For an entire decade, Maccabi Tel Aviv games were a Memorial Day ceremony. They were a kind of living monument to the glorious heritage, which was gathering dust in the coffin, to the great ambitions that were dashed year after year by November, and to the symbols that got lost along the way.
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And at the memorial site, like any memorial site, fans stick to ceremonies. In the 12th minute they call upon the name of Meni Levy [a former team player who collapsed and almost died during a game in 2002], in the 88th minute they sing to the team's top all-time goal scorer Avi Nimni, and before the opening whistle they stand in a moment of silence in memory of former players Avi Cohen, Yosele Merimovich or Ehud Masur who recently passed on.
Just as Memorial Day for the fallen IDF soldiers gives way every year to the fireworks of Independence Day, which are fired above the heads of the dancers in the Mount Herzl plaza, so Maccabi of the 2012/13 season did. Ten years and 11 coaches after the previous championship, the club celebrates independence. Independence from what? It celebrates independence mainly from itself.
The fact that this championship was built by an architects' office from abroad –"Goldhar-Cruyff-Garcia" – teaches us that it's no longer about another link on the chain of Maccabi's titles, rather a real stepping stone. For this did we gather.
Some 33,000 fans came to watch the game, which is 22,000 more than the average attending the team's matches. The 11,000 regulars are a given, and so there's no need to discuss them any further. But who are these other 22,000 fans? Where did they pop up from? They came to check a box, to be there when it happens, on the assumption that being at the championship game means excitement.
They are probably right, but it's a very specific kind of excitement, the kind that is too ceremonial and too technical. It is completely different from the explosive excitement of really big games. It's the excitement of statistics, not of active participants. In practice, this championship game – as befitting a season in which the gap between the champion and the second-place team is in double digits – is the embodiment of ineffable excitement. The real excitement in this championship was revealed in the four-goal derby game against Bnei Yehuda. All the rest, including Monday night's 2-0 win over Ramat Hasharon, is just ceremony.