Bnei Yehuda's curse

After the team's demotion from the Premier League, there is nothing else for it to do but to plan for the future.

Bnei Yehuda (photo credit: ASAF KLIGER)
Bnei Yehuda
(photo credit: ASAF KLIGER)
Even before the final whistle had sounded last Saturday night, grown men were crying in the stands of Bloomfield Stadium.
It may not have been a matter of life or death, but Bnei Yehuda fans were inconsolable nevertheless.
After 12 years, their beloved club had been relegated from Israeli soccer’s Premier League.
The club from south Tel Aviv’s Hatikva neighborhood had lost all hope. Bnei Yehuda had become a fixture in the top flight over the past three decades, playing in the Premier League in 29 of the last 30 years.
The club’s one and only championship title came back in the 1989/1990 season, but Bnei Yehuda finished in the runners-up position as recently as 2010 and played in European competition just last year.
The team also ended last season in fourth place, so how on earth has it found itself in the National League with the likes of Hapoel Afula and Maccabi Yavne?
There is plenty of blame to be spread around, but ask any fan and one answer will keep resurfacing – this was a cursed season.
One can hardly blame the supporters for seeking solace in the supernatural. It wasn’t just that Bnei Yehuda was demoted to the National League, but it did so while breaking the hearts of the fans week in, week out until the very final moments of the campaign.
All Bnei Yehuda had to do to book itself another season in the Premier League was to beat an Ashdod SC team, which had nothing to play for and had suffered a 5-0 defeat to lowly Maccabi Petah Tikva the previous week.
Amir Agajev’s 85th-minute equalizer for Bnei Yehuda canceled out Ashdod’s lead and looked set to secure the club’s survival, with Petah Tikva being held to a 1-1 draw by Hapoel Haifa at that stage.
However, Bnei Yehuda couldn’t find a winner, and a stoppage-time goal by Petah Tikva striker Roei Dayan gave his team a 2-1 victory over Haifa, guaranteeing Petah Tikva’s top-flight status at Bnei Yehuda’s expense.
Hundreds of shocked Bnei Yehuda fans refused to leave Bloomfield Stadium long after the final whistle, with brawls breaking out in the stands between the disgruntled supporters. Five people were arrested and over 20 were delayed for questioning while the team bus required a police escort to leave the stadium, with dozens of angry fans waiting at the exit.
Bnei Yehuda’s season was perhaps best epitomized by one sequence of play in Saturday’s match.
It arrived in the 70th minute with the score still tied at 0-0. Bnei Yehuda broke forward, and after a wellworked team move, Agajev squared the ball for the incoming Gil Itzhak. What unfolded next will haunt the nightmares of Itzhak and the fans for many months, and even years, to come.
Ashdod’s goalkeeper and defense were already beaten, leaving Itzhak with the seemingly simple task of giving the ball a slight nudge and tucking it into the empty net from two meters out.
However, Itzhak instead inexplicably blasted the ball against the crossbar, leaving all those in attendance, including coach Yossi Abuksis, with nothing to do but hold their heads in disbelief.
“We somehow managed to hit the crossbar from the goal line,” said a dejected Abuksis after last Saturday’s heartache. “We wanted to be in this position a few months ago and have our fate in our hands, but we missed our chance. We simply couldn’t find the back of the net. I have no way to explain it.
“This is a tough day. We wanted to score, but we couldn’t cope with the pressure. This is so painful. We tried, but evidently that isn’t enough. The many points we lost late in matches ended up costing us dearly.”
Abuksis apologized to the fans and promised to do his best to lead the team back to the Premier League next season.
“I’m really sorry for what happened,” he said. “The fans pushed us, and in the end they vented their frustrations, and that was painful to watch. We are disappointed for them. We face some very difficult days, but we will recover.”
Overall this season, Bnei Yehuda dropped an astounding 14 points in the final five minutes of its matches, conceding in dramatic fashion in eight of its games.
The team failed to take all three points after opening a 2-0 cushion on three occasions this season, squandering a total of 25 points due to its inability to convert leads to victories. Especially memorable was the way in which the team collapsed against Maccabi Haifa in March, conceding an equalizer after leading 2-0 in the sixth minute of stoppage time following a dreadful mistake by Nigerian goalkeeper Dele Aiyenugba.
Bnei Yehuda’s misery in Haifa was compounded by the horrific knee injury suffered by midfielder Rafi Dahan following Ruben Rayos’s vicious two-legged challenge, for which he was ultimately handed a seven-match suspension.
Bnei Yehuda’s capitulation in the final minutes of matches reached such extremes that it somehow managed to suffer 2-1 defeats to Hapoel Beersheba in both of their meetings this season, despite leading both games 1-0 as late as the 87th minute.
Everything would have been different had Bnei Yehuda managed to close out matches this season, but the club is now better off forgetting about all that has transpired in recent months.
The club needs to begin to plan for the future as soon as possible, to make sure it isn’t as bleak as it currently seems.
Some 10,000 fans were at Bloomfield on Saturday to support the side, proving that the club still has a strong fanbase required to return to become a successful Premier League team.
Bnei Yehuda would be best following the example of Maccabi Netanya, a similarly illustrious club that was relegated last year but will be back in the Premier League next season after dominating the National League in the 2013/14 campaign.
There are no real positives to be taken from being relegated. However, taking a step back can often later help taking two steps forward – and that has got to be Bnei Yehuda’s mindset after Saturday’s sporting tragedy.
The tears have dried, and it is time for the healing to begin.