Friday evening, 9:25. I arrive at Pub M.A.S.H. (ingenious acronym for More Alcohol Served Here), north Dizengoff, Tel Aviv. “Mad” Eddie (hands aloft in photograph below, I am in stripes) is sitting at the bar with (what I believe to be) a woman, who I don’t recognize, but who closely resembles the imagined product of a late-night tryst between Diana Dors and Les Dawson.
Eddie has brought “Les”, an Irish airline pilot, along from his previous drinking stop, but – when the selfish bitch makes it clear that she is unwilling to sit through Leeds United versus Northampton Town, in the first round of the F.A. Cup – Eddie makes the only sensible choice. “Sorry, Mike”, he mutters sheepishly, on his way out.
Michael, the “Mad Doctor”, joins me. The other handful of regulars have got more sense (or a life), and haven’t turned up. It’s just me and the “Mad Doctor”, who wastes no time in starting to whinge about how poor Leeds are (which he does for the best part of two hours). If Leeds were beating the Great Satan, Manchester United, 5-0 in the first half of a Champions League final, the “Mad Doctor” would still find something to grumble about. I often wonder whether he is watching the same game as the rest of us (or, in this case, as me).
Northampton go one-nil up. Why did I choose to put myself through this on a Friday evening? Ryan, nicknameless (for the time being), joins us. Leeds equalise, to earn a replay in Northampton. But nothing else happens to justify the nonsensical “magic of the Cup” cliché, or why I have just wasted two hours of my life (and on a Friday night) in a pub which has seen better . . . no, in fact, it hasn’t seen better times – M.A.S.H. is a sh*thole, and always has been. The evening is best summed up by Northampton’s nickname: Cobblers.
I am President (self-elected) – which might explain why I always feel obliged to attend games – of the Tel Aviv Whites, in essence an e-mail list (currently numbering 40) of Leeds fans in Israel. Amongst our motley number are one of Israel’s leading gynaecologists, one of its maddest psychiatrists, a clinical psychologist, a dentist, two national journalists, lawyers and accountants. We also have an Argentinian (who started supporting Leeds on his arrival from Buenos Aires during Leeds’ golden decade starting in 1965), an Australian, and a Dane. And they travel to M.A.S.H. from as far and wide as Jerusalem and Zichron Ya’akov to see Leeds lose.
I must also make mention of our President Emeritus, “Mad Jonny”, the best Mickey Thomas – he of the famous “Wayne Rooney’s on a hundred grand a week . . . mind you, so was I until the police found my printing machine” – lookalike this side of Wrexham. Until, that is, he found the ‘produce’ of Thailand somewhat more alluring than that of south Tel Aviv (funny that).
In the halcyon early days of the millennium, when Leeds were reaching UEFA Cup and Champions League semi-finals – and before the club’s dramatic demise (the result of farcical financial mismanagement) – meetings of the Tel Aviv Whites in M.A.S.H. were frequent and well-attended. The three “Mad Brothers” – Eddie, Jonny, and the Doctor – and I would vie for seats at the bar, and to see whose renditions of Leeds songs were loudest and most colourful. Five Tel Aviv Whites made the trip to Valencia, for the Champions League semi-final.
Having dropped into the third tier of English football (for the first time in their 89-year history) two seasons ago, however, Leeds are now only on the telly out here when they reach the promotion play-offs (they have lost the last two finals) or, as on Friday, when they feature in one of the more ‘glamourous’ domestic cup fixtures. For May’s play-off final defeat (at the hands of the mighty Doncaster Rovers) at the new Wembley Stadium, however, over a hundred Leeds fans crammed into M.A.S.H. (though the numbers were boosted by a contingent from Yorkshire, in Israel for a wedding).
I once heard a psychologist say that “Choosing a football team is one of the first decisions you make in life, and one of the longest-lasting.” It is hard to disagree with that. And that early, irrevocable ‘choice’ – together with the desire to preserve something from Blighty – is what, I believe, keeps the Tel Aviv Whites alive (although we have been on life support for some years now).
And that is also what makes the Tel Aviv Whites different from the vast majority of glory-hunting Israeli ‘supporters’ of Manchester United and Chelsea, whose ‘choice’ only came with the flood of silverware. They are there for the good times, and their ‘loyalty’ will not extend to their adopted clubs going through the hard times currently experienced by Leeds United.