Bibi with U-21 national team 370.
(photo credit: Emil Salman/Courtesy)
On Tuesday night, I had the privilege of experiencing my first taste of Israeli
football at Jerusalem’s famed Teddy Stadium, the occasion being the final group
game of the UEFA under-21 tournament between Israel and England.
this game in particular, due to the significant meaning of both countries in my
My father is English, hailing from the great city of
I was brought up supporting Liverpool FC, a team I will
wholeheartedly support for the rest of my life. Then there is Israel, my
spiritual home, the home of my forefathers and the best falafel on the
I arrived at Teddy around one hour before kickoff, leaving me
ample time to talk to supporters from both sides. Every Israel supporter I
talked to seemed to have a smile on his or her face, and couldn’t stop boasting
about the squad.
I heard quite a lot about the captain Nir Biton, who was
recently on trial at Manchester City, and has drawn interest from other European
The England fans who I talked to seemed less optimistic, although
collecting zero points in your first two group games will have that
“There is an expectation to win when you put on an England kit,”
an Englishman named Steve who made aliya 10 years ago told me, “Finishing bottom
of the group just won’t do it.”
Many soccer experts agree with Steve’s
assessment, and it is considered likely that the England coach Stuart Pierce
will be out of a job at the end of the tournament.
Captained by Liverpool
youngster Andre Wisdom, England often looked like a team that had already been
Jonjo Shelvey created several chances that went wide, and
Wilfried Zaha had England’s best chance of the match, skipping clear of two
defenders while setting up a one on one for teammate Tom Ince. The opportunity
was squashed however by a neat save from Israeli ’keeper Boris
Especially in the second half, Israel played with much more
passion and poise.
Finally Ofir Kriaf hit the winner in the 80th. One of
the highlights of the game for me was seeing Israeli coach Guy Luzon, who is
leaving to take charge of Standard Liege after the tournament, fall to his knees
and pump his fists in the air in celebration.
For me, this display of
passion embodies the love Israelis have for their soccer, a feeling that stood
out for me even in just one game.
The atmosphere at Teddy was phenomenal,
filled with Israeli flags and chants of “El, El Yisrael”, and the home field
advantage was almost definitely a factor in the outcome of the match.
only get to experience Israel for eight weeks this summer, but my trip to Teddy
will certainly stand out as a highlight.
Being able to combine my Judaism
with my other religion – soccer – certainly created a special night for me and
for 22,183 of my new best friends who joined me at the game.