It is as if New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra was talking about Beitar Jerusalem when he said: “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”
Once more, the future of Beitar is up in the air and yet again it is due to the abysmal conduct of its fans.
But while Berra was having fun with his pithy and paradoxical quote, the situation at Beitar is anything but entertaining.
All that seems to change from year to year is the names of those affected. Eli Tabib has replaced Arkadi Gaydamak as owner, Miri Regev is the new Sports Minister after Limor Livnat retired from politics, not to mention the numerous coaches and players who have come and gone over recent seasons.
All the while, Beitar remains held hostage by a group of a few hundred fans, the vast majority of them working together under the name of La Familia.
Yet again, they have brought the club to its knees with their idiotic actions, this time also making headlines abroad after taking advantage of Beitar’s Europa League qualifier in Charleroi, Belgium, last Thursday to promote their selfish interests.
Nine-man Beitar was thrashed 5-1 in the first leg of the Europa League second qualifying round – a match that was held up at the start when La Familia members threw dozens of incendiary devices onto the pitch, enveloping it in smoke. As if that wasn’t bad enough, in second half stoppage time, 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, in the coming weeks.
But La Familia could hardly care less. They are proud of their actions, writing on their official Facebook page that they put on a “great manly display” before rambling on about how they represented Israel with honor in Europe.
The fact their behavior was so embarrassing that it drew condemnation from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said the national image was at stake and ordered legal action against them, and resulted in owner Tabib putting the club up for sale, seemed to encourage their stupidity if anything.
But there is really no reason for anyone to be surprised. Beitar has found itself in this exact situation many times in the past, and with little progress ultimately being made after the populist politicians had made their headlines, history is bound to repeat itself once more in the not so distant future.
It was just two years ago that part of the club’s training complex at Bayit Vegan was burned down in protest of the signings of Dzhabrail Kadiyev and Zaur Sadayev, two Muslim players from Chechnya.
La Familia staunchly oppose the signing of Muslim players and Beitar remains the only top-flight club in Israel yet to field an Israeli-Arab.
Just a year earlier in March 2012, several dozen of La Familia members were involved in a skirmish with Arab workers at Malha Mall right across from the team’s Teddy Stadium, chanting “Death to Arabs!” and “Muhammad is dead!” before police and mall security guards stopped them.
Two years previously, supporters were arrested after assaulting two teenage Arab janitors during the halftime break of the team’s 2-0 victory over Ashdod SC in Premier League action.
The list goes on, and on.
Initially, those connected with Beitar were wary of speaking out against La Familia.
One need just ask former goalkeeper and captain Ariel Harush why, after he was pelted with rocks two years ago following his show of support for the Chechen players.
Times are changing though as it is becoming increasingly clear that Beitar’s sheer existence is in danger due to La Familia.
“These people are not fans. They come to the stadium to hurt Beitar Jerusalem. They come to shout racist chants. They threaten players and the management,” one of Beitar’s greatest-ever players and former coach Eli Ohana told Sport5.
“If they love Beitar so much why do they throw flares? Why do they injure the opponent’s goalkeeper? Why do they get the club punished by shouting racist chants every week? How can they say they love Beitar?” Ohana went on to voice what many other Beitar supports have been feeling for years.
“La Familia is holding the club and hundreds of thousands of fans as hostages,” he said. “They don’t care about anything. They don’t care if the club collapses or is punished.
The club had to host matches away from Teddy for three months last season due to their behavior.
“They are scumbags who need to be thrown into jail and banned from stadiums.”
While Beitar fans had never been known for their mild manners, the situation has only dramatically deteriorated since La Familia arrived on the scene a decade ago.
They have grown in numbers and influence over time, and as Ohana pointed out, they are now holding the club captive.
For the sake of Beitar and Israeli soccer as a whole, let’s hope that a rescue mission involving law enforcement, the judicial system and the legislative branch can still somehow save the club.
That is assuming the hostage is still even alive.