Tag Archives: English Football

Accadia kerfuffle: Enough with this football mishigas!

Who says it is only working class goyim who fight on holiday? Or that only Catholics and Protestants mix religion, football and violence?

No. It is not only in sectarian Glasgow that they have Troubles . . . oy, have we got them too! And the tattle amongst Anglo-Jewish Passover holidaymakers in Israel this past week has been the fracas, during the North London derby, between English guests at the pricy Dan Accadia Hotel in genteel Herzliya Pituach (the cost of being a football hooligan has clearly gone up!)

According to melchett mike sources, the cause of the melee – during the course of which one hotel guest was punched in the face by another and then, in more typical North-West London Jewish hard man style, bitten (yes, bitten!) by his friend – was a disputed front row seat for Tottenham v Arsenal, shown on a big screen at the 5-star establishment, a few miles north of Tel Aviv.

English Passover guests in the Accadia pool room

One such source (or, rather, snitch . . . ex-Hasmo of course) says that the two assailants – at least one of whom he believes to be from Hampstead Garden Suburb, and “in property” – “behaved, and even looked, more like Tony Soprano and “Big Pussy” [appropriately for the biter] Bonpensiero than your typical Accadia clientele . . . even the French ones!”

Accadia security, more used to dealing with suspicious packages than lary Londoners, had to be summoned to calm matters, though tensions continued over the following days. (melchett mike would, naturally, welcome further eyewitness accounts [even anonymous] of the incident by comment below . . . for news purposes only, you understand.)

The standard response (after surprise, i.e., that the volume of food inevitably consumed by the pair had allowed one to throw a punch and the other to bite into anything else) of Anglos at ‘our’ hotel in Tel Aviv – to where the news had spread faster than a plague of locusts – was “What a disgrace!”

Even if such behaviour is rather untypical for your average Anglo-Jewish football fan, it is, nonetheless, unlikely to occur during a screening of the Ashes (cricket) or the Six Nations (rugby union); and it is endemic, for me, of the stupefying loss of all proportion exhibited by so many Anglo-Jewish males towards the game described by Hasmonean’s Legendary French master, not entirely unfairly, as “22 grown men chasing a pig’s bladder.”

In my childhood and youth, no one was more meshugge about football than me. I lived and breathed Leeds United, “going home and away” (including abroad) as soon as I could. But even though I still follow the club’s results keenly, and am founder and “El Presidente” – unelected and unimpeachable, Muammar Gaddafi-style – of the Tel Aviv Whites, I would like to think that, with age (and also, perhaps, time spent in Israel), I have gained some perspective. And it is not merely because I now live over 2,000 miles from Elland Road, or the equally indisputable fact that Leeds are now shite (they were throughout my youth).

Aside from the illusory escape from the mundane, the only thing of any value that my former obsession gave me was the ability, at law school, to memorize scores of cases by association: after all, if the litigants’ namesakes had not featured in the same mid-70s Derby side, how else would I ever have remembered Powell v Lee?!

These days, on coming into contact with Anglo-Jews still living in England – or even just seeing their Facebook updates – I cringe at, and am even sickened by, their all-consuming obsession with football, their seeming inability to discuss virtually anything else, and how they encourage the same in their (male, at least) children.

"Not now, Natalie . . . the footie's on!"

And, on my increasingly infrequent visits to Blighty, I am always flabbergasted at how the most banal snippets of information, on footballer-clients, from a players’ agent acquaintance can so enthral the rapt male audience to which he so conceitedly plays. No one would even notice, I always think to myself, were Natalie Portman to walk in and get her kit off.

I have also observed, on these visits, how even Orthodox rabbis now appear to believe that they will only gain congregant interest if they couch their sermons in football talk (or is it, rather, the only language that they think shul-goers will understand?)

My cousin recently returned from his own visit to London with the tale of how he had witnessed the son of Orthodox friends, in their Hendon back garden, mimicking his footballing hero by crossing himself (though without understanding the significance) every time he took a penalty kick!

