For once, I’m not writing about students at UK universities being victimized for
their support of “the Zionist entity.” No, this time I’m writing about something
I was passionate about long before I ever heard about Israel or Zionism:
football. Or soccer, if you insist.
The late, great Liverpool manager
Bill Shankly once said, “Some people think football is a matter of life and
death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.”
And as boy
growing up in Glasgow, Scotland, it sure was.
A passionate Celtic fan, I
followed my team through thick and thin, rain and shine (actually mostly snow
Like most great traditions, I have passed this passion on to
the next generation with my oldest son, a true “hoops” fan, a passionate Celtic
supporter, despite never having set foot in Scotland. We did however, with great
excitement, get to see them play Hapoel Tel Aviv at Bloomfield in the Europa
League two years ago. Despite the fact that Celtic lost 2-1, my son says it was
the best football game he’s ever been to; the one and only time he got to see
his team play and, win or lose, that’s what matters.
That’s the essence
of football: the unwritten contract between team and fans. The team will play
its heart out and welcome the fans in the best way possible. In turn the fans
will pay their money, cheer the team on and remain loyal regardless of the ups
and downs on the pitch. As a Scot, it was much the same as with the national
team and for the first sixteen years of my life, I was an equally passionate
member of the “Tartan Army,” perhaps the greatest – and loudest – football
support in the world.
So what’s this got to do with Israel, I hear you
ask? Well, I love football and I love Israel. To be honest, supporting the
Israeli national team is quite similar to supporting Scotland: a great deal of
hope and optimism, more often than not rewarded with mediocre performances and
predictable failures at the big international competitions. But hey, that’s all
part of the game.
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So recently, I and my youngest son, who is ten, joined
a couple of my army buddies and their kids and off we went to Bloomfield, full
of naïve optimism, to see if the Israeli national team could win against Greece
and thus have a chance of qualifying for the European Championships in 2012. We
were there to support our team with the passion of ideological olim full of
Zionist fervor. I was also looking forward to going back to Bloomfield; the
seats are so close to the pitch they provide an excellent view, and the
atmosphere there is great (even if Israeli football songs are pretty lame,
which, let’s face it, they really are).
Being a good Jewish Dad, I packed
a bag with all kinds of goodies: a choice of sandwiches, crisps, M&Ms, a
couple of freezer blocks to keep everything cool, some biscuits and, most
importantly, a two-litre bottle of water, as it was going to be 30 degrees plus.
A veritable football feast.
We arrived at the stadium nice and early, as
Bloomfield doesn’t assign seats. It’s a question of fist come, first served, and
we wanted to make sure the kids got a good view. We arrived at our gate full of
anticipation and the kids where excited at the prospect of the game
However, that was about as good as it got.
SURPRISINGLY, at the entrance there were a number of security men checking bags
and the like. However, I was not prepared for what happened next. I had assumed
that these were ordinary security checks. How wrong was I? No, these security
men had been put there to search for water. Yep, that’s right, water. Now if
they had been checking to make sure that you were responsible and had brought
enough water, as it was very hot, I would have appreciated the effort. But no,
Bloomfield Stadium’s policy was to ban anyone from taking water into the
stadium. I was dumbfounded.
Speechless, I watched as a man, who had a boy
about the age of my own son, argue with a security man. He explained that he
brought the water for his son as it was dangerous to be without water in such
heat. The security man just shrugged as if to say, why are you telling me, mate?
I’m just following orders. No water in the stadium.
The excuse given was
that the plastic bottles could be thrown onto the pitch. As I watched in
amazement, I realized that any argument would be futile. My friend quickly
handed me two small bottles and asked me to hide them in my bag, which I did.
When our turn came to be searched, the security man duly confiscated my own
bottle of water – but not before I made a fuss and forced him to allow my son
and me to take a few gulps. This diversion worked: he ceased his search and I
managed to smuggle two small bottles of water into the stadium. A limited
victory, I grant you, but a victory just the same and, as it happened, the only
victory we would witness that day.
We took our seats and waited in the
blistering heat for the game to start. In all, we spent over three hours in the
heat without water (save the contraband we managed to smuggle in). In this
country that’s just stupid. From their cynical and mercenary point of view,
however, Bloomfield Stadium’s policy was not at all stupid. It turned out that
the real reason the stadium wouldn’t allow water in was so they could sell more
drinks at inflated prices. Industrious young boys were wandering around selling
what turned out to be watered-down cola for NIS 10 a cup. Unbelievably, there
was no water for sale near us, although I heard rumors that it was available –
also for NIS 10.
I was incensed and to be honest somewhat disappointed
that the support shown by thousands of fans who had paid their hard-earned cash
for tickets and braved the heat to cheer on the national team had been rewarded
with such blatant commercialism.
Needless to say, we had no choice but to
fork out more cash for the watered-down cola they were selling, just one more
example of how monopolies in this country screw the consumer. Not surprisingly,
the drinks sold out by half time, so there was no way of getting another drink
for the kids until well after the game. To add to the misery, the team once
again failed to perform and lost the match 1-0 destroying any chance of
qualifying for next year’s finals.
WHAT REMAINS with the fans is not the
disappointment in the players or the manager, although there’s ample cause for
that. No, it’s that feeling most feared by all Israelis: the fear of feeling
like a fryer (sucker). The unwritten contract between the fans and the national
team has been desecrated by those who run the game of football in Israel, who
shamelessly put profits before people as they forced thousands of loyal
supporters to bear the heat without water and cynically profited from their
discomfort by selling them the lowest quality product at the highest possible
The players on the field have little or nothing to be proud of.
Their performance was listless and mediocre.
However the real crime lies
with the powers that be in Israeli football and the stadium. They cynically held
the fans to ransom and went out of their way to exploit the fans in one more
deplorable example of the swinish capitalism which so infects this country. For
football fans and for the country as a whole this is far too high a price to
pay. Israeli football should be ashamed of itself.
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