Football in Israel

Author: Matt Foden

Having access to very cheap flights as part of my job – I manage to get to some unusual places. A couple of weeks ago I went to Israel and Jordan – managing to catch a couple of games in the Israeli league in Tel Avi. Disappointingly I’d didn’t manage to catch any football in Jordan – but can save that for another time.

I managed to catch two games involving the biggest teams in Tel Aviv. Firstly Hapoel Kfar Saba v Hapoel Tel Aviv. Similar to football in Europe – Israeli football tends to have a political element too it – many of the clubs are called “Hapoel”. The club name, "Hapoel", translates to "The Worker", and combined with its red Hammer and sickle badge represents the club ties to Marxism, Socialism, and the working class. For seven decades, the club was owned by the Histadrut, Israel's national trade union center.

The team is the standard-bearer of the Israeli left and far-left. It was the last club to cut formal links with politics, in this case the trade union movement and the moderate Social Democratic Labor Party Mapai, as well more radical parties such as the Marxist Party Mapam, and its predecessor Hashomer Hatzair Workers Party and the Marxist-Leninist Israeli Communist Party (Maki).

Ultras Hapoel often wave flags emblazoned with the faces of Che Guevara and Karl Marx, as well as banners with the slogan "Workers of the world, unite!".[6] The club ultras has friendships with many other antifa supporter groups, including strong bonds with fans of FC St. Pauli, Standard Liège, Omonia Nicosia and Celtic F.C

Kfar Saba had just been promoted back to Israeli Premier League, and were playing in a stadium slightly outside of town stadium in Petra Tikva. Being the smaller club, they were vastly outnumbered by Hapoel Tel Aviv fans.

Unusually this game was played at 3pm on Saturday afternoon. For those that don’t know about the Jewish lifestyle -this is also the day fo Shabbat where more or less everything closes – including public transport. As an added complication, Hebrew also reads from Right to Left so you are never quite sure where the game is. I had a last minute panic and thought I was going to the wrong stadium when I was in the taxi to the ground but luckily I got there, and in for £7. Remarkedly cheap and more so given Israel is a quite expensive country.

The game was the first time I had seen VAR in use, and it is a horrendous fan experience with the game stopping for things to be checked and no supporters knowing really what is going on. More worrying is that lots of marginal decisions get left to develop and then get checked by VAR. Assistant referees basically are redundant now.

This game had lots of VAR decisions and a few controversial decisions. Kraf Saba managed to have two places sent off before half time, both for second yellow cards and quickly followed by their manager for coming onto the pitch. He was sent off before he got within 15 yards of the referee so the game must be a lot stricter out there. In terms of discipline, it was one of the laziest performances I have ever seen. Players made very little attempt to tackle properly, and as soon as they were the wrong side of a player fouled them – which contributed to the yellow cards.

The game finished 2-1 to Hapoel Tel Aviv – after numerous goals had been allowed then disallowed via VAR. As people in the middle east particualry live on hummus – you could get pitta and hummus at the ground which felt extremely middle class.

Later on that day, I went to watch Maccbai Tel Avi and I will talk about that in the next programme. The photo above I took in Jerusalem later on during my trip which I felt captured the essencse of football being a world game. I posted on the “Romance of Football” facebook group which people may find interesting.