Israeli Gears

Israel really needs no introduction, a wonderful melting point with a history almost as ancient as time itself.

It’s modern skyscraper beach side city of Tel Aviv is as cosmopolitan and bustling as any major city you could care to name and features some truly outstanding Bauhaus architecture. The high rise modernity of Tel Aviv gives way almost imperceptibly to the ancient port town of Jaffa which can boast a history dating back to 1,800 BC.

Jaffa is just stunning, beautiful old buildings and stunning vistas there is a photo opportunity around every corner. The scenery is delightfully complimented with a relaxed chilled out vibe.

The first game of the weekend is at nearby Petach Tivka, their HaMoshava Stadium is not only home to the two local second division (Liga Leumit) sides, Maccabi and Hapoel, it is also hosting the games of Ligat ha’Al (Israeli Premier League) sides Hapoel Kfar Saba, Hapoel Ra’anana and Sektzia Nes Tziona. This is because these three clubs’ traditional home grounds of the Levita Stadium, Karnei Oren Memorial Field and Ness Ziona Stadium respectively, are deemed to be inadequate for top level matches. Convenient ground sharing is a way of life in Israeli football. The ha’Al league currently has 14 clubs sharing just eight stadiums between them.

HaMoshava is a two sided stadium holding 11,500 people and is a carbon copy of the stadium in Netanya, north of Tel Aviv. There is plenty of parking space, although a total absence of stewarding means it’s a real log jam to leave after the game. Tickets are available at a dedicated ticket office at one end of the stadium. For this afternoons game a ticket costs 50 shekels (£11).

It is Hapoel Kfar Saba that are the host club and their are entertaining one of Israel’s traditional football powerhouses, 13 time champions, Hapoel Tel Aviv. The visiting fans are out in force, so much so that they overfill one side of the ground so there are people standing in gangways and on stairs. Eventually they allow Hapoel Tel Aviv fans into one sector of the stand housing the home support. The away support is noisy and passionate and easily drown out the attempts of the home side’s support to make themselves heard.

It’s a hugely entertaining game with a surprisingly good pace to it. The referee has his work cut out with two Tel Aviv goals ruled out by VAR, a plethora of yellow cards, and Kfar Saba being reduced to nine men in quick succession during the first half. The first player was shown a straight red for a horrendously late tackle and moments later another player joined him in the dressing room for two yellows in the same incident, one for the foul and a second for dissent.

Given the league table the hosts took a surprise early lead but were soon pegged back by the visitors. Tel Aviv enjoyed almost total domination especially with their numerical advantage. They squandered a hatful of chances before a bleached haired substitute finally got them a decisive lead. There was still time for Tel Aviv to have the “excitement” of another goal ruled by VAR out before the referee called an end to proceedings.

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Saturday January 25th 2020 (3pm) – Israeli Ligat ha’Al

Hapoel Kfer Saba 1 (Reichert 8)
Hapoel Tel Aviv 2 (Barshazki 16, Buzaglo 61)

Att: c.7,000 (at HaMoshava Stadium, Petach Tivka)

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There seemed to be plenty of time to drive back to Tel Aviv in time for the 19.50pm kick off between the legendary Maccabi Tel Aviv and Ashdod. In reality, with parking not allowed near the stadium, a lot of time was spent trying to find somewhere to park which wouldn’t get you fined, clamped or towed away! Finally parked up in a side street it was time to locate the ticket booth and the newly rebuilt Bloomfield Stadium. The ticket office is by Gate 10 and there is a range of tickets priced from 70 to 110 shekels.

The rebuild has resulted in a much improved facility, although with only the central sections of both sides being under cover, its not a particularly great design for wet weather. That said it’s and eye-catching edifice and the two shallower ends afford nice city views from the more elevated sides. Bloomfield is shared not only between eternal rivals, Maccabi and Hapoel, a third top level club, Bnei Yehuda, also play their home games here.

Tonight it’s the reigning and 22 time champions of Israel, Maccabi Tel Aviv that are at home and the league leaders are facing mid table FC Ashdod. For those wondering why so many Israeli clubs are prefixed with Maccabi and Hapoel, Hapoel tends to be used by clubs of the “workers” aligned to the Histadrut Labor Federation, while Maccabi clubs traditionally draw support from various Zionist sports clubs. The Maccabees was originally a Jewish liberation movement, and Maccabi Sports Clubs were originally formed for Jews who had been banned from joining other sports clubs.

