Soccer / Premier League

Between Heaven and Hell

Can Arik Benado pull Maccabi Haifa out of limbo? Are Maccabi Tel Aviv's Ultras racist?

Limbo is one hell of an invention the place between heaven and hell where the souls who aren't worthy of eternal life in heaven can be found next to the souls who didn't sin enough to be sent to damnation in hell.

Limbo is the ultimate no-man's land, where criminals who weren't ever convicted live on. In limbo you're not a winner nor a loser, you're neither here nor there, no future, no hope, no dreams, no past, no angst, no nightmares. There's nothing to be afraid of, nothing to lose, nowhere to progress to and nowhere to return to. Nothing but mere existence, which leads to nothing better nor nothing worse. And limbo is presently where Maccabi Haifa is.

What could be the club's best option at present? To string together several victories and leave limbo for heaven, where the players could be in the presence of saints, and even be photographed with Eran Zahavi? Or maybe the team should lose a few games, bid coach Arik Benado a fond farewell and begin anew their quest for salvation? Did Monday's unconvincing 2-0 victory over Beitar Jerusalem, a team six times as weak as Haifa, edge the club closer to where it hopes to be in two months, or rather the other way round, actually make salvation that much harder to come by?

After the final whistle, Benado celebrated with each and every player and staff member on the bench. He then turned to the players on the pitch, with high-fives for all, as if he was saying: "We did it. We can enjoy another week in limbo."

The true theological question is whether Benado can lift the club to its natural place. If the answer is positive, the win over Beitar is a significant step forward. If the answer is negative, this means that these three points actually postpone heaven by at least two more weeks. In any case, if you hope for the pope to support you, wearing a strip reminiscent of Glasgow Celtic is indeed the right move.

2. We're the Maccabi Tel Aviv Ultras. As far as you're concerned we're only a bunch of kids singing in the stands, but from our point of view we're the wonderful youth of Israel. Racists? Us? Never. Who invented this rubbish? True, when we see Germans in front of our eyes we immediately recall how Jewish we are and how German they are. That much is true. A nation without a past is a nation without a future. Indeed, in the Europa League game against Eintracht Frankfurt we waved a banner referring to Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino's 2009 film, reminding the Germans that they're Germans and we're Jews. But we did that only because they are indeed Germans and we're indeed Jews.

And seriously, who can argue against us that we make cheap use of the Holocaust? We are the ones who sing, every game, in response to Hapoel Tel Aviv fans: "You make fun of the Holocaust and should be ashamed of yourselves. God's revenge will come." Usually this is chanted immediately after we sing that Hapoel's Salim Toama is a terrorist. And last week, in the game against Sakhnin, they got on our nerves, so we sang "let the IDF win, and f*** the Arabs." But that truly didn't have anything to do with racism. We sang it from our soul, from our heart, our Jewish heart. Yair Lapid surely can come up with a wise quote that would explain it. He really is something, that Lapid.

And we don't really have any problem with Frankfurt. On the contrary. We even considered buying an apartment in Berlin, in an area riddled with Turks and Arabs. Real estate there is dirt cheap. Still, one must admit that from whatever perspective one looks, there's something distinctly German about the Germans. A few days ago everyone was commemorating the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, that terrible event that took place only because we didn't have an air force at the time. So before the Frankfurt game we sang "Hatikva." And the Frankfurt fans, those 1,500 fans that came to the Bloomfield stadium, did they sing with us? Did they observe a minute of silence? Did they ask our forgiveness?

And if what the Germans did wasn't bad enough, on Monday, in the 2-2 draw against Maccabi Petah Tikva, that goalkeeper, Juan Pablo something, continued to screw up. As if it wasn't enough what the Spaniards did to us 500 years ago. You best reconsider what you think or say about us. Racists? Us? You should really put aside this prejudiced view. It's time to move forward.

3. And for the "Golden Boot" award for the ninth round of games. The candidates are: Maccabi Petah Tikva coach Moshe Sinai for drawing against Maccabi Tel Aviv and regaining the trust of Hapoel Tel Aviv fans; Dror Kashtan for leading Bnei Yehuda to a draw against Hapoel Tel Aviv and thus regaining the trust of Macabi Tel Aviv fans; Nir Klinger for leading Ashdod to victory against Hapoel Haifa, thus regaining the trust of Maccabi Haifa supporters.

And the winner is: Avram Grant.

Sharon Bukov