“No need for excuses,” quipped a fellow Anglo-Israeli on the phone, as I was attempting to explain why I was at Maccabi Tel Aviv vs. Rishon Le’tzion (and thus couldn’t hear him). And Ron had not missed the irony. There was, indeed, a need for excuses!
While going to football in England is an Update status-worthy event – “At the Emirates,” “the Lane,” etc (though less, it must be said, “Elland Road”) are oft seen on Facebook – only the most secure will own up to attending games in Israel, or even to watching them on telly.
All of which makes it all the more curious that everyone here is up in arms about the mass brawl at Hapoel Ramat Gan vs. Bnei Lod on Friday afternoon (Haaretz), surely the most entertainment ever witnessed on an Israeli football pitch . . .
I had been trying to tell Ron that, as the (not-so-proud) owner of a Maccabi Tel Aviv season ticket, I had no choice but to go to games. If there is some way of measuring such things, however, I am confident that the ticket represents one of the worst ever returns on 1,200 shekels (around two hundred pounds).
The excuse for my moment of madness was that I had just moved to within a few hundred metres of Bloomfield Stadium, the home of Tel Aviv’s biggest clubs, Hapoel and Maccabi (I chose the latter because I am forbidden from wearing red). And it is a measure of the wretchedness of the Israeli soccer experience – the football is crap, the officials are worse, and the spectators are largely odious, knowing nothing about The Beautiful Game – that, when I am at Bloomfield, I find myself daydreaming about wet, blustery evenings at Hendon FC.
While it is not only Israeli footballers who are knobs, they don’t have the excuse of the Bests, Gascoignes and Cantonas, or even of the Collymores, Di Canios and Balotellis, i.e., that they can play. Strutting, play-acting tossers and prima donnas like the ars’s ars, Itzik Zohar (right, now a TV pundit) – widely considered by Crystal Palace fans (this one, for instance) to be one of the club’s worst ever signings (no mean feat, I can tell you!) – and my own personal bête noire (having had to suffer him all season), Maccabi captain Barak Itzhaki, don’t have any such excuse.
What I have, however, gained from my season ticket is an understanding of why Israeli football fans leave piles of garinim (sunflower seed) shells on terrace floors – it gives them something to do for 90 minutes (I, too, have now adopted the custom) – and familiarity with a wide variety of Hebrew songs, from Mi shelo kofetz adom (Whoever doesn’t jump is red [i.e., Hapoel]) to Ima shelachem zona (Your mother is a whore), nearly all sung to the identical tune. Indeed, 90 minutes at Bloomfield makes a visit to the nearby Ramat Gan Safari entirely unnecessary.
“If they were at all capable of reflection, the monkeys who booed [Ran] Ben Shimon out [of Maccabi Tel Aviv] – following Saturday’s home defeat to Kiryat Shmona, ironically his former charge that got him his position – will come to regret their mindlessness. A 38-year old coach who, last season, took the relative nobodies from the northern border to 3rd place, in their very first season in the top flight, will obviously go on to greater things. His successor, Avi Nimni – however great a player for Maccabi – probably won’t.”
I published the above – in Ran Ben Shimon: A Deeper Malaise – on November 3, 2008. Earlier this month, Kiryat Shmona clinched its first ever championship – the first to be won by a club outside Israel’s three major cities in nearly 30 years – under Ben Shimon (who rejoined the club as coach in April 2009). And, no, Avi Nimni didn’t.
While it is poor taste to say “I told you so” (but I’ve started so I’ll finish), the malaise to which I referred in that second post to melchett mike was not just of players and fans, but of Israeli football as a whole. It starts at the very top, with Israeli Football Association chairman Avi Luzon (and family) – more dodgy than Ken Bates after a little tamper with the wheels of his Zimmer frame – and is encouraged by media coverage of the most moronic kind, giving Zohar, Eyal Berkovic and Eli Ohana, the dickheads of the “double pass,” free rein to puff up their already over-inflated egos (see Moti, you ain’t no Motty!)
Ohana (right) was wonderfully lampooned in a recent Yediot Aharonot article – showing that it is not only snooty English olim who are fed up with the know-it-all local football coverage – for his studio criticism of the tactics of Real Madrid coach, José Mourinho:
“As the inhabitants of Blah-Blah Land, we have got used to the idiotic nonsense of blabbermouth commentators, but there is a limit even to chutzpah. Sitting there is [Ohana] the coach of the Israeli youth team, the big shot who succeeded, in his last examination in the league, in relegating Kfar Saba to the second division – of a calibre that, even in the Maccabiah (against Jewish teenagers who looked more likely to win a bible quiz), had to make to do with the bronze medal – and he is giving a lecture on football to the coach who has won the Champions League twice, taken six domestic championships in three different countries, with a seventh in a fourth on the way. It is almost like [Israeli singer] Avihu Shabat criticising John Lennon or [comedian] Shahar Hasson slagging off Jerry Seinfeld.”
The bottom line is that most Israelis (including TV and media pundits), however much they love the game, don’t – for a reason that I cannot quite fathom – truly understand it (or, at least, not in the same way that we do). This was most apparent, yesterday evening, watching Barcelona vs. Chelsea with half a dozen natives, who were constantly whingeing about the West Londoners playing “boonker” (i.e., defensively). How exactly did they expect them to play, protecting a lead against Lionel Messi and Co. at the Nou Camp, with a place in the Champions League final at stake? With expansive football?!
Needless to say, I won’t be renewing my season ticket.
And there isn’t any proper cricket here, either. Still, there are the women. There is the weather, too. And the food. And golden memories of footballers who could both “mix it” and play . . .
To all readers of melchett mike – whether Maccabi, Hapoel, or even Bnei Yehuda – happy barbecuing!