When historian and author David Bolchover asked which of the Under 13s at Crystal Palace FC Academy had been to a Wembley match, all 15 hands shot up. Wembley stadium holds 90,000 spectators at capacity. He asked the boys to imagine the distance between them and the opposing fans. To imagine how full of life the stadium feels in the moment their team scores a goal. David then told the boys that Wembley stadium, filled to capacity 72 times, represents the number of Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust.
The room, for the first time all morning, fell silent.
Though this Foundation Stones event was heavy at points, David was there to tell a story of passion – the story of the first ‘superstar’ coach, Holocaust survivor Béla Guttmann. After the Holocaust, Béla rebuilt a successful career as a football coach, leading Benfica to two European Cup wins. His legacy lives on in star players such as Eusébio, who was coached by Guttmann and who the Under 13s knew as a FIFA19 icon. Béla’s story helped the boys connect with the terrible history of the Holocaust.
Though Béla’s is a story of football triumph, he lost family members and team mates to the Holocaust. The boys channelled their love of football and their newfound understanding of Béla’s story and the Holocaust into the creation of commemorative stones, supported by local artist Jon Halls. In Jewish tradition,when visiting a Jewish grave it is customary to leave a small pebble or stone on the headstone. This symbolically buries their loved one – something most families of Holocaust victims were unable to do. The boy’s stones celebrated football as a sport which, in 2019, has the power to bring people together.
The U13s then had the unique opportunity to present their Foundation Stones back to members of the First Team- Jordan Ayew, Stephen Henderson, Wayne Hennesy, Sam Woods, Vicente G, and club Historian Ian King. In presenting their stones, they took a passionate stance against discrimation, passing on Béla Guttman’s legacy.