Friday, February 6, 2009

Visiting Israel: The Soccer Game

I am not a huge fan of sports.

Even 6 years of living in Canada hasn’t made me a Hockey fan at all. I don’t seem to like any other type of sport, either. I don’t know why. The only sport I feel some sort of interest towards is soccer.

Soccer is undoubtedly the primary, most focused-on sport practiced in Israel. Make no mistake: there is absolutely no relationship between how much soccer is liked here to the quality of soccer actually played. Soccer here sucks, and doesn’t even come close to the English Premier League, or any other major European league for the matter. Occasionally, Israeli players make it very well in Europe (Yossi Benayun currently playing for Liverpool), but on average, we’re talking about people who don’t really know how to play good soccer.

Israel has only once made it to the World Cup; Mexico 1970, when it didn’t make it past the first round.

Still, it is impossible to go through (normal) childhood in Israel without experiencing with soccer here and there. Soccer is what’s played in sports classes in schools, and what’s played by the youth once they finish their homework (or, more commonly, instead of doing their homework).

When I happen to actually take the time to watch a soccer game, it’s usually a game in which there is much put in stake, such as the finals of the European champions’ league, or the world cup.

I mentioned in one of the previous posts that a cousin of mine is here for a visit from Australia, and I have seen him for the first time in six years a few days ago. Another cousin of mine, a fanatic fan of one of the (rather incompetent) soccer clubs here, invited us both to join him for a soccer game on Monday.

The last time I attended a soccer game was the one between Israel’s national team to that of Austria, during the Euro 2000 qualifiers (I think it was in 1999, ten years ago). That day was a good day for Israeli soccer, as we welcomed the Austrians with a marvellous 5:0 beat-up.

Before I go on to describe the experience, I should tell you what soccer actually means to fans here – at least fans that make it to the stadiums for games.

Israel has virtually no middle-class; the middle-class has been bitten and bitten repeatedly through the course of the years, mostly due to financial irresponsibility on behalf of the (mostly corrupt) governments. The low-class barely survives; middle-class doesn’t really exist, and the rich – well, they are rich and pretty much don’t have to worry about a thing anyway.

The tough day-to-day life here clearly affects the people and is (in my opinion) the main reason behind the high level of people’s aggressiveness. Aggression always looks for a way out, and a few channels are as effective for this purpose as being a soccer fan and attending a game.

Anyway, as we made our way into the Bloomfield Stadium in Tel-Aviv, childhood memories kept creeping into my mind. In an instant, I remembered how it was like when my father took me to soccer games with him; the insane aggression exerted by pretty much everybody; and above all, the noise.

Israelis are passionate for their soccer teams. Make no mistake – the average Israeli attending a soccer game is fundamentally different than the average Canadian watching a hockey game. The level of aggressiveness is astonishing; they yell and curse (at everyone; the opposing team, their own team, the referees… sometimes even the announcers), shouting and going crazy for 90 minutes, with a 15 minutes half-time.

I spent the game looking not just at the field below me, but also at the crowd. Sweet nostalgia kicked in as I witnessed soccer fans channelling their aggression towards pretty much every living thing in the stadium, including each other. A typical Canadian in my place would feel like Tarzan – spending quality times amongst chimpanzees; most likely, would never like to repeat the experience either. But for me, it was a way to look twenty years into the past, to the age when I didn’t have to worry about anything, and all I had to do is sit down and enjoy seeing people unloading their aggression onto the world.

The opposing team scored first, rendering my poor cousin (the fanatic fan) totally angry. Our team tied the game 7 minutes before the end, sending my cousin to the roof – I don’t think I ever saw him more joyful.

After the game, a quick walk back to the car, about twenty minutes in traffic and I’m back home, with an unbearable headache due to the insane level of noise in the stadium.

But man, was it fun.





Anonymous said...

Hi, you could make similar comments ref. to an italian soccer game.
Latins used to say panem et circenses, which means that governments can gain consensus or better acquiescence simply by feeding people with bread (panem) and shows (circenses). Sad to say, but 2000 years later we are at the same point: soccer is the modern circus, to which repressed feelings
are conveyed: it recalls to me the movie ‘Rollerball’ by N.Jewison 1975.
Have nice days with your family, daria

Anonymous said...

Ahhh to watch a futbol game live! What a dream that would be. I attended an American football game once in Buffalo and it was probably just as crazy as what you described. Many fights, and many police. Futbol (soccer) is truly the beautiful game though. And unfortunately it is how the game goes. I hope you are enjoying your trip! I hope it is the same yet something completely different .... Kinda like dim sum.