It’s a much poorer game than this afternoon’s effort, with Ashdod offering very little in the way of attacking prowess. Maccabi lead at half time and the only real surprise is that it takes them until the 78th minute to register a second goal. It comes by way of a blatant penalty when Ashdod’s goalkeeper took out an attacker and then feigned a serious leg injury to try and delay the taking of the spot kick.

Maccabi’s support only half fills the Bloomfield Stadium tonight and their ultras gather at one end. Some of the younger element go bare chested down the front of the stand in scenes reminiscent of a mosh pit at a thrash metal concert, there was even crowd surfing at one point!

MTA

Saturday January 25th 2020 (7.50pm) – Israeli Ligat ha’Al

Maccabi Tel Aviv 2 (Atzili 34, Cohen pen 78)
Ashdod 0

Att: c.15,000 (at Bloomfield Stadium)

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Many football fans will either have seen or at least know about Maya Zinshtein’s incendiary 2017 documentary “Forever Pure” about Beitar Jerusalem’s fans reaction to signing two muslim players from Chechnya in 2013. Beitar had already courted controversy being the only Israeli top flight club to have never signed an Arab player. “Death to all Arabs” would be sung from the stands and it was well know the club had an unofficial allegiance to the Zionist movement and the right wing political party Likud, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, a high profile Beitar supporter.

The film took its name from a banner displayed by Beitar’s ultras group “La Familia” in protest of the club signing Chechan players Zaur Sadayev and Dzhabrail Kadiyev from Terek Grozny. Despite having previously fielded Tajik, Albanian and African muslims the Chechens were subjected to concerted and abhorrent campaign of racism which saw them hounded out of the club. The film projects “La Familia” as “the most racist fans in the world”. It is harrowing viewing.

The club has been repeatedly punished for the behaviour of its fans and as recently as June 2019 La Familia issued a statement that a christian player from Niger, Ali Mohammed Al Faz should be made to change his name as “it sounds too Arab”. However, after a period of zero tolerance, Beitar announced that there had been no reported racist acts from the stands in the whole of 2019. Beitar had been formed in 1936 and was very much been regarded as a terrorist organisation in its formative years.

With all this in mind it was something of an ethical dilemma to attend Beitar’s game with rock bottom of the table Sektzia Nes Tziona in favour of a game at Maccabi Netanya. I was too intrigued with finding out whether the film had been overblown sensationalism or whether the club had genuinely fixed what was a dreadful problem for them. Although I don’t know any Hebrew, I am pleased to say I did not witness any racist chanting or any form of unnerving behaviour. What I did witness was unrelenting, passionate and noisy support for their team which was duly rewarded with a single goal victory in a pretty drab encounter.

Beitar’s Teddy Stadium is a bit of a cracker although it is still undergoing extensive renovations. It is named after Teddy Kollek, mayor of Jerusalem during its construction. Opened in 1991 it holds just shy of 32,000 people and tickets ranged between 50 and 60 shekels, the latter being in the covered upper tier. Previously the city only had one sports stadium, the YMCA Stadium, which was Beitar’s home before the move to Malha. The YMCA Stadium made way for a housing development in 2006.

The north stand has visually stunning multi coloured seats and the recent refurbishment has seen the south stand roofed for the first time to bring it in line with the rest of the arena. It is a stunning piece of architecture. As with Bloomfield, parking around the stadium is very limited.

Beitar

Sunday January 25th 2020 – Israeli Ligat ha’Al

Beitar Jerusalem 1 (Kriaf 6)
Sektzia Nes Tziona 0

Att: c.8,000 (at Teddy Stadium)

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I had hoped to take in a match in the Palestinian West Bank League and the game at the Faisal Al-Husseini International Stadium between Jabal Al Mukaber and Shabab Al Am’ari on the Saturday at 12pm seemed to fit the bill as it would allow time to get back to Tel Aviv for the Maccabi game. However, it proved problematic when the hire car company said that their cars are fitted with trackers and taking vehicles into the occupied territories is not permitted. I then found an option to get a Line 59 bus operated by Eggd from the Bar Ilan/Rabenu Gershom station in Jerusalem to Neve Ya’akov Boulevard. This would leave a ten minute walk to the stadium. At £3 each way and buses scheduled every fifteen minutes I thought I cracked it. However, the game of course was taking place slap bang in the middle of the sabbath and everything stops in Jerusalem. There would be no buses running until well after the match had finished. It would appear the only way of doing a game in the West Bank League during the sabbath is to risk uninsured driving and a potential penalty from the hire car company or pre-book an Arab driver to meet you at the border. I opted to invoke plan B and take in the game at Petach Tivka instead.

