Friendly atmosphere between England and Israel fans
But controversy over the Shabbat kick-off time has completely overshadowed the pre-game build-up.
By JEREMY LAST JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
September 7, 2007 16:06
3 minute read.
england fans 88.
(photo credit: )
A team made up of England fans defeated an Israeli supporters team 2-1 on Thursday evening in an 11-a-side friendly game played in shadows of Wembley Stadium. But although the result was also important it was the great atmosphere between the supporters which was the key.
England will play Israel on Saturday afternoon in a crucial Euro 2008 qualifier.
Organized jointly by Maccabi Great Britain and London England Fans (LEF), Thursday's game was the latest in a series of initiatives bridging the gaps between nations. Mark Perryman who runs LEF was delighted with the response, saying it was a competitive game but showed how soccer can bring people together. LEF will be holding a similar game next week against Russian supporters ahead of England's qualifier against Russia on Wednesday.
The jovial atmosphere continued after the game as the two sets of teams tucked into kosher smoked salmon bagels and Maccabi beer.
Maccabi and LEF previously held joint events in Tel Aviv before the Israel vs England game in March when dozens of activities were organized on behalf of the supporters. However, this time around, few organizations have been involved due to the game being played on Shabbat afternoon.
Justin Cohen, News Editor at London's Jewish News newspaper said the timing had been a problem.
"With thousands of Israelis descending on London and the prospect of the first competitive international at the new Wembley, this weekend would normally have been a massive occasion for Anglo-Jewry. But controversy over the Shabbat kick-off time has completely overshadowed the build-up and meant that organized celebrations around the match will be notable by their absence. Communal organizations who took large groups to Tel Aviv for the first leg and held a host of events to mark the occasion have this time been reticent to promote the game," Cohen told The Jerusalem Post.
"The historic match will go ahead though and we can only hope that London extends the same warm welcome to its many Israeli visitors that the English raveled in so much in Tel Aviv."
Despite any issues Israel's penultimate training session at Watford FC's London Colney training ground got underway without any problems on Thursday evening, with half a dozen or so English journalists present to assess the Israel threat to England.
Legendary BBC commentator John Motson spent some 45 minutes at the training trying to get to grips with the names of some of the Israeli players which are a little more difficult pronounce than others which he will have to deal with on Saturday.
It took a little help from Israeli journalists to teach Motson how to say names including Itzhaki, Shrungin and Strauber among others.
While the Israel team looked relaxed at the training, one odd incident involved Chelsea defender Tal Ben-Haim caught the eye. Ben-Haim was brought over to speak to the journalists who were patiently waiting behind a rope barrier at the start of the session.
The media are only given one or two players to speak to and defender Yoav Ziv had already duly obliged. But after a couple of words to Sky Sports, Ben-Haim suddenly froze, told press officer Ofer Ronen he didn't want to continue to speak to the media and turned and walked off without having spoken a single word in Hebrew - leaving the journalists scratching their head.
This was, however, the only negative point of the training aside from the fitness of Borussia Monchegladbach defender Roberto Colautti who did not kick a ball at all. It was reported Friday morning that Colautti was not going to play on Saturday although this had not yet been confirmed.
The Israel team will have time to shed any nerves on Friday afternoon when it holds a final training session on the pitch at Wembley at 5 p.m., exactly 24 hours before the big match kicks off. The training session, which will be open to the press for the first fifteen minutes, will be preceded by a press conference with coach Dror Kashtan and Israel captain Yossi Benayoun.