My late father, a good sportsman, and uncle, by all accounts one of Irish Jewry’s all-time finest (their ability, tragically, skipped our generation), always instilled in us a sense of proportion when it came to sport (as mere spectator or fan, at any rate). And any thoughts I may have had of my favourite Leeds United player attending my bar mitzvah – as was once de rigueur amongst Anglo-Jews (photographs of proud 13-year-olds and sheepish-looking gentiles appeared in every week’s JC) – would have been swiftly, and rightly, pooh-poohed.

The standard of Israeli football (not to mention commentary) is, of course, very far from Premier League; though, to coin a popular Hebrewism, zeh mah she’yesh (literally, “this is what there is”). But the only folk who display any real enthusiasm for football here are market stallholders and their ilk. Indeed, most Israelis with any education to speak of would not dream of exposing their children to the aggression, racism and obscenities seen and heard in this country’s stadia . . . and it is far milder than that found in English grounds.

"Now where did I put those damn dentures?!"

Quite apart from anything else, obsessive following of English clubs, these days, is an exercise in idiocy: The professional game is now no more than Big Business and an ego trip for Russian oligarchs, Arab sheikhs, American tycoons, and – to my particular regret – dodgy wheeler-dealers (some may prefer malevolent old c*nts) like Ken Bates (above). And any loyalty once witnessed amongst footballers, now just a bunch of greedy mercenaries, is a thing of the very distant past.

So what exactly are we now supporting?

Perversely, however, many Anglo-Jews appear to show an even greater interest in football than they (and we, as children) ever did. And how many of them give even a tenth as much of their resources, time and energy to communal, Zionist, or, indeed, any social or charitable causes (i.e., things that really matter) as they do – in season tickets, Sky subscriptions, and related paraphernalia – to ‘their’ football clubs? (Or is it merely that there is a lot more to ‘escape’ from, these days?)

Before dismounting my high horse, to the idiots at the Accadia . . .

Next Passover (if they’ll have you back), you’d be better advised to take an evening tour of the Jewish Quarter (or such like) – we have real heroes here, you know! – or even one last waddle to the buffet than to disgrace yourselves . . . and all of us.

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Hendon: Just Nostalgic Illusion?

Hendon Central Tube

But not for long . . .

Hendon-but-not-for-long     

This was the street sign idea I proposed, as a small design project, to a conceptual artist friend.     

Jason and I both grew up in Hendon, the suburb of North-West London which most people – or at least those whose interests and aspirations extend beyond a healthy Jewish community and an excellent selection of synagogues (including, of course, the ones that you don’t go to) – long to get away from. And during university vacations, following months of undergraduate decadence, Jason and I would invariably bump into each other and catch up in Hendon Central, always reflecting – though with humour and no little affection – on the sheer dullness of our childhood home. Indeed, whenever a woman in whom I had an interest would ask where I was from, I would always mutter the response in an extremely throwaway manner. “Hendon” had always been a conversation stopper.     

Even ignoring Hasmo and its Legends, however, Hendon features more landmarks and places of interest than your average suburban neighbourhood: the RAF Museum, Police Training College, one end of Britain’s best known motorway (the M1), the Welsh Harp, Hendon Hall Hotel (where FA Cup Final teams would stay, a safe distance from any action, on the night before the big day), Middlesex University (if you couldn’t get in anywhere else), Barnet Copthall Stadium, and that paradise of the bored North-West London Jewish housewife, Brent Cross Shopping Centre.     

Hendon has somehow contrived, however, to be far less than the sum of its parts. I have no desire to even visit (and if I do, it will only be for free board and/or Brent Street’s excellent Lahore curry house).     

But, perhaps as with all childhood homes, nostalgia tends to drown out reality. And the memories of many former Hendonites are fond. Following his return to Israel from a recent visit, my cousin Marc said something that tickled me: “You know what, Michael, I walked down Brent Street, and it meant nothing to me.” Now, anyone who knows Brent Street will be amazed that this dreary suburban high street – with seventies eyesore, Sentinel Square, at its miserable heart – could ever have meant anything to anyone. But Marc and I regularly reminisce lovingly about the “old country” during our concurrent morning drives through the Israeli traffic.     

Or was the Hendon of our childhood really a better place?     

