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  • Writer's pictureOliver Kay

Joseph Johnson: Breaking new ground at Luton Town and a Trailblazer for Jewish Footballers

Joseph Johnson is a young left back for Luton Town, who joined the Luton Town Academy in February 2020 as an under-14 from the Focus Football Academy, having previously been at the Arsenal Academy. At just 17 years old, he has already broken ground as the first academy product from Luton Town to earn minutes in the league since James Justin. But what makes Johnson even more unique is that he is also one of four Jewish footballers currently playing in the top four tiers of English football.

Joseph Johnson playing left back for the Luton Town Development Squad | Photo Copyright of Gareth Owen

At just 17 years old, Johnson has impressed the Luton Town coaching staff, alongside the other members of the Luton Town under-18 side that steamrolled their way to the EFL Youth Alliance South East League Title. His impressive performances within the academy saw Johnson, alongside; Jacob Pinnington, Zack Nelson, Axel Piesold and Jayden Luker, sign professional terms with the club. Adrian Forbes has spoken to the Luton Town website about the work ethic and quality of the under-18 team with all of them stepping up for game time in the development squad and continuing to work hard, develop, strive for the first team squad and obtain some minutes.

Although Johnson was named on the bench back in February for the FA Cup 4th Round tie against Grimsby, alongside Axel Piesold, his debut for Luton Town came yesterday (24th April), when he came on as a substitute in a match against Middlesbrough. Although both teams have secured their positions in the playoffs, it was still an important game, against one of the best sides in the Championship. Johnson played well in his limited time on the pitch and showed glimpses of his potential, with Luton manager Rob Edwards stating that he performed well during his cameo making interceptions and blocks, which highlights Johnson's confidence.

Aside from his impressive performances on the pitch with the under-18s, development squad and his brief cameo yesterday, Johnson is also breaking ground for Jewish footballers. He was part of the under-14s squad at the JCC Maccabi Games in Detroit, which is best described as the olympic games for Jewish athletes, with players such as Nick Blackman carving careers in Football following successful Maccabiah's.

Johnson is one of four Jewish footballers currently playing in the top four tiers of English football, alongside Scott Kashket at League 2 Gillingham, Joe Jacobson at League 1 Wycombe, and Manor Solomon currently on loan at Fulham in the Premier League. This may not seem like a big deal, but it is a significant milestone for Jewish representation in the English football pyramid, with the number of Jewish Footballers in the English pyramid dropping to two with Dean Furman moving to non-league football. This left just Scott Kashket (27 years old) and Joe Jacobson (36 years old) to represent Jewish Footballers, therefore the significance of young blood in the English Football pyramid cannot be understated.

Historically, there have not been many Jewish footballers in English football, and those who did make it to the top level often faced discrimination and anti-Semitic abuse from fans and players alike. This is why it is so important to see young players like Joseph Johnson making their mark in the game and showing that Jewish footballers can be successful and respected. Interestingly, in Luton Town's history we previously had two* Jewish footballers in Barry Silkman who played on loan 3 times in 1979 as well as David Pleat, who played for Luton between 1964-1967 and famously managed Luton during their most successful period in the top flight in the 1980s.

In addition to his footballing talent, Johnson is also a role model for young Jewish athletes who aspire to play football at the highest level. He has shown that with hard work, perseverance and a love for the game, anything is possible, because even after leaving Arsenal's Academy, he kept going and signed terms at Luton Town Football Club. I will finish this with a portion from the Torah (Jewish Bible), it's called Lech-Lecha which means to "go forth", It will not be read in synagogues until the 28th October, but I hope Joe goes forth and gets more first team minutes. This is just the beginning of a very successful career, not just at Luton Town but in the English Football Pyramid.

*It has been brought to my attention that a third Jewish footballer has played for Luton Town. Louis Bookman, between 1919-1922. Where he made 110 appearances scoring 9 goals from the outside-left position. He emigrated from Lithuania to Ireland to escape antisemitism, changing his name from Buchalter to Bookman.

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