Israel is a fine country, steeped in history and offering so much to a visitor. Winter sun, great food and football, really what more would you want?

kfar ticket

mta ticket

Beitar ticket

The Path of a Lightning Bolt (Rayo Vallecano)

Ah Rayo Vallecano, red sashes (“Los Franjirrojos”, what a nickname!) on their white kit, a great three-sided stadium shoehorned into the urban sprawl of Vallecas and fantastic ultras in the Bukaneros, what’s not to love about Madrid’s very own “cult” club?

Well following a very public fall out between Rayo owner Rául Martin Presa and the Bukaneros and a wily manager in Paco Jémez who is constantly forced into sell his key players then you have a club lurching headlong into crisis.

According to posters around the ground the Bukaneros had called for a boycott of the match and forthcoming matches for a number of reasons. High on the list of complaints against Presa were the ban on materials used for the ultras famous animations (police recently raided the Bukaneros HQ and confiscated 400 flares) and alleged “discrimination” against anyone sporting any form of Bukaneros imagery. The ultras are also up in arms over the investment in Rayo OKC a new club based in Oklahoma City owned by Presa and licensed to compete in the NASL.

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The fans argue that their own club needs investment with the likes of Léo Baptistão (Atlético Madrid), Michu (Swansea City) and Borja López (AS Monaco) and several other quality players being sold in recent seasons to balance the books.

The story of Rayo Vallecano starts back in 1924 with the formation of Agrupación Deportiva El Rayo. They played in local leagues at a ground called Campo de la Calle de las Erillas which was very close to the current stadium. This was home until 1940 when it was required for urban expansion, and the club relocated to the Campo de El Rodival. The immediate post war years were pivotal for the club, they were now called AD Rayo Vallecano and had become effectively a subsidiary of Atlético Madrid. In 1949 the Rovidal was used by River Plate of Buenos Aires as a training facility ahead of a prestigious friendly against Real Madrid. To thank Rayo for their hospitality the Argentinians donated a full set of their kit to the club which created the long association with the iconic red sashed shirts.

In 1957 Rayo moved into the renovated Campo de Vallecas, a former home venue of Atlético. This remained home until the current venue was built between 1972 and 1976 which meant Rayo spent three seasons at the Campo de Vallehermoso in Chamberí.

During this period the club had bounced in between the Tercera and Segunda Divisions but after a record breaking unbeaten season in 1964/65 secured a return to the Segunda Rayo became a force to be reckoned with. Their return to the Nuevo Campo de Vallecas for the 1976/77 was topped off with a first ever promotion to La Primera.

The club continued to climb and enjoyed a first season in European competition in 2000/01 when wins against Constelació Esportiva, Molde, Viborg, Lokomotiv Moscow and Bordeaux saw Rayo in the Quarter Finals of the UEFA Cup. Paired against compatriots Deportivo Alavés. In a memorable pairing it was the Basques who won 4-2 on aggregate.

The club was run in these times by Teresa Rivero a President who failed to endear herself to the Vallecans by renaming the stadium after…herself! She also presided over the double relegations of 2002/03 and 2003/04. By 2011 Rivera was finally gone, the stadium name restored to Campo de Vallecas and better still the club had won promotion back to La Primera. The only downside was debts amounting to €22 million which has prompted the cautious housekeeping of recent years.

Today’s game sees both hosts and vistors, Málaga, perilously close to the drop zone and while there is still colour and noise from the home support the Fondo occupied by the Bukaneros is somewhat sparsely populated and palpably subdued. Rayo fielded Bebé and Manucho both remembered in England for their comically short careers at Manchester United. Bebé threatened at times but looked heavy and was outshone on the opposite wing by Lass Bangoura whose trickery produced the opening goal early on for the impressive Javi Guerra. However, the hosts failed to capitalise on their lead and Málaga deservedly secured the points with a winner late on in the match from the Croatian striker Duje Čop.

Rayo Vallecano is a club with a heart and a conscience in an increasingly murky sport. This is the club whose away kit and third kit are sold to support anti racism/homophobia charities and breast cancer awareness respectively. This is a club whose players agree to come to work on the metro to reduce their carbon footprint. This is a club who declared their support to the 2012 General Strike in Spain as a show of solidarity with its working class ethos. This a club whose coaching staff and players pay the rental costs for life on an apartment for 85 year old Vallecan resident Carmen Martínez Ayudo who was unceremoniously evicted after her son defaulted on loan secured on her property without her knowledge. This is a club who knows football without fans is nothing, a well used strap line President Presa would do well to remember.

