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When Tottenham Came to Town

Three generations of Tottenham fans in Haifa. Laurence is No 4

Something happened at the end of July here, one of the best things that has happened to me in all my time in Israel since we made aliyah all those years ago. Not weddings, not bar or bat mitzvahs, not births of grandchildren, not Jewish holidays and certainly not new governments. What was it? The arrival of my football team, Tottenham Hotspur FC, to play a pre-season friendly against Roma from Italy.

The game was announced a few weeks before, since which time speculation went into overdrive about which of the players would be coming, when would they arrive, where were they staying and how could we go about meeting the team.

There were discussions on the internet, in WhatsApp chat groups, social media and in person. There are a lot of Tottenham fans in Israel, both former Anglos and native -born Israelis, together with our sons, daughters and grandchildren, to whom the traditions of supporting the mighty Spurs have been passed down - whether they like it or not.

As soon as tickets for the match became available at the Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa, there was a rush even at the extravagant price of NIS 300 for the cheapest seats. Then a new problem arose: the match was due to take place at 9:15 pm on Saturday night, so those Shabbat-observant fans living in Jerusalem, Raanana and all points south, would not be able to get to Haifa on time for the start of the game. As a result a new battle started: how to find where to stay in Haifa over Shabbat -which went out at 8:22 pm - so that we could get to the stadium on time. Soon every hotel room in Haifa and the surrounding area was fully booked. A big crowd from Raanana opted for a hotel within walking distance from the ground. My wife and I booked in at the Dan Carmel, somewhat more expensive, but what the hell, in for a penny in for a few more shekels for a once in a lifetime experience.

As the dramatic week approached, speculation increased even more. They're arriving on Wednesday, no on Thursday; let's go to Ben Gurion to meet the team - no point they are getting off the plane straight onto the bus, so we won't get to see them; which hotel are they staying at? Turns out it's the David Intercontinental in Tel Aviv - my grandson went; there's a training session in south Tel Aviv on Friday morning - my son went.

We arrived in Haifa on Friday afternoon, to discover that the team is actually coming up to the Dan Carmel for rest and relaxation before the match! What a result for us - not so much for those of our family in the hotel near the stadium who are green with envy and demand to stay in our room instead, but sorry no deal.

The team bus arrived outside the hotel early on Saturday afternoon, and there we were standing in the reception area waiting for them. Many of the players and the manager, Antonio Conte, were happy to stop and chat, pose for photos and sign autographs on football shirts.

Finally we got to the stadium in good time before the match started. All the Tottenham supporters were packed in behind one of the goals, with flags and placards imploring players to give them their shirts after the game. Banners were waved and songs were sung, many with words too rude to publish here - including the one about the player who left to join our hated north London rivals over twenty years ago – you know who I mean.

As to the match itself, it turned out to be somewhat of a damp squib. It was certainly not a 'friendly' - both teams were treating it seriously as a warm up for the new season, with some bad fouls and punch ups. In fact we lost 1-0, the only goal of the game being a header from a corner. We had chances to score, Harry Kane being denied a goal from a dubious offside, and being denied a certain penalty after being brought down in the box, the referee being both blind and incompetent.

But in the end it didn't really matter. What was important was that Tottenham had come to Israel and I had the chance to actually see them play and meet the players. I met old friends at the match whom I hadn't seen for many years, and we went home moaning about how rubbish we were - so situation normal. Tottenham got some good publicity, having had a kick around with a mixed group of Jewish and Arab kids, so everyone was happy including the sponsors, certainly at those ticket prices.

So now I'm looking forward to the new season with all the anguish, the pressure and the expectation that being a Tottenham supporter brings … Come On You Spurs! 

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Saturday, 26 November 2022

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