Hakoah’s first team in the 1960s.
Hakoah’s first team in the 1960s. Archives FC Zurich, Collection Ludy Turkavka

Power on the pitch

The over 100-year history of Zurich football club FC Hakoah highlights the importance of Jewish sport in the building of identity and the integration of Jews in Switzerland.

Michael Jucker

Michael Jucker

Michael Jucker is a sports historian, head of Swiss Sports History and co-director of the FCZ Museum.

After Jewish emancipation in 1874, sport played a key part in integration for many Jews in Switzerland. Sports clubs were set up in Basel, Bern, Zurich and Geneva after 1900. These were mostly gymnastics clubs, which – like the Christian clubs – were somewhat conservative in their approach and often supported the Zionist movement. Athletics and tennis also became popular sports in Jewish clubs. By doing sport and competing in competitions and matches, Jews integrated into the majority Christian society. All of these changes also shaped SC Hakoah in Zurich. The Sportclub Hakoah was founded in 1921 and was also clearly geared towards Zurich’s Jewish cultural and religious community. Hakoah is Hebrew and means ‘power’ or ‘strength’. From the outset, the club sought to offer various sports, gradually setting up athletics and tennis sections, and adding a swimming section in the 1940s. This was nothing unusual, as Christian sports clubs also offered multiple sports when they were first set up. However, from early on, the football division emerged as the most important section of SC Hakoah. Eventually it became a football-only club and the name changed accordingly, from SC to FC.
SC Hakoah won the Eastern Switzerland C-Championship in 1926. Article from the Jewish Press Centre, Zurich.
SC Hakoah won the Eastern Switzerland C-Championship in 1926. Article from the Jewish Press Centre, Zurich. Archives of Contemporary History / Z Jüdische Periodika / JPZ-1926-0398
From its establishment in 1921, the club, like many Jewish sport clubs, subscribed to the concept of ‘Muscular Judaism’ coined by Marx Nordau at the Zionist Congress in Basel in 1898. Nordau advocated the promotion of strong and combat-ready Jews to challenge the antisemitic view of the Jewish people as weak. This idea came to the fore during the Nazi regime in Germany. For example, a 1934 Hakoah commemorative publication reads: “A Jew who is on top mental and physical form is the most convincing way to refute the claim that the Jewish race is inferior to other races. […] A strong ‘Hakoah’ will also be a bastion of Jewish strength in Switzerland.” This ideology unified proponents and excluded outsiders. From the 1960s, however, it was overshadowed by other issues that had become more important, such as sport and health, integration, and the establishment of the State of Israel.
Max Nordau, taken in 1930.
Max Nordau, taken in 1930. Wikimedia
An appeal for 'Muscular Judaism' in the programme for the SC Hakoah ball, 1934.
An appeal for 'Muscular Judaism' in the programme for the SC Hakoah ball, 1934. FC Hakoah, Zurich
During the War, practising sport – particularly football – was not easy. Under the Wahlen Plan, many of Switzerland’s sports grounds were turned into land for growing crops. However, FC Hakoah was the only Jewish football club in Europe that never closed and continued to play matches throughout this period, despite the War and the Shoah.
A sports ground in the city of Zurich, 1942.
A sports ground in the city of Zurich, 1942. Baugeschichtliches Archiv
FC Hakoah soon also became a migrants’ club that was open to refugees from the Jewish religious community.  While in the beginning they mainly hailed from Alsace and Eastern Europe, over time that changed. The events of the Second World War and the suppression of the Hungarian Uprising in 1956 led to many refugee players from Germany and other parts of Europe coming to play at FC Hakoah. Around three or four players per team were refugees and were generally good footballers. Just last year, a number of Jewish players from Ukraine joined the current team.
The FC Hakoah first team in the 1950s.
The FC Hakoah first team in the 1950s. Collection Sami Riger
Since 1921, FC Hakoah has always occupied an exceptional position in Zurich. It is a football club like any other in the city, but its identity is not linked to a particular Zurich neighbourhood, or to a specific home country of a migrant group. Instead, FC Hakoah is a mono-cultural club that is firmly anchored in the Jewish community. It is a home to all Jewish football-lovers in Zurich, from east and west, Orthodox and practising, non-believers and liberals. Their social, economic, political or geographical background is neither here nor there. In that sense, FC Hakoah has always been a touch more liberal than many other Jewish sports clubs and Switzerland’s Jewish sports governing body Maccabi Schweiz, which adhered more strongly to Zionism. The club seeks to “promote the game of football and Jewish conviviality” irrespective of class or background, as stated in one of the Management Board’s first announcements in 1921. According to this, players at FC Hakoah should be part of the general football scene, but as Jewish athletes. Playing at FC Hakoah is therefore a way for people to affirm their Jewish identity while demonstrating their membership of Swiss society.
FC Hakoah currently plays in the 4th division.
FC Hakoah currently plays in the 4th division. Photo: Philipp Wyss
This is why the club reaches out and builds bridges to other areas of society. Historically, and still today, this open-minded and tolerant attitude has meant managing tensions from within the Jewish community, as not all Orthodox Jews are keen on football being played. The same could be said of Christians well into the 1960s, however, as Christian boys (and from the 1970s girls too) were not supposed to play football on Sundays, but go to church instead. For FC Hakoah this tension meant that from the early days, a special regulation had to be obtained from the Zurich football association, whereby matches involving FC Hakoah could not – and to this day still can’t – be played on Shabbat (Saturday) for religious reasons. Otherwise, practising Jews would have been automatically excluded. So Sunday was kept as match day, which in turn clashed with Christian ideas of Sunday as the day of worship. A solution was reached by mutual agreement with the Zurich football association, whereby Sunday match fixtures were scheduled after church – an expression not only of integration, but also of mutual tolerance and open-mindedness.

Swiss Sports History

This text was produced in collaboration with Swiss Sports History, the portal for the history of sports in Switzerland. The portal focuses on education in schools and information for the media, researchers and the general public. Find out more at sportshistory.ch

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