Luzon my religion: Israel’s not-so-beautiful game

“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.

“There’s only one Itzik Zohar . . .
one too many.”

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!)

. . . and there is only one "Special One."

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!


27 responses to “Luzon my religion: Israel’s not-so-beautiful game

  1. Judy Labensohn

    “90 minutes at Bloomfield makes a visit to the nearby Ramat Gan Safari entirely unnecessary.” What a great line.

  2. “…the food…”, Mike? Really? In the only country in the world where I have actually heard the oxymoronic phrase “I love cottage cheese” (the UK equivalent of “I love Marmite”) on several occasions. And as for “the women”; well yes, like much of the food, the presentation and appearance can often be spectacular; but the taste and the encounter? When the taste isn’t marred by the stench of mint masked tobacco (which is sadly very rare these days) – and as we discussed in a previous ‘Melchett Mike’ not so long ago – the encounters are more often terrifying than pleasant. Israeli women, in common with their compatriots in the world of football (apparently) and in common with just about everybody else in Israeli society today appear to be in a perennial state of barely suppressed rage. But you are correct about the weather at least. What a shame therefore that the long days of sunshine seem to have such an incendiary effect on the tempers of the citizenry…

  3. Can I assume then, Adam, that you agree with my observations on the local footie? 😉

    I found myself in the curious situation, yesterday evening, of actually willing Chelscum to win . . . that, after years of singing “When I was just a little boy . . .” Were you sticking to your Tottenham prejudices?

    Anyway, what a game! One of those all too rare “remember where you were” ones. Shame that it fell on Yom Hazikaron, and most Israelis couldn’t see it.

  4. Absolutely, to the first point.

    And no, to the second – partly because of prejudice and partly because of the machinations of the Champions League qualifying regulations; if Chelsea win the thing, and because they will finish fifth at best in the Premiership, only the top three will qualify for next seasons ECL. However, had Tottenham not imploded (as per usual) and still been safe occupiers of third place, yes, I would have been up for ‘The Chelss’ (actually no idea how to spell that – perhaps a Sports 1 expert can help me). Couldn’t help a smile for Torres. Seems a nice guy, and a genuine class act. He’s Atletico to his bones and must be desperate to face Real in the final. Should be fascinating.

    Finally Mike, do you too “love cottage cheese”? Perhaps a love of cottage cheese is a prerequisite to making a successful move to Israel.

  5. Thanks Mike, I can now see from where the diving, dirty, cheating, spitting Israeli-Russian hybrids in the amateur leagues take their lead. Talking about those who could “mix it” and still play, Roy Keane.

  6. Talking of “oxymoronic,” Tottenham in the Champions League?!?

    And what’s with the cottage cheese?! No, I don’t like it.

  7. As a Chelsea fanatic of 36 years, I really hope that this is the year we finally do it!

    As for the Boonker, you are right, your average Israeli knows as much about football as they do about manners! 🙂

    Come on the Chels!

  8. Glory bought < glory earned.

    If Roman had bought Charlton Athletic instead of Chelsea and spent over £1 billion on them, they too would have "won" a few trophies.

    Every result, every goal is bought and paid for by their Jewish Billionaire owner who saved them when they were no more than 5 days away from going into administration.

    Of course this fact is lost on their knuckleheaded moronic antisemitic supporters who to this day sing "Spurs are on their way to Auschwitz".

  9. Just appalling scenes in your video. I don’t blame you giving up your ticket – why pay to watch this unnecessary aggression? Beitar Jerusalem instead anyone?

    Take away the amazing success of Kiryat Shmona this season and the rest of the Israeli clubs appear mired in mediocrity and negativity. I think a basic problem is there’s just too much pressure in the Israeli game which I think comes from the small size of the league and the way in which the end of season mini-play off split occurs. The Israeli football scene appears even less endearing through the domination of prima donna owners whose funding of their clubs is of questionable provenance. If only Israeli supporters could have a formal voice and obtain ownership in their clubs….

    A propos footy in general, I thought you’d be interested in this blog by our General Manager: 

    His reference towards the end to the recent comment re football supporters connection to their clubs made by Peter Lorimer illustrates why ex-footballers rarely grow in stature in retirement. Lorimer was overrated as a footballer IMO anyway. (Now he’s taken the Bates’ shilling – a possible misjudgement as Bates is apt to crap on all the directors he falls out with. For example How I’d hate to be a Leeds fan right now and support my team through this cringeworthy nonsense).

    The bottom line for me is clubs need to be fan owned to restore and retain the linkage between the club, the players and the fans. It’ll be far less likely to end up with pitch fighting scenes like you showed as fans can apply direct pressure to change things. They are the owners after all.

    Far from the madding crowd of the Premiership/Championship in Israel and UK is this short video to restore your enjoyment of supporter involvement and live football watching. . A large group of MUFC supporters who quit the premiership, created a fans owned team starting at the very bottom (division 10 of the League pyramid) doing things differently on and off the field and over six years built a team to challenge and beat a League team in the FA Cup. Its all been amazing fun. The film rights are for sale btw!

