British Jews head for the terraces
The T-shirts were designed especially for the match: An Israeli flag is printed on the front and a red-and-white St. George's flag on the back.
The T-shirts were designed especially for the match: An Israeli flag is printed on the front and a red-and-white St. George's flag on the back. All 53 members of Londoner Daniel Knobil's group will have been presented with one by the time they boarded the plane for Tel Aviv at Stansted Airport last night.
"If you see some fat Jewish people squeezed into those T-shirts, you'll know it's our party," says Knobil, who took it upon himself to organize a group trip as soon as he heard that Israel would face England in the Euro 2008 qualifier.
"We decided we had to get a few people together for the match, but it's spun a little bit out of control," he explains. "It's been like organizing a bar mitzvah."
Knobil, a businessman in the textile industry and self-described "mad football fan," says that word of the trip soon spread among friends who live in and around North West London's Hampstead Garden Surburb, and numbers started rising. Like several of his friends, Knobil owns a place in Herzliya Pituach, and couldn't think of a better excuse to come to Israel.
In addition to tickets and transport to the match in Ramat Gan, Knobil has also organized a special Friday night dinner at the Daniel Hotel in Herzliya, plus Shabbat services there on Friday night and Saturday morning. Most of the group, which includes 20 children, are flying back Sunday on one of the dozen charter flights lined up especially to transport English fans to and from the match.
"It's going to be one of the most moving occasions of my life, hearing more than 40,000 people in a public place singing Hatikvah. In England, the only time you hear it is at a bar mitzvah or a wedding," says Knobil, whose wife and teenage daughters have also flown over for the match.
In addition to Knobil's gang, several British Jewish organizations have arranged for groups to fly out for the game and have built programs and tours around the match.
The New Israel Fund is bringing a mission from the U.K. to promote its "Kick racism out of Israeli soccer" campaign. Former top players John Barnes, Brendon Batson and Ronny Rosenthal will address the 100-strong group, who on Friday will visit a co-existence project involving Hapoel Abu Ghosh-Mevasseret FC. "This is a golden opportunity for us," says campaign coordinator Dan Berelowitz, who hopes the trip will also serve as a fundraiser.
Maccabi Great Britain will be flying out 70 soccer fans for the occasion, while the British Zionist Federation is sending a group of close to 40, who will meet with British Ambassador Tom Phillips on Friday morning. The Union of Jewish Students has gathered 27 young people, most of whom have not been involved in the organization until now. "We're trying to reach out to students who are interested in sports; we want to pull them in through sports," says UJS's Shlomit Sattler, adding that the group will also travel up north to visit an army base and meet with the family of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.