The neighbourhood supplied no shortage of characters. There were the Carmels who owned the greengrocery on Vivian Avenue, and whose hotheaded son Danny was constantly fighting with customers over one thing or another, often the handling of his fruit. Opposite them was irascible old Mr. Kaplan the grocer, with his unfeasibly strong Mitteleuropean accent, who was just as prone as Danny to upset patrons.     

And who can forget the Irishman charged with running the tennis courts at Hendon Park (below right), but whose little green (appropriately) hut – for booking the courts – was nearly always closed (judging by the hue of his cheeks when he eventually appeared, it was never too difficult to work out where he had been)? The usual form was:     

  • turn up . . . to find the hut shut;
  • The diagonal path, Hendon Parkstart playing anyway;
  • run off when the Irishman eventually appeared (because we were near the end of the match anyway . . . and Jewish, considering the 30p an hour fee better put towards the cost of our first flat or car);
  • find refuge in the “corner shop” next to the Hendon Classic (cinema), where we would drive the Asian owners to distraction, leafing through their comics (and, later, other “mags”) with no intention whatsoever of making a purchase.

If Hendon’s most famous son was the great Test batsman Denis Compton, its celebrity resident was heavyweight boxing champion Henry Cooper, who once dumped Cassius Clay on his backside, but who would unfailingly offer a warm “hello” as he strolled his giant poodle up Brampton Grove. Carry On and East Enders actress Barbara Windsor also lived in Hendon, while eighties soul band Imagination frequented the local video shop on Sentinel Square (or was that Just an Illusion?)     

Talking of carry-ons, the forty-odd detached homes on our street, Edgeworth Crescent, seemed to house and generate more characters and drama than your average small town. And I am not just talking about the product of the lively – some would say perverse – imagination of award-winning author Clive Sinclair, who grew up next door and who, on revealing his Hendon roots, has been quoted as exclaiming “God help me!”     

Where there is now a Holmes Place and sheltered housing, however, once stood two ‘proper’, old-style cinemas: the Classic (opposite Hendon Central tube) and the Odeon (in the Quadrant). Hendon was also home to numerous traditional English pubs. The White Bear, on the Burroughs, provided shelter to a much-loved stuffed polar which disappeared with the pub’s character when it – like so many others – was converted into a vapid theme pub, the only discernible theme being its absolute dreariness.     

Another Hendon institution sorely missed is its football club, Hendon FC, which now groundshares with Wembley FC after, this year, being forced to leave its home of 80 years, Claremont Road.     

Hendon FC, Claremont Road

Another goal for the mighty Greens, as the away keeper reacts a tad late.

Perhaps it is just me (and the several dozen other saddos who watch Hendon),  but I always found it oddly gratifying being able to stand right behind the away goal and to viciously abuse the generic “fat useless c*nt” – i.e., every visiting goalie (irrelevant of ability and girth) – knowing that he would hear every word (and, often, respond). You can’t do that at Arsenal. "Got your number!"And standing among us was another favourite son of Hendon, David “Got your number!” Bedford (with caricature, right), the former 10,000 metres world record holder and – more significantly for fans of Hendon – vice-chairman and champion of our ailing club.     

The Burroughs still provides a strong sense of a more distinguished past. And, on three consecutive General Election nights, we gathered beneath the balcony of Hendon Town Hall to hear Maggie Thatcher – whose constituency was neighbouring Finchley – deliver her victory addresses.     

The study room of the adjacent Hendon Library was where we revised for our O and A level examinations. Its stereotypically plain librarians – remember the lovely “Olive Oil”, anyone? – would never fail to take the bait of pranksters who would ring up asking for “Mike Hunt”. During the heat and pressure of summer exams – as frum (primarily Hasmonean) boys had their closest exposure yet to non-religious Jewish and Gentile girls – there were more Jewish erections in that room than on your average West Bank hilltop.     

Raleigh Close (Hendon United) Synagogue still is, for me, Shul. A reader of melchett mike has opined, interestingly, how Reverend Hardman z”l, Rabbi Silberg, and the incumbent Rabbi Ginsbury “so accurately represented, and represent, the state of Anglo-Jewry at the time”. Moshe SteinhartAnd shammes (beadle) Moshe Steinhart (right) became an inadvertent communal legend, his wonderfully naive, malapropistic weekly announcements sparking more hilarity than your average stand-up comedian.     

