Yaacov Hodorov, 1927-2006 / The Forever 30 Goalie

I heard about Yaacov Hodorov on the radio from announcer Nehemia Ben Avraham, and later read about him in "Sports News." He sounded magnificent - huge, flying here and there, scooping up balls up everywhere. Basically, a kind of panther. Later, I saw him at a national team practice and I was insulted. Huge? Panther? Just a fat little dwarf. The lesson? Don't match childhood heroes with reality, but keep believing what it says in the papers and on the radio. They knew then how to make heroes and there was no television to shrink them down to human size. Without a picture, words completed memory. And what words they were! Radio announcers and sports reporters were beside themselves; words became song and descriptions became poetry. The field became the "grassy meadow." goalies "elongated their limbs," midfielders launched "balls of gold," strikers "attacked in waves" - and we believed them.

There is no soccer fan who doesn't remember the image of a game dear to his heart. At most, he himself plays the most pivotal role. I have seen Ronaldhino's scissors goal on television dozens of times. I can score the goal myself already. Without a ball, however, and with perhaps some discomfort at the hip joint, but my ball also doesn't stop till it hits the net!

Of Hodorov nothing is left but words, Ben Avraham's descriptions. He will always be the one who sprawled across the goal, stopping "a sure-fire goal" or the guy who "flew between the goal posts."

I didn't see the game between Israel and Wales, but I heard it. I remember every moment: John Charles, the tall, probably boastful, foreigner, against our own modest and courageous Hodorov. Just the two of them, us and them. One against the other at high noon. It wasn't a soccer game, but something far loftier. Here they both jump for the ball, Charles' elbow hits Hodorov's nose - he's hurt! He returns with bandages!

"What drama!" cries Ben Avraham. "What tension!" The result doesn't matter, the game doesn't matter, but the bandaged nose? How can we forget.

"When I die, no one in this country will care, they'll forget me," Hodorov told Hadashot Tel Aviv two years ago. "They'll talk about me a little the first year, after that no one will be interested."

Even our Hodorov would complain, justifiably, of the ways of the world. You don't want to ruin your memories of childhood heroes with reports about their medical situation. Childhood heroes are not handed down the generations. Childhood heroes belong to another time, a time of books, newspapers and radios. Television has its own heroes.

Hodorov will always be 30 years old in my eyes, but already yesterday, younger people looked at me with bemused wonder as I spoke of him. A double wonder: There are still childhood heroes? There are childhood heroes who are soccer players? And more than they were commenting on his time, which has come and gone, they were commenting on my time. Eli Mohar, on a small cloud playing a lyre, is certainly nodding sadly now.