Sinai Says: Derby debacle in Tel Aviv could be the turning point needed for Israeli soccer

The dimwit who attacked Zahavi had previously been arrested 10 times at soccer matches, serving seven separate suspensions from stadiums.

A shirtless fan takes a swing at Maccabi Tel Aviv's Eran Zahavi (photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
A shirtless fan takes a swing at Maccabi Tel Aviv's Eran Zahavi
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
It was a night that will haunt Israeli soccer for many years to come.
One which should ultimately change local sports for good.
In the calm after the storm of the Tel Aviv derby between Hapoel and Maccabi, with Bloomfield Stadium clearing and the final fans making their way home, one couldn’t help but wonder how matters had come to this.
How does a sporting event, one which should symbolize the best in human nature, turn into an exhibition of our ugliest dispositions? It is easy to place all the blame on the one Hapoel fan who burst onto the pitch to assault Eran Zahavi in the 33th minute with the score tied at 1-1. After all, had he not acted so disgracefully, the match would have continued and ended in a peaceful manner, like the many derbies before it.
However, it would be naive and misleading to focus on the 35-year-old so-called supporter and ignore the background and contributing factors that led to such dismal scenes on a soccer pitch.
The fact of the matter is, this wasn’t the first time a fan has run onto the pitch. It has happened in Israel before and it happens across the world. There is no foolproof way to prevent it from happening again. Nevertheless, so much more can be done, particularly in Israel.
The dimwit who attacked Zahavi had previously been arrested 10 times at soccer matches, serving seven separate suspensions from stadiums.
He was a known troublemaker.
Considering his record, he should have never been allowed into Monday’s match to start with. Even once in attendance, he should have also never been able to come close to the pitch.
Due to the heated rivalry between both sets of supporters, the police had told Hapoel that it would have to pay for over 600 policemen and stewards to keep the peace at Bloomfield. Hapoel forked out over NIS 450,000, only to soon discover that those in charge of taking care of the safety of the fans and players were utterly useless at their job.
Even with everything that had happened until that stage, the contest would have likely continued as usual had referee Roei Reinshriber used some common sense. According to refereeing guidelines, a player should be sent off if he attacks a fan. However, surely a player who is merely defending himself from an intruder should not be penalized.
It took over 10 seconds until the stewards finally intervened and stopped the brawl they should have prevented in the first place.
Zahavi, who had scored Maccabi’s equalizer in the 22nd minute and celebrated in front of the Hapoel faithful with his controversial gun-slinging routine, couldn’t believe he was being sent off and demanded that the rest of the team leave the pitch with him.
It took around 10 minutes until he ultimately made his way to the dressing room with sporting director Jordi Cruyff by his side.
The match restarted, but it quickly became apparent that it had no sporting value.
Several Maccabi fans jumped out of the stands and ran across the pitch towards the Hapoel supporters, allegedly after been urged to do so by the team’s goalkeeping coach Aleksandr Uvarov.
All hell had broken loose. The referee blew his whistle to end proceedings and both teams left for the safety of the dressing rooms.
It was initially announced that Reinshriber had only ended the first half and not the entire encounter, but after around another 30 minutes of deliberations it was officially decided to abandon the match.
Zahavi, who was once a Hapoel star only to become its most hated rival, was told by police that he requires security around the clock until further notice.
Since Monday night, a security guard has manned the entrance to the apartment block in which he lives with his wife and baby son.
When such measures are required, it should be clear matters have gotten completely out of hand.
Israeli soccer sadly mirrors Israeli society and the violence that erupted at Bloomfield on Monday was not dissimilar to the violence we experience on the road, in schools or on social networks.
Only time will tell if Monday’s chaotic scene proves to be a crossroads from which Israeli soccer takes a positive turn. It better be, because it is only a matter of time until these silly soccer skirmishes end with an obituary.