Last month, at the lacklustre Kol Nidrei (Yom Kippur eve) service in Tel Aviv’s Great Synagogue, my mind wandered back to the atmospheric Raleigh Close Kol Nidreis of my childhood and youth, where Hendonite coreligionists whom one hadn’t seen for an entire year would spend the entire service awkwardly rearranging their garish kippot (skullcaps) – each with its own unmistakable year-long crease across its middle – on their often equally shiny bonces.     

But Hendon possessed a wider sense of community too. Every Sunday morning and summer evening, there were “pick up” games of football in Hendon Park, where Jewish kids, black kids, Greek kids, and those from local council estates, would all muck in very happily (Asian Muslim kids however never did, the first time we became aware of any “them ‘n us” tension, though it was of course to get much worse). And there were real characters there too (whatever became of “Mad” Dave?)     

But all that has gone.     

I still see Stuart – known as “Rushie” in those games because of his remarkably cool (for park football), Ian Rush-like finishing – on my increasingly infrequent visits to London. He still lives in Hendon, and bemoans the changes there, not least the increase in crime and general feeling of insecurity on its streets, which he blames on the influx into the neighbourhood of eastern Europeans.     

Whatever the accuracy of his analysis, there is a perceptible dearth of ethnically English people left in Hendon. These days, the roads not sufficiently desirable for Jews to inhabit are occupied primarily by Asians and the eastern Europeans who Stu so decries. There is virtually nothing “English” about Hendon left. And – however un-PC, and impertinent for a Jew, to say so – that strikes me as sad.     

Hendon was our shtetl, our East End: good times and great memories . . . though I, for one, would not want to be back there.

Story of Isaac[son]: Lenny and the Prince of Davka

I admit it. My behaviour can, at times, be strange. And in ways I can barely explain. Even to myself.

And my not even attempting to obtain tickets for the Morrissey (last year) and Leonard Cohen (last week) concerts in Israel was amongst the strangest. I am a hard-core fan of both singer-songwriters (add poet for Cohen), owning virtually their entire back catalogues, and both performed just a few miles from Melchett.

But I will at least try to explain (if only for myself) . . .

I guess I am a cultural snob. And, when Israelis suddenly feign interest in visiting musicians whose work I have spent much of my adult life exploring, it can just be too much. I mean it might be okay with your Depeche Modes and Madonnas (both of whom played Israel this summer), but more inscrutable artists like “Mozza” and “Lenny” should not be so easily accessible! It is not just a question of buying tickets, showing up . . . and catching up.

This distaste is similar to the one I have for football ‘supporters’ who only show an interest in their team when it starts to win (on that note, has anyone come across a Manchester City fan who goes by the name of “Seitler”?) . . . as opposed to loyal fools like me, who even go to watch them in shit holes like Scunthorpe (yes, I visited Glanford Park on my last trip to the UK).

No, the opportunist concert goer is no better than the “glory hunter”, or “part-time”, football fan. You don’t want to share your adoration of your idol(s) with either of them. Unlike you, they lack credibility (and snobbery).

And so it was, for the first performance by Leonard Cohen in Israel since 1975 – all 47,000 tickets were sold in less than 24 hours – I didn’t even pick up the phone. No, I voted with my feet . . . and cut off my nose, because a large part of me obviously wanted to be there.

In Israel, such behaviour is referred to as davka – loosely translated, in this sense, as “just to be contrary” – and I am the Prince of Davka!

Leonard CohenBut, last Thursday afternoon, staring blankly at yet another contract in my office, I started to become increasingly distracted by the thought that, a few hours later – while I would be walking Stuey and Dexxy along Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard – Leonard Cohen would be playing to a packed National Stadium just down the road, in Ramat Gan. And who were they to be there . . . and me not?!

At some point, the momentousness of the occasion then hit me even harder. It was three days after the Canadian’s seventy-fifth birthday. But, more poignantly, we were in the middle of the Ten Days of Repentance – between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – and Cohen would undoubtedly be performing a Holy Land rendition of Who by Fire, his cover of the High Holy Days’ “hit”, Unesaneh Tokef (as well as of other songs with Biblical themes, like Story of Isaac and Hallelujah).

