The Last Word: Hapoel Katamon brings fan power back to the beautiful game

Hapoel Katamon is a team created by Hapoel J'lem fans who could no longer continue to support a club they felt was being run into the ground.

By JEREMY LAST
October 24, 2007 03:31
3 minute read.
The Last Word: Hapoel Katamon brings fan power back to the beautiful game

jeremy last 88. (photo credit: )

In an age of television rights and internet clips, of Plcs and billionaire takeovers, the launch of fan-owned soccer team Hapoel Katamon has been a breath of fresh air. From last Tuesday's packed launch at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, where around 600 people crammed into the theater to see the team introduced for the first time, to teenager Uri Warner's two, late second half goals at Givat Ram in the club's first ever league match on Friday, the team has been surrounded by an aura of positivity. And rightly so. The fans have hit back. Hapoel Katamon is a team created by supporters of Hapoel Jerusalem, who could no longer continue to support a club they felt was being run into the ground by businessmen Victor Yona and Yossi Sassi's constant squabbling over the ownership. Hapoel Jerusalem, a former top division regular, has a proud history. But it has had a depressing recent past, culminating in the relegation to Liga Artzit (the Israeli third division) in May. Despite this, when lifelong fan Uri Sheradsky first launched his plan to create an alternative team back in June, it seemed like nothing but a pipe dream. In July Sheradsky's plan appeared to be faltering, when he twice extended the deadline he had set himself to raise the NIS 500,000 he said he needed to create the team. But eventually he reached his goal. Even Sheradsky himself never could have imagined the way the idea captured the public's imagination. The feeling at Hebrew University's Givat Ram stadium on Friday was something incredible. Around 3,000 supporters filled the stands, most wearing the red of Hapoel. All across the stadium people kept on repeating how they felt they were part of history, that this was going to be the new Hapoel. And after the negative atmosphere at most recent Hapoel Jerusalem games it was wonderful to see so many young people enjoying the afternoon and looking to the future. Of course this is not the first time fans have created an alternative team. The most prominent case came in England where in 2002 supporters of Wimbledon FC gave up on their club after it was moved out of London to Milton Keynes and created AFC Wimbledon. Also in England, supporters of Manchester United gave up on the Champions League winner when it was bought by American businessman Malcolm Glazer in 2005 and formed FC United of Manchester. That both of these teams garnered massive media attention is a given. What is more impressive is that five and two years later the clubs are continuing to not only exist but to perform outstandingly, being promoted up the lower English leagues. This clearly is also the aim of the Katamon management. And while it may seem near impossible for a team like FC United to make it from the Northern Premier League Division One North to the FA Barclaycard Premiership, the Israeli soccer ladder is not so high. The fact is the standard in Israel, especially in the lower divisions is not particularly strong. With the massive support Katamon has already managed to attract in the Liga Aleph (the Israeli fourth division), and the acquisition of a few better quality players, it is not so unlikely that the team could soon be playing in the National League, battling for promotion to the Israeli Premier League. What is even more likely is that, in a year or two, the new and old Hapoel Jerusalem could be playing each other, that is if Jerusalem is relegated or Katamon is promoted. Sheradsky told The Jerusalem Post in July that he aimed to replace Hapoel Jerusalem and he saw Katamon as the "real Hapoel Jerusalem". Maybe this can actually happen in a way that Manchester United and the MK Dons are never likely to be replaced by their fan owned alternatives. Either way, Katamon has led the way for all those opposed to the Glazers, Abramovichs, Gaydamaks and Gilletes of this world.


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