Avi Ran: Nothing Left but the Memories

Israel’s greatest goalkeeper Avi Ran would have turned 50 this week.

My dad woke me up, tears in his eyes. "Avi Ran was killed." I burst out crying. Ran would have turned 50 this week.

It’s not that many memories are still crystal clear in my mind. I'm in the fifth decade of life, and well, these brain cells don't get any younger. I don't remember the results of games, don't remember dates or who scored in the cup final of 1982, but some memories will never leave me.

The first: April 12, 1986, Maccabi Haifa vs. Hapoel Be'er Sheva. A Be'er Sheva cross into the Haifa penalty box. The ball didn't seem dangerous, but out of nowhere appeared the goalkeeper, flying toward the edge of the box, grabbing the ball in the air like Superman, holding it close to his heart. Without posing, or rolling over, he quickly sent the ball in the direction of the halfway line, for a Haifa attack.

All around me in stand Gimel, (before the plastic seats were added and the fans began calling themselves monkeys), everyone was rubbing their eyes as if they just witnessed a miracle or the presence of God, in complete disbelief that a human could fly from the six-yard line to the edge of the penalty box like a bird.

Second memory: July 11, 1987, just another day in the last school vacation of my life. My late father woke me up in tears. I immediately understood that something terrible had happened. Without prior warning, he blurted out: "Avi Ran was killed.” The goalkeeper had been struck by a speedboat while jet-skiing in Lake Kinneret.

I burst out crying. I couldn't register the fact that my favorite player in the world was gone. Maybe it was just a rumor?

In the days before the Internet there was only Channel 1, and it affirmed my father's story. For the first time I understood that life could sometimes be really hard. I understood that from now on, something would be very different.

If it wasn't for that terrible day, Ran would have celebrated his 50th birthday on Sunday. If it wasn't for that day, we might have had stories about his wonderful career in Europe, how he was chosen the best goalkeeper in the world, how thanks to him, exclusively, Israel made it to the quarterfinals in 1990. But all that never happened. The dream was cut short some 27 years ago. Many of my memories have since faded, but these two remain crystal clear.

I'm sorry, Avi Ran, that I didn't keep my promise at the time to call my first-born Aviran. But one thing I do promise and keep: My 3-year-old Uri will hear endless stories about you. And your poster will always be hung on the wall of his room.

Sharon Bukov