Beitar Jerusalem faces decisive week

Owner Tabib vows to leave club after shamed by fans’ abysmal behavior in European tie in Belgium.

July 19, 2015 05:00
3 minute read.

The behavior of Beitar Jerusalem fans in the Europa League qualifier in Charleroi, Belgium last Thursday has resulted in owner Eli Tabib putting the club up for sale. (photo credit: UDI ZITIAT/BSL,ADI AVISHAI)

Beitar Jerusalem’s future is shrouded in doubt after the conduct of its fans in the Europa League qualifier in Charleroi, Belgium last Thursday drew condemnation from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and resulted in owner Eli Tabib putting the club up for sale.

Tabib said he felt ashamed of supporters who threw smoke bombs, flares and firecrackers at the start of the second qualifying round first leg, while Netanyahu said the national image was at stake and ordered legal action against the Beitar fans.

Nine-man Beitar was thrashed 5-1 in the first leg tie - a match that was held up at the start when fans threw dozens of incendiary devices onto the pitch, enveloping it in smoke.

Towards the end of the match, Charleroi goalkeeper Nicolas Penneteau was hit by a hard object thrown from the crowd, which forced another delay. Beitar can expect severe punishment from European soccer’s governing body, UEFA.

“I am ashamed ... I have decided to end my involvement with Israeli soccer and am returning to the United States ... I will appoint a trustee to run the club until somebody is willing to buy it,” Tabib said in a statement.

This isn’t the first time Tabib has vowed to sell the club, although he insisted there was no way back this time upon his arrival in Israel on Friday.

“I can’t call these people fans. I brought them to Europe and they spit in my face,” he said. “I’m leaving Beitar. I would have never bought the club had I known this would happen.”

Tabib is considering selling players to help cover his investment to date, with Eli Dasa and Shlomi Azulay wanted by Maccabi Tel Aviv.

The club’s main sponsor iTrader, which pays Beitar NIS one million a year, also announced that it is considering withdrawing its support.

Beitar supporters and staff said Charleroi fans had made Nazi salutes during the fracas, with coach Slobodan Drapic insisting his team’s fans had been provoked.

In a statement, Netanyahu said he and Israel’s internal security minister had discussed legal options against what he described as an unruly minority among Beitar’s supporters.

“We will not allow them to besmirch the club’s entire fan base or harm the country’s image,” Netanyahu said.

Beitar is due to host Charleroi in the return leg at Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium on Thursday and Israeli Sports Minister Miri Regev said security, which is always heavy at Beitar matches, would be tightened further.

Regev said Beitar fans who took part in rioting in Belgium should be banned from attending the follow-up game.

She also vowed no tolerance for any disturbances from the Charleroi side.

Meanwhile, even though it is all but certain to be knocked out of Europe following the defeat in the first leg, Beitar discovered who it could face in the third qualifying round on Friday, with the winner of its tie being drawn against Zorya Luhansk of Ukraine.

Hapoel Beersheba, which visits FC Thun of Switzerland in the second leg of the second qualifying round this Thursday following a 1-1 draw at home, could next face the winner of the tie between FC Vaduz of Liechtenstein and Nõmme Kalju FC of Estonia.

Ironi Kiryat Shmona, which will begin its participation in the third qualifying round after ending last season in second place, will play Slovan Liberec of the Czech Republic.

All the third round ties will be played on July 30 and August 6.

In the Champions League, Maccabi Tel Aviv, which still has plenty of work to do in the second qualifying round following the embarrassing 2-1 defeat at Malta’s Hibernians in the first leg, was drawn to face Czech champion Viktoria Plzen in the third round.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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