Commentary: A glorious night of inspiration at Teddy

Dual Israel, England fan experience first taste of Israeli football at UEFA championship game Tuesday.

By BEN ROSENFIELD
June 11, 2013 23:44
2 minute read.
THE ISRAEL UNDER-21 national team with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu before UEFA Championship.

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.

I chose this game in particular, due to the significant meaning of both countries in my life.

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My father is English, hailing from the great city of Liverpool.

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 planet.

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 clubs.

The England fans who I talked to seemed less optimistic, although collecting zero points in your first two group games will have that effect.

“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 eliminated.

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 Kleyman.

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.

I 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.


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