on the book, please contact kenmccue@gmail.com.

TAGS : Louis Bookman Maccabi Sports Association Luton Town Ken McCue
Other Books News
Most Read
Most Commented