Hapoel Tel Aviv’s Arik Einstein Contradiction

The team, according to the singer, wasn’t only a sympathetic loser but also the most successful Israeli club in Europe.

Eran Laor
Eran Laor
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Eran Laor
Eran Laor

Alon Idan is entirely correct: Arik Einstein, together with songwriter Eli Mohar changed Hapoel Tel Aviv’s DNA with two phrases, written 20 years apart. In the 1970s the fans "ate their hearts" because of the losses; in the 1990s, kids tried to avoid school on Sundays in order not to be reminded that the "red shirt isn’t such a bargain."

It’s no fluke that these were two unsuccessful decades for the Tel Aviv club. Still, Idan might be right when he notes that they could reflect something much larger than another derby loss; Einstein and Mohar might have detected, even unconsciously, underground social currents expressed in these two songs that enabled Hapoel Tel Aviv to break loose from its "establishment" image, and through these songs offer a fresh alternative emotional cargo that could have attracted social fringe groups that suddenly discovered a new cause to identify with.

As with any founding ethos, one finds it hard to argue with this concept; it isn’t completely false, but mainly because of that over the years it was repeated endlessly by the media. By the way, many journalists at the time had obvious "red" roots, and one can wonder if repeating the "loser" ethos wasn’t merely a way to clean one’s conscience or blur reality, as a form of "we’re not in charge of anything, in fact, we’re the underdogs.”

This ethos was so powerful that it remained intact even in the 1980s and 2000s, when Hapoel Tel Aviv won trophies for fun and established itself as the most successful Israeli club in Europe.

It seems that even Einstein himself was aware of the image. In an interview with Maariv three years ago, when asked about the image he admitted that “yes, it was somewhat exaggerated. I had a hand in it, too. You know, stressing the self-pity and laughing at yourself. Hapoel fans actually do laugh at themselves. It’s a good trait, but it continued even into the eras when the club was successful. We enjoyed being the underdog.”

The singer even tried to create a counter-revolution to the mythology he himself created. Strangely, nobody talked this week of the remake “Drive slowly, II”, from the end of the 1990s − as Hapoel was rebuilding as an empire − when he altered the old lines to “And I’m thinking, Hapoel is in the league again. And it’s so great for the fans, coming up from the basement.”

Therefore it is wrong to treat the old Einstein Hapoel Tel Aviv as a sympathetic, passive, loser and the current or future Hapoel Tel Aviv as a club that might turn its back on these values in its race for trophies and success. From the 1970s to this day, Hapoel Tel Aviv was always a bit of both, sometimes simultaneously, and at other times alternating from one to the other. Successful, but never lethal; losing, but with an ironic smile.

True, every few years the club faces a junction that might determine its future in terms of sporting success, but it will always bear this contradiction, created by Einstien. And, yes, it is part of the club’s charm.

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