(photo credit: )
For many of those involved in Israeli soccer the Toto Cup is at best
an opportunity for training matches, at worst an unwanted hindrance.
However, for fans of Hapoel Ra'anana, next week's final of
Israel's second cup competition represents the culmination of years of
dedication - an example of the true worth of supporting a soccer team,
especially a lower ranked club.
On Tuesday Ra'anana will play in a cup final for the first time
in its 38-year history. Only a few hundred Hapoel supporters are
expected to make the short trip to National Stadium in Ramat Gan to see
their team face the mighty Betar Jerusalem, but, win or lose, it will
be a night to remember for many of them.
Supporting any sports team is not an easy task. Even fans of
soccer giants such as Manchester United and Real Madrid have endured
long periods of boredom and disappointment.
Of course this doesn't compare to the frustration fans of smaller clubs go through.
Soccer matches can often leave the spectator wondering why he or
she bothered to make the trip to sit in a cold, damp stadium for two
hours and watch 11 men, who supposedly represent their club, fail to
provide much more than a few moments of excitement.
The answer lies in one word: hope.
During the hours of letdowns and misfortunes a fan will dream of
the moment when his team makes it to the pinnacle of sports, or even of
the least relevant tournament in the country.
It is those moments which make it all worthwhile.
When I was 11-years-old I made a choice which had a significant
impact on my life. Instead of supporting one of the big clubs I decided
to follow AFC Bournemouth, the small team which played in the seaside
town where my grandparents lived.
At the time Bournemouth was on the up. The side had just been
promoted from the old Third Division to the Second Division as
champions and was coached by a young up and coming manager by the name
of Harry Redknapp.
In those days, before the Internet, it wasn't easy following a
team located a two-hour drive away. But I did my best to go to games
when the team played in London and would drag my Dad to Dean Court to
watch the Cherries when we were down in Bournemouth.
AFCB's period of success only lasted a couple of years, and in 1990 the team was relegated back to Division Three.
That summer Redknapp was injured in a terrible car crash while
in Italy for the World Cup and he decided to take a break from soccer.
Since then Bournemouth has bobbed between the Fourth and Third
Division (now re-branded as League Two and League One), with few
periods of real success.
But the efforts of going to games in the middle of nowhere and
watching hours of poor quality soccer were made worth it by the few
One of the best came in 1998 when Bournemouth made it to the
final of the Auto Windscreens Shield, a competition for lower league
clubs. After defeating Walsall over two legs the Cherries were given
the chance to play Grimsby at the famous Wembley Stadium.
It felt like half the population of Bournemouth had traveled to
London to back the team, and a wonderful party atmosphere filled the
ground, which was about two thirds full.
Unfortunately this was the time of the dreaded golden goal, and
after the game went into extra time Grimsby scored a winner which broke
the hearts of the thousands of Bournemouth fans.
But the trip to Wembley will ever be etched in the memories of so many.
Local sports is about cultivating a community spirit, something
that only comes with years of faithful devotion through thick and thin.
It is this commitment which keeps sports running around the world and illustrates the meaning of the real fan.
Whatever the result on Tuesday, Hapoel Ra'anana fans will
undoubtedly enjoy their evening in the limelight, and it is this which
is thoroughly deserved.