The Demise of Galil Elyon / 'And Here, Friends, Once Played a Basketball Team'

Arie Livnat
Arie Livnat
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Arie Livnat
Arie Livnat

Friday the 13th is, by Christian tradition, a day of bad luck. So much so, in fact, that millions of people around the world will not sign a contract on it. Not so in Israel.

On Friday, Galil Elyon owners Haim Ohayon and Dani Atar created a new club, Gilboa/Galil Elyon, a merger of two clubs, Hapoel Galil Elyon and Hapoel Gilboa.

In the process they signed the death warrant for Galil, a squad whose home court was in a small kibbutz in the Galilee panhandle and which had earned a reputation as the Cinderella of Israeli basketball. Galil upset Maccabi Tel Aviv to take the Israeli championship in 1993 and won the State Cup in 1992 and 1988.

Under the terms of the deal, the Gilboa regional council will give the team NIS 2 million a year, while the club's sponsor for the past three years, mutual fund firm Altshuler Shaham, will donate a million shekels.

The new team's management will be drawn from both former clubs: from Galil, owner Ohayon, chairman Amit Gal and professional manager Erez Hazan; and from Gilboa, chairman Yaron Ohayon and several other team officials.

The club will play in Gan Ner, a small community in the Mount Gilboa area, in a 1,000-seat arena expected to be completed by September. The new club will be coached by Oded Katash, a former star player with Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Hapoel Afula, which had previously been merged with Gilboa, will play this season in the second-tier National League.

The original agreement was to play 70 percent of games at Gan Ner and 30 percent at Galil's original home of Kfar Blum, in the Upper Galilee. The final agreement, however, set different terms.

"Most of the games will be played at Gilboa," said Ohayon. "In any case, we will provide Galil fans with buses to the games."

While fans in Gilboa welcomed the new deal, fans in the far north were in mourning.

Yaakov Ben Shushan, a former coach at Galil, expressed shock at the move. "This is a happy day for Gilboa and a hard day for Galil. What does this actually mean, that there won't be basketball here anymore?"

Yogev Ohayon, a Galil fan, added, "This is a disappointing situation. It's a shame the Upper Galilee regional council doesn't recognize the importance of the team. We can understand that Ohayon has good intentions - he's just trying to keep the team alive."

The owner, for his part, tried to explain the difficult choice he made. "After the refusal of the Upper Galilee regional council, or its inability, to support the team, I'm glad we found some cooperation and I hope it will last for many years. We found a good opportunity and we will turn it into an even better one. The Galilee, Gilboa and Golan are all interconnected with this area. Galil has many fans and we will bring all the club's traditions here," he said.