Soccer / Premier League Opening Day / The Year of the Fan

The 2012-13 season has got to be the one in which the Premier League becomes reunited.

The 2012-2013 Premier League soccer season kicks off tomorrow with two new fan-oriented ventures.

It's hard to tell whether the initiatives giving fans a say at Beitar Jerusalem and Hapoel Tel Aviv will succeed. It's even hard to determine whether this is appropriate for Israeli soccer. At the moment, there are arguments to serve both the optimists and the pessimists.

Yet one thing is absolutely, positively clear - the Israeli soccer fan showed all the skeptics this summer that he doesn't give up on his team or his soccer.

True, the data show that over the past decade, he has spent a considerable amount of his free time watching Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Chelsea and even Brugge rather than Israeli teams. He turns up at the European soccer shrines for Champions League matches and shows an impressive turnout at the Euro competition. But it is clear that these teams are just his flings. They are his Other, not the Real Thing.

In its moment of need, when his beloved team needs him, he is able to set aside his sourness, his whining about the pitifully low level of play, the objectionable incidents at the Moshava and Winter stadia, and everything that makes him spit out the phrase that has nothing to do with reality: "I'm done with Israeli soccer."

Facing a complicated economic reality, owners who put up obstacles all along the way and internal conflicts, the fan bases of Israel's two biggest soccer clubs managed to show everybody that at the moment of truth, Israeli soccer has someone to lean on.

Former Hapoel Tel Aviv owner Eli Tabib, Beitar Jerusalem owner Arcady Gaydamak and the rest of the opportunists are nothing but a passing episode. Granted, you thought on more than one occasion that this was also true of the Israeli soccer fan, but you'd better forget about it.

He's here, and he's here to stay - perhaps even to manage and fix things. Perhaps.

This summer, the country's biggest and most historic clubs adopted the tradition begun by Hapoel Katamon and Maccabi Jaffa. Thousands of fans let everyone know in the most decisive way that they have no interest in talk of unimaginative soccer, of an industry going extinct or of a waning production line. They are not disputing these assertions; they even agree with many of them. But none of this is relevant. On the day of reckoning, when their club and their soccer needed them, they were there.

It could also be all about the massive egoism of the Israeli soccer fan, but it wouldn't matter. To hell with it. I'm determined to keep my team. I'm staying with my perversion, with my love, with the thing that may define me as Israeli more than anything else, dammit.

You can be sure that's exactly how Maccabi Tel Aviv fans will act if such a day should arrive. That goes for Maccabi Haifa, Maccabi Netanya and all the rest. Love of a soccer team is a conscious decision to sign an organ donor card. The team can bet on it that when it needs us, we will be there to save it. Indeed, it's the only way to save ourselves.

For the first time in years, Israeli soccer fans are being allowed to feel that this is their league, that they are the true owners, that they are the ones driving this wonderful thing, that they are the most important component of its existence. The face of Israeli soccer is once again that of the Israeli fan. The 2012-13 season has got to be the one in which the Premier League becomes reunited.

Nir Keidar