The Last Word: Dedication's what you need

For many of those involved in Israeli soccer the Toto Cup is at best an opportunity for training matches, at worst an unwanted hindrance.

soccer 88 (photo credit: )
soccer 88
(photo credit: )

For many of those involved in Israeli soccer the Toto Cup is at bestan opportunity for training matches, at worst an unwanted hindrance.

However, for fans of Hapoel Ra'anana, next week's final ofIsrael's second cup competition represents the culmination of years ofdedication - 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 timein its 38-year history. Only a few hundred Hapoel supporters areexpected to make the short trip to National Stadium in Ramat Gan to seetheir team face the mighty Betar Jerusalem, but, win or lose, it willbe a night to remember for many of them.

Supporting any sports team is not an easy task. Even fans ofsoccer giants such as Manchester United and Real Madrid have enduredlong 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 orshe bothered to make the trip to sit in a cold, damp stadium for twohours and watch 11 men, who supposedly represent their club, fail toprovide 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 ofthe moment when his team makes it to the pinnacle of sports, or even ofthe 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 significantimpact on my life. Instead of supporting one of the big clubs I decidedto follow AFC Bournemouth, the small team which played in the seasidetown where my grandparents lived.

At the time Bournemouth was on the up. The side had just beenpromoted from the old Third Division to the Second Division aschampions and was coached by a young up and coming manager by the nameof Harry Redknapp.

In those days, before the Internet, it wasn't easy following ateam located a two-hour drive away. But I did my best to go to gameswhen the team played in London and would drag my Dad to Dean Court towatch 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 whilein Italy for the World Cup and he decided to take a break from soccer.

Since then Bournemouth has bobbed between the Fourth and ThirdDivision (now re-branded as League Two and League One), with fewperiods of real success.

But the efforts of going to games in the middle of nowhere andwatching hours of poor quality soccer were made worth it by the fewhighlights.

One of the best came in 1998 when Bournemouth made it to thefinal of the Auto Windscreens Shield, a competition for lower leagueclubs. After defeating Walsall over two legs the Cherries were giventhe chance to play Grimsby at the famous Wembley Stadium.

It felt like half the population of Bournemouth had traveled toLondon to back the team, and a wonderful party atmosphere filled theground, which was about two thirds full.

Unfortunately this was the time of the dreaded golden goal, andafter the game went into extra time Grimsby scored a winner which brokethe 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, somethingthat 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 willundoubtedly enjoy their evening in the limelight, and it is this whichis thoroughly deserved.