Leicester City fans react during their team’s soccer match on May 1.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It beggars belief. Many are calling it the greatest sports story ever. Even if you are not an avid follower of English football, you will probably have heard that the no-hopers, Leicester City, have just won the 2015-16 Premier League, perhaps the most competitive national football competition in the world.
When the season began some eight months and 38 matches ago, betting odds were around 5,000 to one on them winning the prestigious trophy.
How did this team of mainly hasbeens and never-have-beens, led by a 64-year-old Italian manager who had never won a major league trophy in his long career and speaks a very limited (although spirited and entertaining) English, achieve what is undoubtedly one of the greatest sustained sports achievements in centuries? How did Leicester – who had not won a major league in its 125-year history and who avoided relegation last year by the skin of their teeth, playing teams such as Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United (valued at 3 billion dollars) week after week – turn the unthinkable, the undreamable, into bold reality? The bottom line is that despite the sophistication in the details, the basic elements were fundamental. This achievement was a result of outstanding leadership, vision, the ability to create an alchemy of outstanding quality from ordinary ingredients, hard work, team spirit, endurance through pain, never- say-never belief and a dose of good fortune. In the end, the incredulous players, management and fans found themselves way ahead of the pack with the trophy in hand.
OF COURSE one cannot, must not, equate the development of a country to a sporting phenomenon. But visiting graves of the fallen on Remembrance Day, attending joyous communal prayers and watching the impressive ceremony on Mount Herzl in the evening and barbecuing with family and friends on Independence Day, the Leicester City fairy tale kept popping into my head.
In the mid 1940s you would probably have been offered similar odds for the notion that just a few years later the Jewish people would re-establish its nation state after 1,900 years of exile. The chances would have been even longer for the proposition that just 68 years on, in spite of massive, seemingly insurmountable obstacles, the State of Israel would be a thriving, dynamic entity, far outstripping its numerous belligerent neighbors in terms of standard of living, achievement in a multitude of fields and contribution to the health and welfare of the world.
The ingredients for success are similar.
Like the disparate bunch that Leicester assembled from 14 countries, including Denmark Australia, Japan, Tunisia and Argentina all with a common dream, so the gathering of exiles to Israel from around the world have been carried by the force of common inspiration and aspiration. Just as the football players, fired by a sense of shared destiny and led by inspired people, who rose to the occasion, refused to yield despite the hard knocks and bruises, so the determination of a battered nation, fighting battle after desperate battle, with no good reason to hope, created and developed a communal homeland.
WE HAVE overcome our heterogeneous exiles. We have been guided by the foresight of visionary leaders who refused to concede even when good sense would dictate prudence, and we have been carried by the winds of Holy Providence, in reaching for our goals. We have been granted freedom and self-determination by so many who have gifted their lives and their futures in the name of our great cause. Despite the uneven playing field, surrounded by well-endowed enemies far more numerous, powerful and brutal than us, who would have us relegated to the ash-piles of history, we have prevailed, prospered and look to the future with a healthy mix of optimism, resourcefulness and prudence.
We are not oblivious to our many flaws, but we have gone from strength to strength, defying the pundits’ predictions, year by year, struggle upon struggle at the same time building a flourishing society, created on the foundation of miracle and sacrifice.
One of the ways the story of the State differs from the tale of Leicester is that despite the fact that unglamorous, unknown Leicester’s style of play, like ours, is not particularly pretty to watch, they have gathered a friendly following from tens of millions of ordinary people around the world. Somehow we Israelis have garnered the similar disproportionate attention but of a very different kind. For the entrails of deeply embedded anti-Semitism are hard to shake off, especially when we turn a wasteland of thorns into a verdant field with a promising future.
Who knows how Leicester will fare next season, but as long as we don’t take our miracle for granted, of one thing I am sure. Next year, around the time that the next English football winners are crowned, the State of Israel, celebrating 69 years of independence will be alive and well, and in a different league from those who seek its downfall.
In Leicester’s town square they chanted, “Championes, championes, Ole, Ole, Ole…” In public places around the country, heads high, we sang of an eternal hope to be a free nation in Zion. The writer is a middle distance road runner. He has an interest in many sports with a particular passion for cricket