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Football, Remembrance, and Unity: U18s Boys Squad's Trip to Prague

In early April 2024, the U18 Boys Football Squad, competing at this summer’s European Maccabi Youth Games, spent an incredible 48 hours in Prague on a sporting and educational trip.

 

The squad, led by Manager Gavin Diamond, Assistant Manager Ricky Ansher and Coach (and Team Maccabi GB Assistant Manager) Adam Fegan, has a great mix of characters and personalities from different areas of Great Britain; it was an early start for the group traveling from London, meeting at Luton Airport at 4am. Once we arrived in Prague, we waited for our Northern contingent to join us, who’d managed to secure themselves a couple hours of extra sleep.

 

Once we had our squad together, we jumped on our coach and headed over to Sparta Prague’s training ground, located in the Great Strahov Stadium which once had a capacity of 250,000, making it the second largest sports venue in the world!

 

To have the opportunity to play against a professional academy recognised worldwide is remarkable in itself, but the size and scale of the stadium really emphasised how great of an occasion it was for everyone.

 

With the majority of the squad and coaching staff having been up for almost 10 hours by Kick-Off, we knew it would be a tough game.

"The game didn’t go totally to plan, but we all got a lot out of it, and it was great learning experience” - Adam Hershkorn, Goalkeeper.

The highlight of the game for Team Maccabi GB came with about 10 minutes to go, when Didier Levenfiche whipped in a corner to the far post, which was met by Zack Stewart, who got his head on the ball and pulled a goal back for MGB.

 


After the game we headed into the City Centre where we were joined by our wonderful guide for a walking tour of the city. Taking us through Prague Castle, over Charles Bridge and into the Old Town, before we finally finished off in Josefov, also known as the Jewish Quarter. After a long day of travel, football and walking, everybody tucked into some richly deserved ice-cream filled Trdelník, before heading back to the hotel for dinner!

 

On Thursday morning we embarked on a visit to the Czech town of Terezín about 40 miles north of Prague. During World War Two the Nazis established the Theresienstadt Ghetto and Concentration Camp, where they held almost 150,000 Jews, Germans, and other Political Prisoners across two different sites. Although not an extermination camp, about 33,000 people died in the ghetto, this was mostly due to the appalling conditions arising out of extreme population density, malnutrition, and disease. About 88,000 people were deported to Auschwitz and the other extermination camps. As late as the end of 1944, the Germans were still deporting Jews to the death camps. At the end of the war, there were 17,247 survivors of Theresienstadt, including some who had survived the death camps.

 

We started off our visit by touring round the ‘Small Fortress’ in which we got to see the dire conditions that the political opponents of the Nazis, which included some Jews too, were kept in.  It was here that we also learnt about that “Operation Embellishment,” a ruse intended to mollify the Danish King’s concerns for his citizens who’d been deported there after he demanded an inspection.  Weeks of preparation preceded the visit. The area was cleaned up, and the Nazis deported many Jews to Auschwitz to minimize the appearance of overcrowding in Terezin.

 

After visiting the small fort, we went into the main town, where we learnt about the propaganda the Nazis used to lure people to Terezin. To lull victims into a false sense of security, the SS advertised Theresienstadt as a "spa town" where Jews could retire, and encouraged them to sign fraudulent home purchase contracts, pay "deposits" for rent and board, and surrender life insurance policies and other assets.



After this we headed back into Prague for a final bit of exploring before we headed back to the airport to fly home.

 

The importance of this trip cannot be understated as for much of the squad, this was the first time they had experienced an educational trip in Europe. There were also members of the squad who had relatives who had been in the concentration camp, and despite the squad still getting to know each other this made the experience a lot more personal for everyone. A great example of squad unity that has already developed, was the entire squad coming together to find a family member’s name on the wall of the Ghetto Museum.


This feeling was shared amongst the squad with Zack Stewart saying “learning about our religious culture and the struggle our Jewish ancestors endured for our freedom now, meant the whole day was directed to learning about our religion, something I think is extremely important” also adding on how despite football becoming 2nd to the education part of the trip, this thoroughly contributed to the squad bonding together.

 

In preparation for this summer's games, the trip to Prague also serves as a reminder to be proud of our Jewish identity and that despite wanting to win, being able to share the pitch or court with other Jewish people from all around the world plays equally as big a part too.

 

Ricky Ansher, U18 Boys Football Assistant Manager

European Maccabi Youth Games – London 2024

 

With special thanks to the management team of the U18 Boys Football, Gavin Diamond, Ricky Ansher, Adam Fegan, as well as Danny Schweiger, who helped organise this remarkable trip, and EMYG Maccabi GB Team members Adam Jackson and Adam Nathan who accompanied the group.




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