Israeli soccer experienced one of its saddest days at Bloomfield Stadium on Monday night.
The Tel Aviv derby between Hapoel and Maccabi had to be abandoned during the first half after fan violence reared its ugly head.
With the match tied at 1-1 in the 34th minute, a Hapoel fan broke onto the pitch and confronted Maccabi midfielder Eran Zahavi. The supporter tried to assault Zahavi, who responded by kicking the intruder.
As if tensions weren't running high enough at that stage, with both benches clearing, matters got completely out of hand when referee Roei Reinshriber decided to show Zahavi a red card and send him off for defending himself.
Reinshriber may have acted exactly like refereeing regulations dictate, but his lack of common sense meant that there was no way the match could resume. Zahavi wanted the entire team to walk off the pitch with him and it took around 10 minutes until Zahavi, with sporting director Jordi Cruyff by his side, left the pitch to a barrage of cups and anything else Hapoel fans could get their hands on.
The match eventually resumed, but just seconds later, several Maccabi fans ran onto the pitch and raced towards the Hapoel stand, forcing Reinshriber to halt proceedings. Both teams ultimately left the pitch but it took a further 30 minutes until finally a decision was made that there was no way the encounter could continue, with both sides demanding to suspend the match.
Over 600 policemen and stewards were at the derby, but their utter failure to protect the players was a key factor that led to the crazy scenes.
Police arrested 10 people during the tumult suspected of disrupting the peace, violence and breaking into the stadium's pitch.
"I've been saying for years that local soccer is too much like war," said Hapoel general manager Eyal Berkovic. "I asked the referee to stop the match. It is about time we understand that soccer is sport. As soon as the pitch becomes a battle field there is no point in playing. Both teams should receive a very heavy punishment. This is a dark day for local soccer."
Moshe Ohayon had given Hapoel the lead against the run of play in the 16th minute, with Zahavi equalizing for Maccabi from the penalty spot six minutes later. Zahavi celebrated in front of the red fans and provoked them with his trademark gun-slinging celebration. However, there is no excuse for the violent way in which the Hapoel supporter reacted and set in motion a sequence of events that will haunt local soccer for many years to come.
"There is no reason which can justify such a violent ending to a soccer match," said Israel Football Association chairman Ofer Eini. "I'm very concerned that violence reared its ugly head in such a dangerous way. The IFA will not only hold those responsible accountable, but it will also head the fight against violence in soccer and the return to sanity."Jpost.com Staff contributed to this report.
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