Poem of the Week / In Search of Lost Goalposts at a Phantom Stadium

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A guardian of memories on the grounds of the old Jerusalem Hapoel stadium. Credit: Vivian Eden


Gilad Meiri

The Histadrut sold the grounds to a builder
and Hapoel went to play at the YMCA,
Beitar’s home. On the area of the stadium
the Katamon Gardens development arose
like a church on a synagogue.

For years I avoided walking
the paths of the fancy complex.
Only once my kids got older did I go back to visit,
seeking familiar shadows among the cypresses, in spirit
like an Arab who lived in Katamon until 1948.

The wall of the northern stand survived,
a rip in the nouveau riche architecture,
a hole in the camouflage net.

Near the memorial wall standing at attention
like a sentry at a monument without a wreath,
red-and-black scarves, a yahrzeit
candle, an old photo, I recreated for my children
stands, boxes, goalposts.

Afterwards we played in the park
on the lawn occupied
by religious families of a Saturday afternoon
and the ground purred
with contentment from the ball’s caress.

Translated from Hebrew by Vivian Eden. Published both in “Inner Goalpost, Anthology of Football Poems” (2009) which Meiri edited, and in the third of his four volumes of poetry, “Advanced Search” (Carmel, 2010).

In this final week of the World Cup, “Goals” shows why people in general and Israelis in particular love soccer.

In this poem, the game is a vehicle not only for local patriotism but also for layer upon layer of history, politics and emotion.

Hapoel is the team associated with the labor movement, and Beitar is associated with the right. In the 1980s, the Histadrut labor federation razed its soccer team’s stadium in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Katamon (from the Greek for “under the monastery”), intending to build a new one on the site.

The team was to temporarily play at the home pitch of its rival, on the YMCA grounds - neither team's fans ever thought of it as a Christian place.

However, the Katamon neighbors objected and the Histadrut found it lucrative to build something else on the property; at about the same period it was also divesting assets like The Jerusalem Post and the Hebrew newspaper Davar.

No new stadium ever went up in Katamon and now both teams now play at Teddy Stadium (named in honor of Labor stalwart Teddy Kollek, who was mayor of Jerusalem for many years), where the politics sometimes turns ugly.

Nonetheless, soccer has pleasant associations with childhood: kicking balls around with friends, watching games, the togetherness and lore of fandom. It is something a father (usually, but sometimes also a mother can share with children of any age, almost anywhere and with no need for special equipment.

Finally, while in basketball, American football, tennis or baseball much of the time the ball is in the air or in a player’s hands, in soccer it spends a lot of time on the ground, hence the caress in the final stanza. For urban people who neither farm nor garden, this contact with the earth is supremely satisfying and the poet suggests that the feeling is mutual.

The kicker – so to speak – is the poem’s Hebrew title “Golim,” which can mean two very different things. If the first syllable is stressed, it means goals; if the second is stressed it means exiles – in a double entendre that adds poignancy to the description of the visit to the phantom stadium.

Meiri directs the Poetry Place in Jerusalem. His latest book, “Released With Restricted Conditions,” has just been published by Keshev. He writes in an email: “Cats are the souls of the old stadium - they keep watch on the memories.”

Gilad Meiri. Credit: Moti Kikayon