I got into Leonard (and, indeed, Bob) in the sixth form at school, thanks to the precocious taste – for Hasmonean, at least – of my classmate, Jonathan Levene, to whom I am forever indebted. Who knows . . . if not for Jonny – who even now I believe, as a black-hatted frummer (called “Yoynosson”), occasionally (though perhaps clandestinely) still listens to Cohen and Dylan – I may have succumbed, like so many of my peers, to the relative poverty of Billy Joel, Elton John, Genesis, ELO, Meat Loaf, and even, God forbid, Dire Straits. I have seen Cohen “live” on just one occasion, at the Royal Albert Hall in 1993. (Any Lenny “virgins” would do well to check this out for starters . . . just to understand.)

So, leaving work on time for once, I raced home, threw Stuey and Dexxy into the back of the car without their customary early evening walk (thus risking bladders being emptied on the back seat), and headed down to Ramat Gan. Bringing the beasts meant that I wasn’t even going to be looking for a ticket – I just wanted to feel part of the “occasion”, and, if possible, hear just a little of the great man’s distinctive bass from outside the stadium.

Leonard Cohen (1969)I was not alone. There were a couple of hundred of us ticketless hobos, sitting on kerbs and the grass verges of the adjacent Ha’yarkon Park. I bumped into a journalist acquaintance, Lisa, who had hoped to bum a ticket through media contacts outside the stadium. But to no avail.

I fantasized, briefly, about approaching queuing Israelis (an oxymoron, I know), and posing a simple enough question (for any genuine Cohen fan):

Chelsea Hotel #2 refers to Lenny’s affair with which singer?”

I even planned my response for the (expected) failure to provide the correct answer (Janis Joplin):

“Right, get outta the queue! And gimme your ticket! It’s confiscated. Now go home!”

Back on planet Earth . . . following one round of the stadium perimeter, Lisa and I perched ourselves on the stretch of kerb where Cohen could be most clearly heard. To our chagrin, however, there were a couple of horribly annoying Israeli women also seated in the vicinity who insisted on vocally accompanying his every word. And not only that . . . but with the heaviest of “Hebrish” accents. Nauseating guttural noises accompanied Lover Lover Lover:

“Yes and love-airrgggh, love-airrgggh, love-airrgggh, love-airrgggh, love-airrgggh, love-airrgggh . . . love-airrgggh, come back to me.”

Lisa, eventually, could take no more and left. The opportunity I had been waiting for arrived when Stuey and Dexxy started barking at a passing canine, at which the irritating duet – far less attractive, I might add, than my hairy duo (otherwise I may have let them off) – had the temerity to deliver filthy looks in my direction. That was my cue. I assured them that I would keep the dogs quiet . . . if they would do the same with each other. I am becoming more Israeli by the day. (There was plenty other Israeli chutzpah on show – during the second half of the concert, for instance, as minibuses started rolling up, fellow freeloading kerb-sitters remonstrated with drivers about the noise of their engines!)

I had a hot date planned for later in the evening, and left early to avoid the departing hordes. To quote Suzanne, perhaps Cohen’s most well-known song, “[I] want[ed] to be there”. And, strangely, I felt as if I had been. It was well worth the effort.

In spite of having been ordained as a Buddhist monk (in 1996), Leonard Cohen still considers himself “one of us”:

“I’m not looking for a new religion. I’m quite happy with the old one, with Judaism.”

Legend has it that Cohen – who was performing for Israeli troops – shared cognac with Arik Sharon in the Sinai during the Yom Kippur War, and that he was plagued with guilt when he found himself relieved to learn that a passing convoy of bloodied bodies was ‘only’ one of Egyptians. He would later remark:

Lover Lover Lover was born over there. The whole world has its eyes riveted on this tragic and complex conflict. Then again, I am faithful to certain ideas, inevitably. I hope that those of which I am in favour will gain.”

The recollection of Israeli singer Oshik Levi sheds further light:

Leonard Cohen performing for Israeli troops (Suez Canal, 1973)“Leonard Cohen proceeded with us for three months, day after day, four to five – and sometimes eight – performances a day. And, in every place we arrived at, he wanted to be drafted. At one time he wanted to be a paratrooper, at another time in the marines, and another time he wanted to be a pilot. We would sleep in sleeping bags on the floor because there was no room, and Leonard – who didn’t want to feel like a star – refused when I tried to arrange a place for him in the Culture Room.”

