It's Not a Joke: Scandinavia Meets the Mideast at a Netanya Soccer Game

Whoever managed to somehow overcome the traffic was then forced to face the complicated task of collecting his tickets from the box office or the entrance to the stands, a mission which was seemingly a feature of extreme sports, not soccer.

You know that a game attracts real interest when the scalpers outside the stadium don’t ask you if you need a ticket, but rather if you have one. A Norwegian tourist, sitting behind the southern stand, with a small placard, needed only two things: a ticket for the game and some shelter from the sun. He won’t get either. Some fans talked to him, hoping to gain something, others were just curious.

A Scandinavian in Netanya is as rare as a civil servant in a spaceship. Someone joked that tomorrow he will be summoned to the offices of Netanya mayor Miriam Fierberg, who will name an alley after him. In recent decades, a championship is hard to come by in Netanya, but, hey, Europe is right here.

No tickets were left at the ticket offices, but there were empty seats in the stands. Typical Israeli math. If you were hoping for tickets for yesterday’s game against Norway, you shouldn’t have given up. You might have entered a supermarket, bought a carton of milk passed its sell date, and still gotten a ticket. Some ticket owners were probably held up by the traffic jams, stuck in a crucial junction thinking,

“Should I try to make it for the second half, or find a U-turn and go home?” Half time? Considering the vertigo Adi Gotlieb suffered in the first half − he functioned more like a Norwegian striker than an Israeli defender − this might have been a half strictly for the protocol.

Home, then. Those who have tickets for Israel’s second game, on Saturday, will probably get on the road on Friday. Whoever managed to somehow overcome the traffic was then forced to face the complicated task of collecting his tickets from the box office or the entrance to the stands, a mission which was seemingly a feature of extreme sports, not soccer.

Singer Eyal Golan and the hundreds of boys in blue and girls in white, who created geometric patterns in the opening ceremony were, all in all, rather impressive, but the crowd really took to the Polish referee Pavel Gil. Like a true hero, he was familiar only to few before the game, and did his bit in truly altruistic fashion: at first when he politely granted Israel a penalty that never happened, and later when he showed a fair red card to Vegar Eggen Hedenstad, who grabbed Mohammed Kalibat’s shirt.

Despite obviously being over 21, Gil, not Nir Biton, Eyal Golasa or Orr Barouch, was the true star of Guy Luzon’s team. Many silently prayed for him not to get injured and be replaced, God forbid, by the fourth official, some cold Icelandic type, who couldn’t be trusted to be so pro-Israeli as his Polish colleague. Others wondered if he already had plans for Saturday, or could also be in charge of the game against Italy.
Alon Turgeman’s goal in the 71st minute put the entire stadium in feel-good mode.

Those stuck in the traffic cooled down and all those who missed Nir Biton’s opening goal due to the lines at the entrance to the stands were now all smiles. All these fans are so used to trouble and disappointment that such bliss was a new experience, worth everything that happened beforehand. And the big winners were those who left the stadium just before added time: They made it home quickly, convinced that we won the game.

Nir Keidar