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From Wembley to the Western Wall: JLife Meets David Saffer

By July 27, 2020 August 4th, 2020 Interviews-Leeds

Leading Jewish sportswriter David Saffer talks a good game ahead of his virtual Makor appearance on 9th August.

A walking encyclopaedia of sporting trivia, you could fill Elland Road twice over with the literature David Saffer has penned about his beloved Leeds United. Born and bred in North Leeds, the former computer salesman’s writing career began by chance two decades ago when he decided “on the spur of the moment” to document his childhood team’s most iconic success. Leeds United Cup Kings 1972 was the first book to record the club’s first and only FA Cup title win: “A huge change in my life came in the late 1990s when I decided to write that book. I had great memories of the final and the club weren’t writing anything on it – football PR was a different world back then. Allan Clarke, who scored the winning goal, came along with Mick Jones for the book signing and when it sold out just two months later, I decided to change career.”

Now with 24 publications under his belt, his life has taken an altogether different direction, but two things: Wembley and the Western Wall have remained at its heart. “These were two massive influences in my life. My early reminiscences are Leeds United winning their first major trophy, the Football League Cup in 1968 at Wembley Stadium. My grandfather took me down to the city centre for the trophy celebrations – I was just a slip of a lad attending Brodetsky Primary School at the time. And in the same year, our family visited Israel for the first time and I was face to face with the Western Wall.” These two symbols became inextricably linked and have loomed large in David’s memory ever since, as Leeds United and Israel continue to play a huge part in his career.

David’s Book launch with Leeds United legends Allan Clarke, Mick Jones, Peter Lorimer, Norman Hunter, Paul Reaney and Eddie Gray.

After pivoting from a career in computers, he scored a post as a journalist at the Jewish Telegraph and spent 12 years reporting on the Leeds Jewish community. “I covered every organisation you can imagine, whether that’s the welfare board, the rep council, Makor, the schools or the shuls – I have a few stories to tell about the Rabbis over the years! One of the major things I enjoyed covering was Makor’s Leeds Jewish Theatre Festival, now known as JFest International – it was like a Jewish Edinburgh fringe.

For David, it was a huge privilege to write about the families and the history of the community during that period: “I always try to cover the city in a positive manner because I know everyone is working unbelievably hard to make it an attractive place for the Jewish community.”

Now living in the small village of Shenley on the outskirts of North London with his wife Deborah – he still follows the fortunes of the community he holds in such high regard: “You can take the boy out the city, but you can’t take the city out the boy.” A life member of Leeds Cricket and Football Hospital Relays Association, David has presented sports commentaries via hospital radio since his beloved team were last in the Premier League.

David interviewing Israeli ambassador Mark Regev.

A “big believer in taking on bizarre challenges”, the last time David left Leeds, his friends were rather surprised to discover he’d committed to learning to drive a double decker bus: “The experience gave me time to think about what I wanted to do with the next stage of my life. Over a two-week period, I managed to get my license, but then my writing took over. It was a short-lived experience, but that bus took me on the most unbelievable journey. Someone I met there introduced me to teaching English as a foreign language. I remember my very first class was a group of kids from Modi’in, Israel – so guess what? The Western Wall cropped up again.”

Three years ago, David was asked to be part of The Jewish Weekly, a start-up national newspaper for which his coverage of sports and Israeli politics has taken him around the world: “I was in Israel for three weeks for the Maccabi Games, the third biggest sporting event in the world, where my nephew happened to be swimming for Canada. While I lived the Israeli life with my cousin who drove me around and translated, the Israeli media asked me who I most wanted to meet. I have fond memories of the summer of 1970, the first and only time Israel played in the World Cup, captained by Mordechai Spiegler, so I asked them to arrange a meeting at his home, where he told me what it was like playing against Pelé who scored in that fabled final.”

David speaking to Yitzhak Yifat, one of the three paratroopers photographed at the Western Wall after the Six-Day war.

Taking him full circle, David was fascinated with the iconic image of three IDF paratroopers regaining the Western Wall at the end of the Six-Day War, and was given the chance to interview Itzik Yifat back at the wall 50 years on, in what proved “the most amazing experience”.

David is currently in the throes of finishing his 25th book, Galvanized, but has enjoyed the opportunity lockdown has presented him to enjoy hobbies and spend more time with his growing family: “I like to break every afternoon to help my daughter with my three grandsons, and now there’s another on the way. I also run a little sports memorabilia store on eBay which is a lot of fun.”

From childhood memories of Wakefield Trinity’s Don Fox missing the last kick of the ball to concede the legendary Watersplash Final of 1968 to Leeds Rhinos 11-10, to sitting at the Tottenham end when Spurs’ Ricky Villa scored his famous goal to secure the 1981 FA Cup final 3-2 against Manchester City, David recalls iconic moments with startling clarity. On 9th August, David will combine these sporting memories with his journey in a no holds barred Zoom Q&A hosted by Makor and presented by JLife’s Elliot Landy.

“People can ask me anything they want. Let’s face it, I’ll probably have interviewed them at some stage. I’ve written about most things, so hopefully people will find the talk interesting and at least recognise the colourful characters of Leeds. I’m looking forward to seeing a few old faces – plus I don’t have anything negative to say about the city, so there’ll be no controversy whatsoever.”

To attend David’s Saffer’s Zoom talk and Q&A on 9th August at 7.30pm, email Makor at info@makor.co.uk or call 0113 268 0899.