Asked which side he supports in the Arab-Israeli conflict, Cohen has responded:

“I don’t want to speak of wars or sides . . . Personal process is one thing, it’s blood, it’s the identification one feels with their roots and their origins.”

Cohen hit hard times in 2005, alleging that his longtime former manager had misappropriated over five million dollars from his retirement fund (leaving just $150,000). And the Israel leg of his world tour will not have done much to help – Cohen donated all of the profits (estimated at two million dollars) to an Israeli-Palestinian charity (a political gesture, no doubt, in the face of pressure from the anti-Israel lobby).

Even international music legends are not guaranteed to make money here . . . though I am certain that Cohen will have enjoyed coming back to his “roots”.

God bless you, Lenny. And come back again soon (I promise, next time, to leave Stuey and Dexxy at home).

 

[For further photographs from, and discussion relating to, Cohen’s time in Israel during the Yom Kippur War, see the Leonard Cohen Forum. Other quotes and information from Wikipedia.]

Moti, you ain’t no Motty!

Slimy, spurious psychics (see June’s Mook of the Month) aside, the hotly-contested title of Most Offensive Israeli, contrary to popular belief, does not go to the swindling taxi driver who besmirches all of his fellow countrymen within an hour of tourists landing at Ben Gurion Airport.

And, though I despise them with a passion, neither does it go to the HOT (cable company) customer disservice representative who cuts off callers – I am convinced deliberately – after keeping them on hold for 45 minutes.

Its recipient is not the arrogant American “settler” who should have done us all a favour and stayed, together with his ugly fanaticism, in Teaneck or Borough Park.

Neither is it the Charedi (ultra-Orthodox Jew) who gives little or nothing to the State but still believes that he has the right to dictate to all of us who do how we should live our lives.

And it does not even go to the Neanderthal beach predator in his Speedos (three sizes too small, naturally).

No, the title of Most Offensive Israeli goes to none of the above. And the toughest challenge of Aliyah is not, as is commonly thought, the lower salary, the stifling hot summers, or even the rudeness . . . it is having to suffer the Israeli TV sports commentator.

During Wimbledon fortnight, which ended yesterday, Sport 5 (Israeli cable TV) commentators appeared to feel compelled to employ every nonsensical cultural stereotype about the English . . . but got even those wrong. So, for instance, when Andy Murray’s fourth round match ended at 10:39 p.m. last Monday, we had to endure interminable silly references to the English spectators having to wait for their dinners of “kidney pie” (for those fortunate enough not to know, it is steak and kidney).

And those same commentators were remarkably incapable of distinguishing between spectators’ Englishness, Murray’s Scottishness, and all of their Britishness (for me, after being knocked out, Murray immediately reverted to “miserable Jock”).

Whilst his knowledge and understanding of his subject may be negligible, however, the Israeli sports commentator – like so many of his compatriots – delivers his ignorance with the conviction of the world-renowned authority.

Avi MellerI once, in a Tel Aviv pub, confronted Sport 5′s Avi Meller (right) – a self-proclaimed expert on English football (on the basis that he once, apparently, spent a couple of years in London) – for never mentioning Leeds United’s David Wetherall, then in his mid-twenties, without the epithet “ha’vatik” (the veteran). Meller said he was grateful to be corrected . . . and then continued as before.

Having grown up in a country steeped in sporting tradition (even if a losing one), I won’t deny that there is more than a little snobbery in my disdain for the local sports coverage. But what right do Israeli commentators have to refer to Liverpool footballer Steven Gerrard, as they continually do, as “Stevie Gee”?!

Not for the Israeli sports commentator the phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words”, nor the sacred rule – applied by the very best TV journalists and commentators the world over – of “Letting the pictures speak for themselves”. No, he prefers to speak (usually bollocks) for the pictures, with the result that many will only watch them with the sound turned down. Moreover, his predictions – which are, generally, ridiculously reactive to the toings and froings of a particular match – are invariably and uncannily wrong.

