Hapoel's Double I: Bird's-eye View / Joy of the Poor

I wasn't going to watch the two deciding games, whose outcomes were predetermined. And I value my time. Only in the final 10 minutes did I decide to get an update despite it all, and I couldn't believe my eyes or ears. Could it be? Did an auspicious wind blow away the cloud of volcanic ash that had darkened our soccer fields? Did we finally recognize that a pitch is for playing, not settling scores?

There were several grounds for hating Hapoel Tel Aviv - the players, coaches and fans wondered why this was so. One reason, perhaps the greatest of all, went unmentioned for some reason: Hapoel Tel Aviv particularly excelled this year by local standards, and in Israel we don't take kindly to overachievers. Success takes commitment, and who wants to commit if they can be liked without trying, even without winning?

Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Avi Nimni, for example, will always be endeared by his fans, even if he pays them back with bad instead of good, suffering instead of enjoyment and shame instead of pride. That's how it goes with idol worship, when morons fashion the altar.

That is what happened this month to Maccabi Tel Aviv: It swallowed rotten goals in Haifa Bay, prematurely celebrated the demise of its sworn enemy, and blemished its reputation for who knows how many years. This once glorious club has no glory left, its honor exiled. An important moral here: He who opens his legs is liable to suffer an own goal.

And another moral: Never suspect someone when there's no previous reason to doubt his fitness. I have always had a soft spot for Bnei Yehuda, with its marginal budget but commitment to its reputation and a very strong team identity. It comes from the street and always returns to the street, but no team plays street ball less than this one. Bnei Yehuda reflects the best of Israeli soccer, and not just Saturday.

Beitar Jerusalem also deserves a good word, for a change, at this moment of celebration - not because it lost at the last moment but because it played to win until that moment.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Maccabi Haifa and its loyal coach deserved the birthright, were it not for the warped point-reduction system. But in truth, Haifa tired at the end. Its play became routine and boring.

If justice was done, then it was in that the best team won. But if it should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done, then we'll have to wait and see what happens next season. The tension in the playoff should not mislead us about the inferiority of Israeli soccer. It was and remains third rate.

Thus, let's admit that the joy of the championship is the joy of the poor, which is joy nonetheless for a lack of alternatives.