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The Cultural Understandings of a Team

I do follow England with the heart and stomach of a fan even though I have never been to an England match. I support England with the values of any national team supporter. However, I have always had a dual allegiance. Not a traitorous one, but it is there in my soul. Going to watch Israel play Scotland in Haifa was going to be fun as this was about my family’s absorption into Israeli society more than following the team. The culture is different and there is much respect for that difference. Scotland are a home nation side, but I live in Israel and that’s a barrier I will not cross.

During the recent World Cup, I was asked which team I was going to follow. I looked incredulously at this youth and could not answer for a minute. A more worldly individual piped up with my answer: “She is English so of course, she follows England.”

It did not occur to me to pick a team to follow because my home team did not qualify. They often plump for a South American team as they have heard of the players or they like the shirt. If England are not there, I will give my support to Israel.

New Support

Thursday was my second international game. I had previously watched Israel be torn apart by a 10-man Belgium at “Teddy”. You see, I can get into local speak and talk like the fans of my new home. I really went to this game to see De Bruyne and Kompany play so when Kompany was dismissed in the 69th minute I was vocally and visibly distressed much to the amusement of the local Israelis. Passions run high in this country, but not over football.

This time it was a family affair. We booked our tickets online. My ticket was heavily discounted due to my gender. I like a bit of positive discrimination and anything to encourage women into this game is a good move. My son’s ticket was also heavily discounted because he is at school and my daughter’s ticket was because she is doing national service. You serve the nation here and it serves you too.

It really was a family night out as many young people had turned out to watch. Families with young children pilled into the stadium. Groups of teenagers came together and were excited at the prospect of a match. Not with thoughts of victory as Israel gone some 10 matches without a victory.

Scottish Pride and the Tartan Army

The Tartan Army brought 2,000 fans to Haifa. Many were resplendent in their deep blue shirts and kilts. As I work in Haifa, I decided to park my car at the train station and wait for my family to arrive so we could walk to the ground together. As I waited, I heard the familiar tones of a drunken Scotsman looking for the ground. I greeted them warmly while they slurred their response. Four inebriated souls from Arbroath were enjoying the warm sea air. What I do miss here is banter. I grabbed the opportunity and told them my Liverpool-supporting family were here to see Andy Robertson. They also have a soft spot for Andy as he spent a season at Dundee United before moving to England for better playing opportunities.

While waiting for a taxi we continued to chat. They may have come here for the football and the hopes of a simple victory, but they came away with a positive view of a culture that is misunderstood. Sport can bring people together and these fans told me that they had come to a place where the people were warm and friendly and that was something they were not expecting. The very nature of the two countries’ histories are reflected in the nature of the support for the national team.

As I mentioned earlier, the Scottish fans were easily identified by their national dress. As we walked to the Sammy Ofer Stadium it was obvious these seasoned travellers felt pride in all aspects of their clothing. I also chatted to some ladies from Aberdeen who were enjoying the laid-back atmosphere of Haifa. The contrast with the Israeli fans couldn’t have been sharper. I would never dream of going to a match with any random football shirt but the locals do. A family of Liverpool fans had turned out to support Israel and in the throng, I noticed many different shirts from Aston Villa to Hapoel Beer Sheva. It seemed like my fellow countrymen were here for the fun of the game.

Israeli Warmth and Laid-Back Culture

Israel does not have a history of international success in this game. The first time these sides met in 1981 the current manager, Alex McLeish, was a player. He was part of a team of greats captained by Archie Gemmel that included Kenny Dalglish and Graeme Souness. Scotland have beaten Israel on all three previous encounters and I think the fans were sure it would be another Scottish victory. Israel went into the match lacking confidence and assuming that their opponents were giants of the game ranking 39th in the world.

The ground was far from full so we were able to sit where we liked in our allotted stand. The “Ultras” with their drums did generate some atmosphere. They drowned out the sound of the bagpipes as they cheered on the local team. Despite the lack of confidence, Israel were not out of place. Neither team seemed comfortable on the ball and I was not sure where this match was going. The home fans were reminded to cheer on their side over the tannoy at intermittent moments. It was quite surreal and I think this isn’t a bad idea. I have spent many an hour grumbling at the players for not completing passes. We all know that we should get behind the lads and cheer them on.

The Israeli fans became ever more hopeful as they began to dominate play. Dubbed the “Israeli Isco”, Captain Bibras Natcho dominated the midfield making good passes to Ben Sahar or Dasa who were starting to make their presence felt. The challenge Perez made to force the penalty seemed unnecessary but that is the nature of the game. Israel responded positively to Mulgrew’s successful conversion by running at players and taking the ball. I will put my hands up and confess I was watching a team whose players I am unfamiliar with. Israel outplayed Scotland creating chances meaning that goalkeeper McGregor was in line for man-of-the-match as he made many good saves.

The local fans were excited by this and seemed to expect each shot to be converted into goals. When you follow teams like Manchester City and Liverpool you can tell that there isn’t enough power or placing to score. The usually excellent Andy Robertson could not prevent Tawatha’s pass from being converted by Don Peretz to level the score. Persistence pays off. It was a great goal. From then on it was Israel’s night, continuing to create chances and prevent Scotland from doing anything.

With Souttar dismissed for a second yellow card at 61 minutes and no plan of how to change play, it was only a matter of time before someone hit the back of the net and scored for Israel who were giving their all. The hapless Tierney failed to clear Kayal’s shot. He actually put it into the back of his own net and the hosts had a deserved lead. It did look possible for the lead to increase but we were happy with the home victory of 2-1.

As we left the ground there was a cordial mood. The travelling fans were a bit shocked at this humiliating defeat. One gentleman behind us expressed his feelings eloquently. The fact that Scotland were in a group with Israel and Albania was a surprise to him when the fixtures were announced. He realised tonight why. They came here expecting an easy win and were sorely disappointed with the performance of the team.

The night was calm and as I watched the Tartan Army race to catch the train to Tel Aviv I had a surge in national pride. I live in an amazing country that is so culturally different from the one of my birth. Football is one culture I know and love. It pulls down barriers and provides a common language allowing us to bond over goals and passes. What is more, we all have a love for the beautiful game.