Israeli TV’s football studio pundits are even more insufferable than its commentators, the ex-pros having to be suffered most being the Arse’s Arse (Hebrew for medallion man) Itzik Zohar and that most arrogant of gobshites Eyal Berkovic.

Itzik ZoharZohar (left, during one of his eight [including four as substitute] appearances for Crystal Palace) has not let his “glassing”, last year, on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard – which left him requiring 52 stitches to his face – dent his formidable ego (many believe the unknown assailant to have been a vengeful boyfriend or husband).

Neither does Zohar’s ignominious inclusion in Crystal Palace fans’ all-time worst eleven – believe me, he had some competition! – prevent him from pontificating about Champions’ League football. Yes, this is the very same Itzik Zohar to whom Palace fans used to sing: “One Itzik Zohar. There’s only one Itzik Zohar. One Itzik Zohar. One too many.” When Crystal Palace fans sing that – and to one of their own – it is time to consider not only hanging up one’s boots . . . but also why one ever put them on in the first place.

Eyal BerkovicZohar, however,  is a positive breath of fresh air when sitting alongside Berkovic (right), who delights in publicly, spitefully rubbishing Israeli League players purely on the basis that they are not as good as he once was. Many Israelis’ fondest memory, however, of the career of Berkovic – who, as one of the country’s all-time great footballers, should have been a national treasure – is of the time his West Ham teammate John Hartson kicked him in the face during training. That the actions of the yobbish Welshman were understood by many here tells you everything you need to know about this odious little tosser.

Domestic football appeals, almost exclusively, to the lowest common denominator of Israeli society (see my second ever post on melchett mike: Ran Ben Shimon: A Deeper Malaise). And most of my fellow expat Brits regard it in much the same way that the former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly did his city rivals: “If Everton were playing down the bottom of my garden,” he memorably quipped, “I’d draw the curtains.” Rather more intelligent, professional coverage by the Israeli media, however, might change (if slowly) its public perception.

Modi Bar-OnThe glowing exception to the embarrassment that is Israeli television sport is the excellent, charismatic Sport 5 John Motsonpresenter Modi Bar-On (left), who would give even a Des Lynam or an Adrian Chiles a run for their money.

But, oh, what Israel would give for an Alan Hansen or a John Motson (right) . . . though, in these climes, “Motty” might have to do something about that sheepskin coat!

The Tel Aviv Whites

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.

Ran Ben Shimon: A Deeper Malaise

The disgusting, shabby manner in which Ran Ben Shimon has been treated by Maccabi Tel Aviv (see Jerusalem Post article) is a symptom of a malaise not just in Israeli football (though it is hard to have a “malaise” in something so poor to start with), but in Israeli society too.

To be sacked as coach, yesterday, after a mere 8 games in charge – a record of 2 wins, 3 draws and 3 defeats is no disgrace in one’s first season at a new club – is an example of the complete ignorance of the type of people who run the top clubs here and, more worryingly for Israeli society, the aggressive, moronic nature of many of the ‘supporters’.

If they were at all capable of reflection, the monkeys who booed Ben Shimon out – 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. And Maccabi’s management and fans will have only themselves to blame.

Much as I hate to refer to the man, it took Alex Ferguson over 3 years to turn around the fortunes of Manchester United . . . a lesson that Maccabi would have been well advised to consider.

Ben Shimon’s treatment is reminiscent of that meted out to numerous coaches before him in Israel, most embarrassingly – such treatment does nothing for this country’s already battered image – to Argentine World Cup winner, Osvaldo Ardiles. ‘Ossie’ was brought here to coach Betar Jerusalem 2 years ago, but was sacked after only a handful of games. Although he had failed as coach at Tottenham – they have had no less than 8 since Ardiles was sacked 14 years ago – he had enough experience and success as a coach in England for relative footballing paupers like Betar.

For a decent man like Ardiles, however, his sacking was a blessing in disguise. I had the misfortune, in the mid-90s, of witnessing Betar ‘supporters’ burn the national flag carried by a handful of quivering fans from Macedonia, following a Champions’ League preliminary round in Jerusalem.

Judging by the cretinous behaviour of many of the Maccabi ‘faithful’ on Saturday, you too, Ran, should be grateful.