Best sports moments of 2007: Betar wins first title in 9 years

As a sports fan it is always difficult to see your opponents win the championship year after year, particularly when you have friends who support those teams.

Betar Boateng 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Betar Boateng 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
When Betar Jerusalem captured the league title last May for the first time in nine years, it brought back memories of when I was 13-years-old. On that day in 1998 my sister and I drove all the way from Holon to Jerusalem just to celebrate with the fans at Kikar Safra. I have never forgotten that night when so many Betar fans were dancing in the streets of Jerusalem with flags and hooting their car horns. But it took Betar nine years to fulfill my dream of witnessing the club win the league again. As a sports fan it is always difficult to see your opponents win the championship year after year, particularly when you have friends who support those teams. Over the years Maccabi Haifa and Maccabi Tel Aviv managed to triumph, but not Betar. I moved to Jerusalem three years ago to learn photography at the Bezalel School, and I somehow had a feeling that Betar would take the championship again while I was living in the city. In my second year in Jerusalem, two years after Arkadi Gaydamak bought the club, it finally happened. The win over Hapoel Tel Aviv at Winter Stadium in Ramat Gan at the end of May this year sealed the league title for Betar. Some people said that Gaydamak's money bought the championship, but I think that it wasn't only the money. Toto Tamuz, Gal Alberman and Derek Boateng may have been essential factors, but the absolute, unconditional commitment of the fans who follow Betar around the country was also extremely significant. However, these fans also caused controversy. One incident, a week earlier, put a stain on the joy of winning the league. It occurred after the game between Betar and Hapoel Petah Tikva in Jerusalem. Despite winning the match Betar needed one more point to clinch the league, but the fans knew Maccabi Tel Aviv was likely to have points deducted for financial irregularities, a move which would confirm the Jerusalem team as Israeli champion. The fans wanted to come on to the field at Teddy to celebrate with the players, as is the tradition at the club, but the police refused to allow them to get past the fences. When they saw the stream of fans pushing to get on to the field, the police tried to close the gates, increasing the pressure of fans on the gates. As a result many Betar fans were injured. I was there taking photos of the fans, the first time I photographed such an incident, and still can't believe it happened. I saw people crying, perplexed, asking for help, being dragged on to the pitch by the policemen and laying down on the soccer field getting help from medical staff. It was terrible. These scenes and those pictures will stay with me all my life. A week later Betar was forced to play its final game of the season against Hapoel Tel Aviv at a neutral stadium, and no fans were allowed to attend the game because of what happened at Teddy. Instead, around 40,000 frenzied Betar fans watched the game on big screens in Jerusalem's Sacher Park and then were entertained at a concert in the park while waiting for their idols, the players, to return to Jerusalem and greet the supporters. Despite the fact that that I'm a sports photographer, I decided to stay with the fans and experience the atmosphere.