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Sunday December 13th 2015 – La Liga Primera Division

Rayo Vallecano 1 (Javi Guerra 7)
Málaga CF 2 (Charles 59, Čop 87)

Att: 9,423 (at Campo de Fútbol de Vallecas)

Admission: €30 Programme: Free

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Rayo prog

Rayo ticket

Deep Blue Something (Getafe CF)

The original Getafe club were formed in 1924 but were disbanded after just nine seasons. After the Spanish Civil War, to bring senior football back to the southern Madrid suburb, a meeting was held in a bar called La Marquesina, and Club Getafe Deportivo were born. A board was elected consisting of local men Enrique Condes García, Aurelio Miranda Olavaria, Antonio Corridor Lozano, Manuel Serrano Vergara and Miguel Cubero Francés, and a lease on a pitch was organised. The ground, known as Campo del Regimiento de Artillería, was rudimentary to say the least and even initially lacked goalposts! The ground proved so inadequate the club soon moved to another ground called Calle Vinagre.

As the club looked to progress they moved yet again, this time to an enclosed facility at Polideportivo Municipal San Isidro. Within five seasons the club had climbed into the then third tier Tercera Division for 1957/58. Remarkably they won the league at the first attempt but succumbed to Almeria in the promotion play-offs to the Segunda.

Getafe’s nomadic existence continued and in 1970 they moved to the newly built Campo Municipal de Las Margaritas. Six years later a first promotion to the second tier was finally secured. However, that was the zenith of their achievements, huge debts and unpaid wages saw the club demoted to the Tercera at the end of the 1981/82 season. A season later, having failed to win promotion, the board threw in the towel and the club officially folded.

Today’s club, Getafe Club de Fútbol, were formed as an immediate replacement and were officially a fusion of Getafe Deportivo Promesas (the old club’s reserve team) and Club Peña Getafe, who themselves were originally a team formed by the Getafe branch of the Real Madrid supporters club!

The club hovered around the nether reaches of the new third tier, Segunda B, on one occasion surviving the drop on an FA reprieve. At the end of the 1995/96 season their luck run out and relegation coincided with the final season at Las Margaritas which had been claimed for urban redevelopment.

After two seasons at the municipal stadium, Estadio de Juan de la Cierva which was almost adjacent to the old ground, Los Azulones (the Deep Blues) moved to the newly built Coliseum Alfonso Pérez. Named after a player that never actually played for his hometown club, Pérez played for Real Madrid, Barcelona and Betis and won 38 caps for Spain also winning a gold medal at the 1992 Olympics. A bust of Pérez is sited in a somewhat solitary position on the other side of the car park to the stadium.

By 2003 the club had been taken over by Ángel Torres Sánchez and the influx of new money had an immediate impact, Getafe reaching La Primera with a play off win over Tenerife. Having finished eleventh in the first ever season at the top flight the club expanded the still relatively new stadium. The fondos at either end were enlarged and the original roof on the west side was replaced by the much superior current arched cover. To their immense credit Getafe have remained a top tier club ever since.

The club thrived in their new surroundings and two losing Copa del Rey finals in 2007 and 2008 saw the club compete in Europe for the first time. In 2007/08 the club enjoyed a fantastic run in the UEFA Cup beating FC Twente, Tottenham, Anderlecht, AEK Athens and Benfica before bowing out to Bayern Munich in the quarter finals on the away goals rule.

Tonight’s match sees both Getafe and visitors Real Sociedad struggling at the wrong end of the table. The visitors, still reeling from the disastrous tenure of David Moyes, look the better side in the first half and lively winger Bruma really catches the eye in a pretty turgid opening period.

The second half sees the hosts up the tempo from the off and they score immediately when Pablo Sarabia’s header loops into the net. Sociedad though have some seasoned pros, Asier Illarramendi, Carlos Vela and Esteban Granero, and the class showed in the equaliser. A training ground free kick routine worked perfectly and front man Imanol Agirretxe tapped in unmarked at the far post right in front of the 300 or so travelling supporters. The match petered out into a draw which did not really help either side in their quests to stay in the top flight.

Much has been chronicled about the soulless nature of the Alfonso Pérez and the lack of atmosphere at the stadium, but I liked the stadium and two small pockets of noisy fans in the end I was sitting in tried to make some noise in what was a very poor crowd. Sociedad have a long standing reputation for travelling to away games in reasonable numbers and they also added to the spectacle.

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Friday December 11th 2015 – La Liga Primera Division

Getafe CF 1 (Sarabia 46)
Real Sociedad 1 (Agirretxe 68)

Att: 5,567 (at Coliseum Alfonso Pérez)

Admission: €30 Programme: Free

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Getafe ticket