This is why I love football.
That's soccer to those of you in the new countries ;).
The international aspect of football constantly throws up fascinating clashes that mirror the politics of the day, and highlight heartwarming aspects of humanity. Take for example the Asian qualifier for the World Cup in 1994, which saw Iraq and Iran face off in Saudi Arabia, just after the Gulf War had ended. According to reports the referee sent off three players, booked nine, and was being lenient. The Iranian fans booed every time the Iraqis got the ball, the Iraqis booed when the Iranians got the ball, and to create a complete cacophony of disapproval, the "neutral" Saudi fans booed both teams all the way through. Then there are the stories of great triumph in the face of adversity, like the Rwandan team that qualified for the African Nations Championship for the first time, only a decade after their countries was ripped about in a genocidal fury.
Tomorrow night, on the Jewish New Year, the festival of Rosh Hashanah, we have another example of the eternal human spirit. In north East of England, Newcastle United play host to the Israeli team, Hapoel Bnei Sakhnin, an Arab-Israeli team from Jerusalem. The team is not only Arab-Israeli, but in spite of the violence and prejudice that is rife in the region, show, it is also home to both Muslim and Jewish players. They even play under an Israeli flag, and sing the national anthem before each game. As one of Sakhnin's Jewish players points out, "Bnei Sakhnin is the proof that Jews and Arabs can live together."
It's not all peace and joy, however. Arab fans often find themselves in a quandary as to whether to support the team, being as they have to sing lines of the Israeli anthem like "As long as in the depth of the heart, a Jewish soul bustles, we haven't lost our 2,000-year-old hope to be a free nation in Zion," from the terraces. They also have to put up with abuse from neighbouring team's fans, who chant anti-arab abuse at them, even the Jewish players, with "Death to the Arabs" being a popular chorus. Arabs from around the region also criticise them for disloyalty, for playing under an Israeli flag and not a Palestinian one. The Intifada also cost them four players, killed by police at the start of the troubles in 2000.
Still, the team itself are united, and proud of their mixed heritage. "We received immense support from the Jewish public," said Sakhnin's captain, international midfielder Abass Suwan. "As for Beitar's supporters, we ignore them. They hate Arabs, they hate other Jewish teams, sometimes I think they even hate themselves." Ariel Sharon is also very proud of the team's achievements, and like Yasser Arafat is not shy to use them in his political campaigning. With a bit of luck they will get a result tomorrow night, and bring the team into a greater spotlight than winning the Israeli cup achieved.
The Guardian tells the story much better than me :D.
I wish it was that easy
Maccabi still lost :roll:
Have a Shana Metuka