  10. David Prager

    I heard that John Terry got sent off on ourpose as part of de Matteo’s strategy so that the Barcelona players would be preoccupied for 70 minutes about what he was getting up to with their wives!

  11. “Just appalling scenes in your video. I don’t blame you giving up your ticket . . .”

    You missed my point, Jonathan – if I had seen anything a tenth as captivating at Maccabi, I wouldn’t be giving it up!

    Bates is scum and Lorimer is a muppet – whether you rated him as a player or not (and I would suggest that The Don’s Leeds didn’t carry any passengers) – who was also used by the pre-Bates ‘Jewish’ consortium.

    FCUM sounds great. And I love the way it only changed its opening initial . . . from SCUM! What interests me is whether its fans still really follow the latter? As I am sure you know, there is a similar type of club in Jerusalem, Hapoel Katamon.

    I am fully aware of the “exercise in idiocy” of following a traditional club these days, and wrote about it here . . .

    Perhaps this realization (late discovered maturity even) is what allowed me, on Tuesday evening, following all my years of hating Chelsea, to get to my feet as Torres bore down on the Barca goal and implore him to score . . . and the reason, too, that I find myself willing the real United of Manchester to beat those newly moneyed tossers on Monday!

  12. Mike you’ve got to get off this bandwagon and your perpetual obsession with this ‘scum’ thing. No wonder we call Leeds the sheep! Anyway it’s vastly more Leeds fans than United fans that retain this ridiculous cross pennine antipathy. As a current example, when FCUM (a division 7 team for goodness sake) play in Frickley, Guiseley or other teams nearby Leeds, the Leeds fans for the last 7 seasons have turned out in force to smash coach windows, plan disturbances in pubs and cause general pre and post match mayhem. (see the guarded instructions re parking cars and coaches, or this pathetic news article Nothing ever of the sort takes place in Manchester when those same Yorkshire teams play here.

    This stupid partizanship should be buried in the past and thank goodness I and many others no longer have to encounter these nutcases on a regular basis. Leeds are doing everyone a favour by staying out of the premiership until they can reform their nutters. What a pity they can’t appreciate the stand we’ve taken against the excesses of modern football.

    What a great blog about the goings on in Herzelya last year. I’m so sorry I missed it at the time. David Conn of the Guardian wrote four years ago that the average age of a matchgoing fan at Arsenal was 47. Well they must now be aged 51, watching their overpaid uncommitted Spaniards/Frenchman beating some other team’s Frenchmen/Italians. As an aged supporter, what’s to get worked up about really, other than to keep alive the memory of old battles from the 1960’s and 1970’s. It’s no wonder neither of my sons like attending live premiership football as the atmosphere is dead.

    Back to the televised off and on pitch brawls I often think some of these on pitch scenes are staged for the fans to remind them how committed they are to the team (when they are not). Likewise pub/hotel scuffles. It’s all pointless nonsense and hopefully these attitudes will die out in a generation. Not long given the current average age of premiership supporters.

    Since I’ve traded down into non-league it’s been a revelation to be welcomed into away social clubs like friends (we usually take 1200 fans or more away) and we always applaud both sets of teams off and on the pitch whether we’ve won or lost.

    As to your description of the “real” Manchester United, the fans believe we are two Uniteds but the soul is one. We are all MUFC supporters in a glorious nirvana – check this Spanish TV documentary excerpt

    My final word on respect for teams and fans in football, I attribute to Busby babe legend Ronny Cope

    Over the year Leeds fans have been pre-eminent in rubbishing the memory of Munich. Sadly similar deep antipathy/racism and contempt continues throughout top flight football and it’s a relief to have left it all behind.

  13. Jonathan, I of course distance myself from any Leeds fans who “rubbish the memory of Munich,” and post the following in memory of the tragedy . . .

  14. The Ramat Gan/Bnei Lod fracas shows just how wafer-thin civilization is. And while we are at it, I hope those Nazi Scum have their heads liquidised (and not just beaten to pulp) in the Champions League Final and Bayern beat them 10:0. This sentiment has nothing to do with my being a Tottenham sufferer (or should that be, supporter?).

  15. Laudably progressive of the learned reader from Raananfontein to attribute the recent balagan on “wafer-thin civilization” . . . when most would blame it on the “wafer-thin” brains of the knuckleheaded protagonists.

    As for Chelsea, following their recent FA Cup semi-final against Spurs, and encountering (otherwise respectable) husband-and-wife fans of the Blues in the British Overseas Territory of Shderot Nitza (Netanya), I enquired how they could support a team whose fans sing gas chamber songs. The wife’s reply . . .

    “Well, it was Tottenham.”

  16. I find it interesting that suddenly everybody is so concerned at how Chelsea are suppossedly so anti semitic…it wouldnt have anything to do with the fact that people are a little jealous, would it?

    Yes, Chelsea have their minority of anti semitic morons, as do most clubs in England, although as somebody who has been a number of times in the past few years, it has improved considerably, as Chelsea have banned for life whoever they catch making Racist or anti semitic comments…

    The laying into Chelsea might have something to do with the fact, that even in a season as bad as this one (well, until a few days ago anyway), they are still so much better than Spurs…

  17. My newfound goodwill towards Chelsea ends here, Reuven. My experience of their fans is that they are largely charmless and menacing.

