Israel Stories

Thursday, September 01, 2005

A Game of Two Worlds

You may remember that 2001 was when Hapoel Tel Aviv FC took Europe by storm, most famously for beating Chelsea. I was lucky enough to go to all their European home matches in the world famous Bloomfield Stadium in Holon. Ok, so its not so world famous and you probably don’t know where Holon is, so If I say it’s a small stadium just south of Tel Aviv you get the picture. To an HTAFC supporter its hallowed turf, and you just have to smile and agree, not wanting to mention that Copthal Stadium, where we had our school sports days, is bigger!

One particular game I went to summed up for me of what Israel is all about. As we entered the stadium the atmosphere was electric. Dressed in our red Hapoel shirts, scarves and wooly hats, the Israelis stared at the mad Brits, wrapped up on a sweltering spring evening. But hey, thats football. We found our seats and delegated one of our group to go and buy some drinks and food. Great, I thought, I’m at a football match where for once I’ll be able to buy a hotdog or a hamburger and not worry about the kashrut. What would you like, my friend asked, Corenetto or garinim (sunflower seeds). We laughed at his obvious joke, but when he shrugged and said that’s all there was our faces dropped. Two packets of garinim and 5 cornetoes later we waited with eager anticipation for kick off.

The hard-core supporters were behind the goal at the opposite end of the pitch. Scarves tied around their heads, no shirts and banging drums, they really looked the part. The only thing I noticed was they had their backs to the pitch. “They only come for the singing”, an old man told me, “they’re not really into football, they don’t even watch the game but the atmosphere would be dead without them”!

Behind us a family had turned up with a picnic basket and small table which they balanced on the seats in front of them. The matriarch of the family proceeded to peel cucumbers and chop tomatoes. Staggered or just culture shocked, I’d thought I’d seen it all until some kids started handing out song sheets. Now I was in the twilight zone.

The game started and almost immediately the referee made a ridiculous decision. In true English style, we started letting our feelings for the ref be known, through highly inventive and imaginative song. One of our friends got into an argument with a supporter. Turned out he was the refs brother-in-law and was at pains to prove the refs parentage. Of all the people to sit next to! But that’s Israel, where everyone’s related somehow.

But the best was yet to come.

Two Hapoel supporters started having an argument in front of us. Being English and at a football match, there was only one course of action for us, we encouraged it. Then Hapoel scored, the crowd went mad, the drums banged and the hardcore supporters increased the volume, we found the place on our song sheets, and there was general merriment. But the argument in front of us continued to rage. Someone tried to calm the situation. “I don’t care if they scored, he forgot the garinim”. The argument continued, twenty minutes later, Hapoel scored again. The crowd went mad again etc. “You missed another goal”, someone called. “Stay out of this argument”, the man screamed. Another 7 or 8 minutes passed and Hapoel scored a third. The argument continued.

Extra time, 91st minute, Hapoel were now winning 3 – 1. The arguing couple were still at it. The ref put the whistle to his lips, they think its all over, it is now. The crowd cheered and sang, people hugged each other, and the stadium started to empty out.

Suddenly there was an almighty roar. One of the men started jumping up and down and cheering. A bit of delayed reaction we thought, but we started encouraging him, singing our improvised songs, like Three Falafels on my Shirt and Hapoel are on their way to Wembly. We started shouting, we won, we won. The man stopped and looked at us. “So what if we won”, he shouted, “I found the garinim, I was right all along!”



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