Not being an avid soccer fan, I needed an article in the English language edition of the Israeli daily, Haaretz, to alert me to a new expression that has been making the rounds, i.e., a “Jew goal.” As recently defined by Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer, a Jew goal is “an attack on the goal in which one enterprising player does all the running, dribbling and feinting around defenders, [yet] just when he comes up against the goalkeeper, he passes to a teammate who scores the goal with no effort.” In effect, Pfeffer writes, the “glory and riches [go] to a player who has done nothing but stand aside placidly while his teammate has done all the hard work.”
In other words, in soccer as in life, the “Jew” is the parasite who lives off the efforts of others. This makes “Jew goal” a distinctly anti-Semitic turn of phrase.
And yet my first reaction was also to find it a highly puzzling one. Although growing up in America in the 1940s and ’50s, an era in which soccer was as exotic a sport as jai alai or curling, I never played much of it as a boy. I subsequently developed an appreciation for it and now and then even watch it on TV — and I have seen enough of it to know that a “Jew goal” can be one of the game’s supreme delights and achievements. Few soccer moves are more satisfying to watch than those in which a player draws a goalkeeper in his direction to meet the threat of a kick and then flicks the ball sideways to another player who places it in the net from an unprotected-against angle.
Whole games can go by without this happening once, but it’s always lovely when it does happen. Nor does the credit go only to the first player, the one who has pulled the goalkeeper out of position and forfeited the possible chance to score in order to give a teammate a better chance. The teammate, too, has done his job well. It is no mere coincidence that he is in the right place at the right moment. He is there because he has read and timed the flow of play correctly, and since he has very likely had to run hard to get there, he may have had to field the first player’s pass with his foot or head and direct it toward the goal while moving at full speed. If you think that’s so easy, try it yourself. As executed by both players, it’s soccer at its best.
Why, then, would anyone who doesn’t like Jews want to call this a “Jew goal?”
I realized the answer when I explored the origins of the expression. It started a few years ago, it turns out, not among soccer fans in stadiums, but among players of the popular video game “FIFA Football.” (FIFA is the Fédération de Football Association, the sport’s international governing body, soccer once having been known as “association football” — the word “soccer,” in fact, comes from the “soc” of “association.”) In FIFA Football (since I have never in my life played a video game, my understanding is somewhat theoretical), the player sits in front of a computer, Playstation, or TV screen cum Xbox with a console whose controls enable him to maneuver his players with — if he is skillful — great precision.
Yet not everything calls for the same amount of skill. The greatest is needed, while on offense, to make a player dribble magically with the ball á la Diego Maradona or Lionel Messi and dodge his way around a goalkeeper; far less expertise is called for to hit a pass button that sends the ball to someone else. For many video enthusiasts, therefore, passing to a better positioned teammate instead of confronting the goalkeeper in a one-on-one duel is not, as in real soccer, the right thing to do, but rather a dishonorable way of scoring an easy goal. As one FIFA Footballer put it to another in a comment on a FIFA football blog I came across, “Scoring a Jew goal is almost the same as a low kick in a fighting game.”
The odd thing is that this usage has now spread from FIFA Football to real soccer. Thus, for example, an article earlier this month in London’s Jewish Chronicle complained that in an Arsenal-Chelsea match at Stamford Bridge, Arsenal striker Robin Van Persie was mocked on Twitter by Chelsea fans for scoring “Jew goals.” Apparently, Arsenal should have played in a more manly fashion and lost, instead of winning “Jewishly” by a score of 5-3.
Anti-Semitic slurs are never welcome, but if playing soccer with one’s brains and not only with one’s skull is considered the “Jewish” thing to do, we can take this one as a backhanded compliment. The next time a deft, team-spirited pass leaves a goalkeeper flat-footed and helpless, we should all be on our feet shouting, “Jew goal! Jew goal! Jew goal!”
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