    “Hark to the Leeds fan!” I hear you cry. Northerners, however, even Yorkshiremen, have, to my mind, a charm and humour that is noticeably absent from the type of Londoner who seems to frequent the Bridge.

    I was a regular visitor to the ground in the late 80s/early 90s, when the only cups handed out in Chelsea were to dog owners and flower growers, and much of their current support – like that of Manchester City – is “glory boy” by nature.

    It sounds ridiculous stereotyping supporters of certain clubs, but you can. I don’t think I have ever met a Newcastle fan, for example, who wasn’t a total knob end, going on about the “Toon Army” as if it had actually won something since 1969.

    Because of their ignorance of football, you now see Israeli fans in the silly striped shirt. And in the pub, yesterday afternoon, I delighted in witnessing the Jerusalem Geordies watch their “Army” get thrashed 4-0 by the mighty Wigan.

  18. “As somebody who has been a number of times in the past few years”.

    Sorry, Reuven, but been what? Anti-semitic? To the toilet? You are obviously a Chelsea fan. Keep up the syntax.

    Mike, I suppose you are not offering any prizes for guessing who the wife was?

  19. An interesting postscript to the clip above – of Leeds being robbed by the ‘referee,’ Michel Kitabdjian, in the 1975 European Cup Final in Paris – is that, a few weeks ago, perusing the (piss poor) sports pages of the weekend Haaretz, I came across the following . . .

    It seems that Kitabdjian was already making a name for himself way back in 1968. Shame the Ghanaians didn’t kill the French twat . . . if they had, maybe Leeds fans’ favourite “Champions of Europe” chant would actually be borne out by the history books!

  20. John, everybody is entitled to their own opinion, but labelling all the fans of a certain club as something is incredibly childish…

    I am certainly a Chelsea fan, and have been since the age of 6, when we were a crap team in the second division losing 4 -0 to the mighty Rotherham, so nobody can accuse me of being a glory hunter! 🙂

    Mike, there are still Leeds fans? 🙂

    Football, as you well know is not something you choose because of the colour of the shirts or the way the team plays, it is generally a tradition passed down from father to son, and for the past 10 years, I am so glad my Dad was Chelsea! 🙂

  21. You may have supported them since the age of 6, Reuven, but my guess is that, like most other glory-hunting Chelsea fans, you wouldn’t have been anywhere near Stamford Bridge until Moneybags Abramovich arrived.

    “labelling all the fans of a certain club as something is incredibly childish…”

    Okay then, melchett mike’s Toon Challenge: Name one Newcastle United fan who isn’t a total knob end.

  22. Well Mike…you guessed wrong…
    Starting 1977-Christmas-Chelsea 2 -West Ham 1-Langley and Garner scored! 🙂
    The first of many…
    As for Newcastle fans…Have yet to meet one in Israel.

  23. We believe you, Reuven. Millions wouldn’t.

    Re Newcastle fans, don’t tempt fate.

  24. Reuven

    I take your point about labelling all fans as something being childish. Tell me, did your father have any connection with Sir Oswald Mosley? The Duke of Windsor? The Mitford Sisters?

  25. If I may take the liberty of replying on Reuven’s behalf . . .

    The Back connection was not with the Mitford sisters, but the Williams sisters.

    The girls’ father, Richard, is not really an anti-semite. This was just a malicious rumour, spread by jealous opponents.

    And Reuven did not start supporting Venus and Serena only after they had started grunting their way to Grand Slam titles. Indeed, when he was not at Stamford Bridge, Reuven used to watch the girls through the fence of their Los Angeles high school.

    And, if you don’t believe him, there is an LAPD report to prove it!

  26. Mike
    I thought we had agreed that the LAPD report was classified information, and you had promised not to mention it on the blog!
    Typical Leeds fan… 🙂

  27. If anyone is still interested in local football (i.e., after my post above), today’s Haaretz (English edition) provides the following explanation of “who needs what” from Saturday’s last round of matches . . .

    “Tomorrow’s slate of Premier League soccer matches will determine who gets to play in Europe next season and who stays at home. By winning Wednesday, Bnei Yehuda guaranteed at least third place and a spot in Europe. Hapoel Tel Aviv will play in Europe if it doesn’t lose to Maccabi Haifa tomorrow. If Hapoel loses, it can still squeeze through on condition that Maccabi Netanya fails to beat Bnei Sakhnin. Haifa will play in Europe if it beats Hapoel Tel Aviv. If it loses, it will need Netanya to draw or lose. In any event, either Hapoel Tel Aviv or Maccabi Haifa will be in Europe, depending on which one wins the State Cup. In order for Netanya to reach Europe it must beat Sakhnin and then finish in fourth place. In that situation, it will need the one finishing above it – be it Maccabi Haifa or Hapoel Tel Aviv – to win the Cup.”

    Clear now?! 😉 Reminded me of Moshe Steinhart’s unforgettable 10-minute ‘explanation’ of how to get to the Aviva Hardman Hall succah from each and every exit of the Raleigh Close main shul. The two buildings were right next to each other.

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