The Last Word: The fall and rise of Hapoel Jerusalem

On the face of it, the launch of fourth division soccer team Hapoel Katamon back in October seemed like a noble idea.

On the face of it, the launch of fourth division soccer team Hapoel Katamon back in October seemed like a noble idea. What could be fairer than Hapoel Jerusalem fans walking out on a once-great club and creating a rival in protest against the incompetence then displayed on the field and the ongoing strife off it? True, those involved in the new club tried to usurp the heritage of their old team in a somewhat aggressive manner, naming Katamon after the area where Jerusalem used to play in "the good old days." But the supporters had every right to be angry, after years of conflict between owners Victor Yona and Yossi Sassi. It was encouraging to see the supporters taking control of their destiny. Sports analysts were quick to pronounce the death of the original Hapoel and herald the coming of the new Hapoel - Katamon, or, as Katamon's main architect Uri Sheradsky put it, the "real Hapoel Jerusalem". Or, maybe not. Four months down the line and not everything is going as expected. Katamon has admittedly been successful in its league. Despite a blip which followed a five-game winning start, it is at the top of its division. But it is not the only one. Following a difficult start to the season with a completely rebuilt squad and a new manager, Hapoel Jerusalem has come on in leaps and bounds in recent weeks. In November, the team lead by former Bnei Sakhnin coach Lufah Kadosh won 4-0 for the second week in a row and moved up to second in the Liga Artzit standings. That scoring run has continued and Jerusalem is now in first place. More to the point, Victor Yona appears to be out of the picture with Sassi basically in full control. The air of uncertainty which surrounded the club last season has disappeared. Players are reportedly now being paid on time and the club is said to be managed in an honest manner. Following one recent win many of the players kissed Sassi on the cheek as they left the pitch, as did Kadosh. It has widely been reported that Sassi invested NIS 3 million into the club at the start of the season and that he reached a deal with Yona ensuring he is not involved... at least till the summer. Katamon fans suspect that Yona will return to the fold and wreak havoc once again. But, while thousands of fans turned up for Katamon's first game and continue to fill the stands at Teddy, there are still hundreds who are less than happy with the switch and have committed themselves to their old team. Banners have been displayed at every Hapoel Jerusalem game dismissing Katamon as a fad, and many supporters wear T-shirts bearing slogans stating that there is only one Hapoel Jerusalem. Maybe these supporters are right. It is thing for fans to abandon their team when it has descended into chaos and corruption. But when all seems to be well at Hapoel Jerusalem, is it right for the Katamon contingent to continue, especially with such a hostile attitude towards Hapoel Jerusalem? Their games may have a fun atmosphere but there is also an animosity which has soured relations in the capital. Time will tell how long Hapoel Katamon stays afloat. If the support of thousands continues then it may well be around for a while. But now it is not so clear that it was right for the Jerusalem fans to ditch the club many had been involved with and supported for decades, without giving it a chance to sort itself out. This could even be the season that sees the revival of Hapoel Jerusalem, not the one which sounds its death knell.