"If you want your steak, you've got to eat your greens," is how the Israel Football Association spokesman summarizes the situation for those intent on seeing the Israel-England Euro 2008 qualifier set for Ramat Gan Stadium on March 24.
Here's the longer version: The only way to purchase a ticket for the big match right now is to buy a season ticket for all four remaining home games in the qualifying round of the 2008 European Soccer Championship. With adult season ticket prices starting at NIS 320, this might trouble local soccer fans a lot more than eating a bowl of broccoli.
"We know that the England game is something that can sell the campaign," says IFA spokesman Ofer Ronen-Abels, explaining why tickets for the big clash are on sale only as part of a package. The alternative to forking out for a season ticket, he says, is to hang on until two weeks before the game, when any unsold tickets will go on general sale through the IFA's usual agents, Leaan. The cost of single tickets for the England-Israel match is likely to be around NIS 150.
"There's a huge demand because every man and his dog want to see this match," says Ronen-Abels. "It's a one-off. If you want to risk it, you can wait, but if you want a ticket guaranteed, buy it now - and get the tickets for the other Israel matches as a bonus."
The match, in which the two sides will be competing officially for the first time ever, is likely to draw even those who do not usually class themselves as English football lovers, but are keen to see this particular event. (England has played two friendly matches in Israel - a 2-1 victory in 1986 and a 0-0 draw in 1988; Israel has never played in England.)
For many English-born Israelis - and indeed, some English Jews - this match symbolizes the dilemma of a lifetime, the Jewish version of the infamous "Norman Tebbit Cricket test," whereby the former British cabinet minister suggested in 1990 that the test of national loyalty lay in whether immigrants supported their native country's cricket team or that of their new homeland.
In fact, next month's game promises to be momentous one for the whole country. "It's Israel's biggest ever match - at least as far as preparation goes," says Ronen-Abels, mentioning Israel's play-off with Colombia for a place in the 1990 World Cup as the last match to even compete for importance. Ronen-Abels - who hails from Haifa but spent his childhood summers in his mother's hometown of Teeside in northeast England - also said he had been inundated with requests for access to the press box.
"There's no way that anyone who is not a journalist will get in," he commented. "All the journalists want to bring their sons. You can imagine."
In addition to the sales arrangement, another blow for some local residents of English origin is that they will be unable to sit with the English fans. This is due to the English Football Association's strict rules allowing only registered members of its England Fans Plus club to buy tickets for England games abroad, based on a points system. Introduced several years ago as an anti-hooliganism measure, the policy means that only supporters known to the English FA can buy from its allocation of tickets and sit with the England fans.
For the Ramat Gan match, England has been allocated close to 5,000 of the stadium's 41,000 seats, in line with international norms.
"We know there are lots of expats and Israelis who support England who'd like to be on that terrace, but to say they are strict about this is an understatement," says Ronen-Abels, adding that the Israeli authorities do not foresee large numbers of fans from England to turn up here without pre-bought tickets.
British Embassy spokeswoman Karen Kaufman said that up to 7,000 British fans are expected to show up, including groups from various Jewish organizations such as the British Zionist Federation and the New Israel Fund. Israeli authorities will also have a list of some 3,000 Britons who are banned from attending England matches. "But there are no special problems expected here," she emphasized.
Various public events will take place at Hayarkon Park the day before the match to entertain visitors and local fans, organized by the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality, the city's tourism association, the British Embassy and the British Council. "We hope the British fans will enjoy Tel Aviv, with the sea and the beach and the park and the booze," said Kaufman.
The qualifying round of the Euro 2008 finals, which will be held in Austria and Switzerland next summer, requires each of the seven teams in Israel's group to play each other twice, once home and once away. The second leg against England will be played in the U.K. on September 8.
Leaan ticket agency: 101 Dizengoff Street, Tel Aviv. (03) 527-0545, 524-7373. Tickets can also be purchased online at www.leaan.co.il
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