Soccer / Premier League

Beitar Jerusalem: Fighting for Its Very Soul

A huge club? Beitar is destined for mediocrity with its current squad

Earth: Beitar Jerusalem emerged bruised from its last Premier League game against Maccabi Haifa. The 2-0 defeat itself doesn’t mean much − it was expected − but what stung was the team’s lack of imagination. Everyone knew that Maccabi Haifa would give its all in this game and that Beitar doesn’t really have the means to stand up to Haifa’s motivation. Beitar, as we all know, thrives on the energy of the stands in Teddy Stadium, which determine if the team is turned on or off. Professionally, Beitar is a mediocre team, capable of playing really well only every so often.

Missing two players through injuries, Beitar was never a rival. With all Haifa’s weaknesses − I suspect none of the squad players would have made it into Haifa’s team five seasons ago − Arik Benado’s charges made light work of Beitar. If not for goalkeeper Ariel Harush, who is emerging as the only positive so far this season, the score would have been truly embarrassing. Over the full 90 minutes Beitar didn’t perform even one worthy offensive move. Not even one. The fans expect at least one inspirational move per game, something that would have us jump up and clap. It just didn’t happen.

Wind: One can’t substitute the full squad, but even the players who did face Maccabi Haifa were expected to do more. A bit more chuzpah, a bit more courage, a bit more Beitar spirit − in the good sense of the word. The players wore the strip with the menorah badge but played like a lowly team, as if they were extras in Haifa’s show, perhaps Haifa’s "get out of jail," card.

If Beitar wishes to emerge with respect from this season it must readopt the consciousness of a large club. Not a team that gives up before the game begins, but one determined to attack and cause trouble, even if its squad is inferior. With all due respect to Benado’s victory, he simply exploited his rivals' weakness.

And again, one must recall the war part of the fans waged this summer against Harush and the team's former midfielder Dario Fernandez − who, among other things, supported the signing of the two Chechen players last season. I already mentioned Harush’s contribution to the team; Fernandez is sorely missing. He was a leader who could raise his head and, possibly, make something happen when other players gave up. His spirit is missing, and Beitar must find a way to compensate for his loss. The team won’t be lucky enough to have 30,000 fans behind it and a willing rival such as Hapoel Tel Aviv at every home game.

Fire: At that game in the Teddy Stadium, when the "La Familia" fans raised the banner “Evyatar Yosef, we love you,” the name didn’t mean much to me. Even though I follow the news, I didn’t remember the name of the individual who torched Beitar’s offices at its Bayit Vegan training ground, a day that burned something in the heart of every Beitar fan who didn’t trade in his love for the team for racist "principles."

With the sole object of provocation, following his conviction and 22-month prison sentence, the same banner was raised during the defeat to Maccabi Haifa, as if the hard-core racist fans’ organization told Yosef: "your way prevailed." Beyond being evidence of Yosef’s being a hooligan − or simply drunk as his attorney tried to say later that same evening on the sports channel − this support is evidence of a very clear ideology espoused by Yosef and the fans who dispatched him and support his action: One can do anything in the name of hatred, racism and violence. Even torching the training ground of your beloved club somehow makes sense, and is even welcome.

Still, it isn’t the fans that depress me, but rather the deafening silence of the club’s management, apart from the laconic announcement that “the club cannot be responsible for those voicing their opinions within the law.” Club owner Eli Tabib and marketing executive Avner Kopel continue, in effect, to support the violence of one group of the fans, a group that is by no means a majority of the club’s supporters. Some supporters believe that Tabib is, in fact, supporting this group even now, after the long struggle former chairman Itzik Kornfein waged against them, standing up for the first time against those fans who threaten to destroy the club due to their sinister ideology.

They have already burned the club down once, and are willing to do so again. One individual, Evyatar Yosef has indeed been imprisoned, but the next Evyatar Yosefs are waiting in the wings. If Tabib still has an ounce of integrity and wisdom, if he truly respects the fans, or himself, he must tell the racist extremists: “I do not support you.” The owner must be unequivocal as to the clear line between the club and some of its fans’ hatred and violence. Tabib must clarify that the club is bigger than the hatred of some of its fans, and is indeed trying to make pathways to the hearts of many Israelis, while making it back to the top of Israeli soccer.

La Familia, for now, is offering him a fragile truce − apart from the jeering of coach Eli Cohen in recent games − but this poisonous truce with La Familia might come back to haunt him. When one overlooks violence it doesn’t disappear, but rather grows stronger. The next time this violence breaks out it might burn much more than the club’s offices.

Looking forward: The loss to Maccabi Haifa was a moral blow, but it reflected the truth. The fourth place in the league does not reflect Beitar’s qualities this season. Beitar isn’t a top team, but won’t fight relegation either. It is talented enough to beat Bnei Yehuda and Ramat Hasharon, but lacks the squad to prevent being run over by Maccabi Haifa, Hapoel Be’er Sheva and Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Beitar will probably wade in the middle of the table, recording a victory followed by a defeat, on its way to the sixth or seventh spot. Anything more than that would be a welcome surprise. This seems like another season in the crazy, glorious, depressing and elevating history of this club. Does the club owner have a vision for the future, beyond tomorrow’s headlines? Time will tell. Go Beitar!

Courtesy.