Soccer / Premier League

Losing for the Most Mundane Reasons

Be'er Sheva beat Maccabi Tel Aviv and saved the league from itself. And who is responsible for silencing legitimate protests?

In the 54th minute, when Tal Ben Haim equalized for 2-2, I understood it all. It wasn't Maccabi Tel Aviv's rotation that terrible world that has been associated with the champions from the start of the season, as if it's a revolutionary system or new philosophical attitude. No. It all has to do with the "Russian Law," which is binding in basketball but used, voluntarily, by Maccabi's soccer team as well. Gael Marguiles and Moanes Dabour play in the local league, while Rade Prica, Barak Yitzhaki and Nikola Mitrovic play in the Europa League.

But then in the 73rd minute, when Dovev Gabay scored, putting Hapoel Be'er Sheva in the lead again, I understood another thing: It wasn't the deterrence factor, that military-strategic term associated with Maccabi from the beginning of the season. No. It was simply because Maccabi was second best. When the champions score four goals it is simply because they're better than the other team. When Maccabi Tel Aviv concedes three goals it's simply because the other team played better. There it is: nothing to do with rotation or deterrence, but rather with the Russian Law and questionable form.

And then, after the final whistle, I grasped that there was also the matter of Hapoel Be'er Sheva. Until Monday night, Be'er Sheva was the national darling because the club is from the periphery, because of coach Elisha Levy, because of Elyaniv Barda who came home from Belgium. No more. As of today Be'er Sheva is the national darling because it saved the Premier League from itself, allowing us to enjoy several more weeks of competitive soccer in the 2013/2014 season.

The media and the skullcap

Often there is no choice but to deal with the media discourse when it comes to Israeli soccer. We often deal with the culture, which is depressing and hopeless the screams and shouts, a veritable salad of conflicting interests. But one can also deal with the essence not how they talk, but rather what they're talking about. It turns out one can be shallow and petty while speaking softly.

This is the discourse surrounding the affair of Hapoel Acre's Guy Dayan and his skullcap. It seemed a rather straightforward scene: A Jewish player scored a goal, whipped out a kippa from his sock and put in on. Then the referee, another Jew, ran up and showed him the yellow card.

What did the media focus on? Absolutely nothing that has any relevance to the event. Not why a player who makes his living on Saturdays has the need to prove that he's more observant than the late Ovadia Yosef. He could pray quietly after scoring, or wrap imaginary phylacteries around his forehead. And why would anyone play a full 90 minutes with a yarmulke up his sock? What would Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook have said about this? And what would be the opinion of Joseph Ber Soloveitchik on the matter?

But then we're treated to a moralistic and fertile discussion about degradation of the symbols of Judaism. This debate, held among self-proclaimed seculars, focused on all the wrong questions: The sock degrades the yarmulke, the yarmulke degrades the sock, the shin pad degrades the tuft of hair, the pocket degrades the Psalms, the boxer shorts degrade the Torah.

All this is totally irrelevant. One could simply explain that instead of delving into theological matters, there are the simple rules of the game: One is prohibited from making use of accessories not directly related to the game. Whoever does so is promptly shown a yellow card. End of the matter.

And while the pundits focus on skullcaps and socks, they miss out on some pretty serious stuff. For some time now, Bnei Yehuda fans have been campaigning against the club's chaiman Moshe Damaio. True, at times this struggle includes offensive slogans which cannot be tolerated, but mostly it is a legitimate, democratic campaign which runs up against illegitimate and undemocratic opposition. This reached its peak in Bnei Yehuda's away game against Beitar Jerusalem at Teddy Stadium at the weekend. Before the game started, emissaries were sent to the away fans' stand demanding that the placards against Damaio be removed. These specific placards contained nothing offensive or violent.

Who were these people who expropriated the fans' right of freedom of expression? Security guards? The stadium's ushers? Bnei Yehuda officials? Beitar Jerusalem officials? Does anybody know? Does anybody ask? The question whether Damaio is good or bad for Bnei Yehuda interests only the Bnei Yehuda fans. Still, we should all be concerned with the matter, since the trend of silencing soccer fans has become an all too common sight in the stands lately. Who is responsible for this? If the media took an interest we might find out. If it doesn't, we remain in the dark.

Golden Boot boys

And finally, three candidates for the Golden Boot award after eight rounds of games this season: Beitar striker Ibrahim Bangura, who scored a delightful brace against Bnei Yehuda; Hapoel Ra'anana's Tamir Cohen, for scoring a goal after the first pick 'n' roll in soccer history; and Dele Aiyenugba, the Bnei Yehuda goalkeeper, for the eye examination that proved that he needs glasses.

The winner, as always, is Avram Grant.

Ilan Assayag