High and dry at Bloomfield Stadium

The unwritten contract between the fans and the national team has been desecrated by those who run the game of football in Israel.

arsenal stadium 298 (photo credit: Seth Freedman)
arsenal stadium 298
(photo credit: Seth Freedman)
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 and ice).
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.
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 ahead.
However, that was about as good as it got.
NOT 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 price.
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.