Aussie Soccer Coach Says Maccabiah Bridge Incident Made Him Stronger

Phil Moss, head coach of Australian professional soccer club Central Coast Mariners, survived the 1997 Maccabiah bridge collapse.

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In 1997, Phil Moss was a member of the ill-fated Australian Maccabiah squad that suffered four deaths and 60 injuries when a bridge collapsed as they were preparing to enter a Tel Aviv sports stadium.

Today, Moss, 43, is head coach of the Central Coast Mariners, an Australian professional soccer club based on the central coast of New South Wales.

“I always look back at the hard times and maintain they are the ones that got me ready to coach at the professional level,” Moss told the Australian Daily Telegraph in an interview this week.

The bridge incident occurred during the opening ceremony of the 15th Maccabiah. The national teams, which had assembled in an open area on the far side of the Yarkon River, had to cross a temporary bridge over the river on their way into the stadium.

The bridge collapsed under the Australian team, the second to cross over. One member of the squad, Gregory Small, died from injuries suffered during the fall. Three others died subsequently from a fungus in the polluted water.

"When we heard this cracking sound, the first thing we thought was machine gun fire and the first thing we did was hit the deck,’’ Moss told the newspaper. The best way to describe it, he said, was a war zone.

"A lot of people didn’t know what was going on. There were bodies in the river, people being carried out on stretchers and the water was terribly polluted."

Moss, who was representing Australia in football, was approaching the bridge when it collapsed. His younger brother Jon, a member of the cricket team, was among those who were thrown into the water.

“Word got around that the bridge had collapsed and I knew my younger brother Jon was ahead of me and that’s when my heart really sank I sort of knew that he would have been in the vicinity of it," Moss told the Australian Daily Telegraph.

“When I first went looking for my brother, there was an army officer holding a machine gun and he said 'you can’t go there' and I basically grabbed him by the machine gun and threw him out of the way. That was just shock trying to find my brother. So I ran ahead searching for him and just seeing the carnage was probably the most harrowing experience of my life.

“When I found him, he was scampering up the river bank, he was one of the first to hit the water and he had bodies falling all over him."

The fit young brothers survived and went on to excel in their respective sports. Jon became a first class cricketer and Phil was assistant coach for the Australian soccer team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

"It was one of those things that leaves you scarred, but makes you stronger,” Moss said about the bridge tragedy.