Alona Barkat at an introductory press conference with The New Right, February 7th, 2019.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
Hapoel Beersheba went from being an under-performing team, playing in a dilapidated stadium with troublesome fans to being a model club with possibly the best fans in the country. All because of one person – Alona Barkat.
Barkat, however, didn’t only revitalize the once failing club, leading it to a first league title in 40 years in 2016 – she completely reinvented it.
“There was a lack of trust from the supporters, who no longer believed in the club,” Barkat told The Jerusalem Post in a 2017 interview
of her first days in Beersheba.
“After years of promises, our fans felt that it is very difficult to achieve success in the geographical periphery of Israel. They felt you can only be successful in the center of the country. We had to work in order to convince the fans that it is possible to succeed, even though it will take some time." The New Right is hoping that the pride that Alona instilled in the fans and the city can translate into votes on April 9
The wife of Eli Barkat – who made his initial fortune with brother and ex-Jerusalem mayor, Nir, as investors in IT security company Check Point – probably didn’t know what she was getting herself into in July 2007 when she finalized an agreement to purchase the club, then languishing in the second- tier National League.
An Ashkelon native and Tel Aviv resident, Barkat had no real previous connection with Beersheba and experienced few moments of joy in the city during her first six years as owner.
But after making practically every mistake in the book, Barkat’s perseverance finally paid off when the club won its first Premier League championship in 40 years in 2016.
In 1952, Hapoel Beersheba was told that it could no longer play in the Israeli league due to the city’s distance from other centers of population coupled with the country’s poor transport infrastructure.
The team has seemingly played with a chip on its shoulder ever since, as if it always has something to prove.
The club peaked under the guidance of Amatzia Levkovich in the mid-1970’s, winning two straight championships in 1974/75 and 1975/76, while also having one State Cup triumph to its name, from 1997.
“We came here nine years ago and wanted to build a club that would bring pride to the Negev,” she said on stage during the team’s celebrations in 2016 with an estimated 100,000 fans on hand.
Whether Barkat's popularity among the team's fans will transfer from the soccer field to the ballot box is a tricky proposition. Sports and politics can diverge wildly. Some fans may see Barkat's jump to politics as rejecting the team that she helped revitalize. Others will follow her to the ends of the Earth.
Either way, Barkat is now in a new game.Allon Sinai contributed to this report.
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