Beitar Jerusalem soccer club fans
Beitar Jerusalem soccer club fans Photo by Sharon Bokov
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Olivia Pitusi
Beitar Jerusalem offices after being set on fire, February 8, 2013 Photo by Olivia Pitusi

Police ejected some 35 fans of both teams as Beitar Jerusalem played out a highly-charged 2-2 draw with Bnei Sakhnin at the capital’s Teddy Stadium last night.

Some 400 police officers and 300 security guards were stationed in and around the stadium in an attempt to prevent a repeat of the recent violent incidents and racist chants that have characterized Beitar’s games since the team announced the signing of two Muslim players from Chechnya two weeks ago.

The game against the team from the Galilee Arab town came only three days after indictments were filed against four Beitar fans over charges relating to racism, and two days after the soccer club’s offices suffered serious fire damage. An investigator from the fire department said the blaze bore signs of arson and inferred that fans were to blame.

Beitar officials estimated that many of the team’s supporters who refrained from visiting the stadium during the past weeks due to the recent incidents turned up last night to show their support. Fans wearing shirts of a violently racist Beitar fan club known as La Familia were not permitted to enter the stadium, but some removed their shirts and were allowed in.

“We never thought it would come to this, but this is the reality and we will deal with it,” Beitar Jerusalem chairman Itzik Kornfein said before the game.

Kornfein said the club has been battling racism for the past four years. “I turned to everyone and warned that Beitar needs help. I hope things will improve thanks to the media coverage.”

Shortly before the beginning of the match, six Beitar fans were ejected from the stadium after arriving wearing shirts bearing La Familia’s acronym. Nine Bnei Sakhnin fans were also ejected for
offensive calls. Twenty more Sakhnin supporters were expelled after they whistled and yelled during the singing of the national anthem, and minutes later 25 Beitar fans were escorted out of the ground after they hurled abuse at the team’s management.

Ten minutes from the end of the game, one of the Chechnyan players, Gabriel Kadiev, came on as a substitute as hundreds of Beitar’s most bigoted fans let off steam with a chorus of catcalls. However most of the home team’s fans applauded the player as he made his debut for the team.

The game itself rose above the usual Premier League fare, as Beitar mounted a late comeback after finishing the first half two goals behind.