Football, tennis, rugby… but it’s not just about sport.
Who are the people and organisations that really make our vibrant community tick? Continuing our series, Stephen Oryszczuk goes behind the scenes to discover what life is like at Anglo-Jewry’s most well-known organisations. This week he’s at Maccabi GB… [divider]
Ahead of my day with Maccabi GB, Jewish News sports editor Andrew Sherwood gave me some directions and advice. “They’re located inside a giant football-shaped building,” he said, going on to explain that, inside, they all wore full kit, complete with shin-pads. “They take their jobs very seriously,” he said, sounding sincere.
Alas, he was pulling my leg. Maccabi GB is based in an office block in central Hendon – on the ground floor of a building shared with other Jewish organisations – and most of the staff wear suits. Imagine my disappointment.
The ground floor is actually a fairly standard affair, enlivened by a bursting trophy cabinet running alongside framed photos, certificates, plaques, bats, balls and all manner of other sporting equipment.
On the day I visit, the windowless conference room is packed with kit bags for athletes heading off to Israel in mid-July, but otherwise it all looks neat and tidy. There have even been copies of the Jewish News placed on various desks ahead of my arrival.
You know what they say: flattery will get you… a good review!
I begin by interrogating Nathan, who is in charge of Streetwise, a joint partnership with CST that acts as the educational arm of Maccabi GB. I ask him a thousand questions, but he is resolutely unfazed. The sign beside his desk tells me that he’s Italian and that he therefore “does not do calm”.
However, he seems fine, relaxed to the point of horizontal. His vivacious team comprise Emma, Jeni and Frankie. They’ve been at Beit Shvidler school in Edgware all morning.
In the same office is Matt, a towering lad recently promoted to head of sport. His sports-mad assistants Alex and Scott are teaching physical education classes at Sinai School in Kenton. The office seems empty, because through the window – in her own little rabbit hole – is equally absent events co-ordinator, Liz. She’s out at a warehouse, packing flags into bags.
In the front few offices are the suits. There’s Adam and Daniel, both marketing, both the very definition of “modern man” (beer and moisturiser).
Next door there’s Janice, Simone and Valerie, who has spent two decades at the organisation. These ‘events’ girls all have a project each. Last but not least is Martin (the boss) and Ashley (the boss’ right-hand man), the former resplendent in a regal corner office while the latter pokes out of a fish-bowl in the corridor. One day, Ashley… one glorious day. Have patience.
The whistle blows and… we’re off! First up are the playing fields beside Kerem Primary school. Matt and I drive down to meet David (an as-and-when coach) and together they take consecutive groups of youngsters through their paces on the football pitch. Afterwards, they play five-a-side. Among the comments I hear from the participating seven-year-olds include: “Let me take the throw-in, I’ve got better hands!” and, “Pass it to me, I’ll score because I’m amazing!” They’re clearly not the self-conscious type.
Not all the team’s work is with kids, they tell me on the way back, but it can be the most rewarding element, when a young teenager comes through the ranks to compete in national and international championships.
No sooner are we back at the office than I’m on the road again, this time heading towards Potters Bar in Adam’s sexy new Hyundai coupe to meet Liz at the warehouse. She’s roped in two Maccabi GB athletes to help: a sprightly Jake (football), who busies himself loading bags and Guy (table tennis). The last bags are packed. We bid farewell to the forklift trucks to head back to Hendon for a 4pm meeting. Assembling in Martin’s room for the Maccabiah briefing is Ashley, Martin, Liz, the events girls and a young temp brought in to manage the excess workload over the next few weeks.
Off they go, talking about landing times, release forms, upgrades, coach fares, medical waivers and stretcher hire (apparently, it is cheaper to hire physio beds in Israel than it is to fly their own out).
Leading all this is Liz, whose tiny stature belies a towering organisational ability. She is so organised and efficient it’s scary. Within 10 minutes she makes you feel like a personal shambles, like you should call your mum to apologise for the way you turned out.
While all this is going on, Martin is on his email, typing from his massage chair (it probably isn’t a massage chair, but looks like it). Meanwhile, back in the sports room, Matt is making fixture sheets for the various age allocations in the upcoming ‘Macc 5s’ five-a-side tournament. There are more than 100 teams and he looks stressed. Elsewhere, Adam is calling Sky TV to see if they’ll bring their cameras along to the junior rugby team’s world record attempt on Sunday. Despite his sunny demeanour he doesn’t hold out much hope.
The day’s coming to an end, as evidenced by the departure of the events girls. It’s time to relax and reflect. They’re a lively bunch, partly – I think – because they’re a young but established team, i.e. they’ve got the energy to make things happen and they’ve been there long enough to know how best to go about it.
Additionally, the office is the right mix of social and professional and the team is the right mix of personalities. I can’t put my finger on it. It just feels right.
It’s been a day of learning, too. I’ve learned that Maccabi GB is not all about sports – Streetwise runs a sex education programme, for example – and they’re not all about kids – the team were organising an evening quiz for adults on the day I visited. But most importantly, I’ve learned that Italians do do calm after all, despite what the sign on Nathan’s desk says.
• ‘A Day In The Life Of’ returns in the autumn. If you would like your organisation to be featured, email firstname.lastname@example.org