Football in Tel Aviv

In the next few weeks, we hope to highlight different aspects of Tel Aviv – starting with the unofficial religion – Football. The world game figures prominently in Tel Aviv’s history and culture, with a scene below from a recent Maccabi Tel Aviv – Hapoel Tel Aviv derby. More action can be found on the websites of Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Tel Aviv

Over the years, Australian Maccabiah representatives have also had the pleasure of competing at Tel Aviv’s Bloomfield stadium.

The origins of football in Tel Aviv are interesting: in 1906 a group of boys between the age 14-16 were called to the Meir Dizengoff house, where they founded the first Israeli football team. They were called, “Maccabi Harishon LeZion”. Their first match ended with a victory against a ship of French sailors 3:0. After the city of Tel-Aviv founded in 1909, the club changed its name to “Maccabi Tel-Aviv.”

In 1928 the Palestine Football Association was founded after Maccabi Tel-Aviv, Hapoel Tel Aviv, and several British teams, representatives of the British Mandate, decided to create the first league. That same year, the first Derby of Tel-Aviv was played and Maccabi won 3:0. Maccabi Tel Aviv won their first State Cup in 1929 after beating a club called Maccabi Hashmonay. Maccabi added a second State Cup after beating the 48th Platoon of the British Army, 2:1. The third State Cup came in 1933 after Maccabi beat Hapoel Tel-Aviv in the final 1:0.

Irrespective of whether a Tel Aviv team or the national team is playing, football is big in Tel Aviv. For the World Cup, cafes are packed and games are screened on the Tel Aviv beach on giant screens.

The Israeli national team has just missed out on qualifying on several occasions.. and has had memorable tussles with Australia in the past. The high point for Israel thus far been its 1970 World Cup appearance in Mexico. Although Israel didn’t progress to the next round, the team did well, drawing twice (Sweden and Italy) and had a narrow loss to Uruguay. A Mexican friend of mine recalled the excitement when the national team appeared at a local Jewish school in Mexico City.

Among the highlights of the cup – including the Brazilian magic – was the powerful goal from outside the box by Mordechai Shpigler. It is shown here.   The Israel national football team has participated in three different groupings: Asia, Oceania, before finally settling for Europe as a full member of UEFA. The changing FIFA groupings by Israel were understood to have helped Australia makes its successful case to move from Oceania to the Asian grouping.

Some world cup history.
In 1928, the Palestine Football Association (PFA) was founded during the British mandate period. The original committee of 15 were predominantly Jewish Maccabi representatives, with one Arab member. The PFA was accepted as a full member to FIFA one year later in 1929, and a national team was created which participated in the World Cup qualifications (participated in 1934, 1938). The pre-game anthems were Hatikvah and God Save the Queen.

The first world cup qualifier was in Cairo in 1934 with a 1-7 loss to Egypt. The team’s first goal ever was scored by Avraham Nudelmann. Their coach was Shimon Ratner, who had immigrated to Palestine after a playing career in Austria with Hakoah Wien. Upon creation of the State of Israel in 1948, the Israel Football Association (IFA) became the official association of the new state. The Israel national team’s first game as an independent state was on September 26, 1948, against the USA (result: 1-3 in favor of the USA).

In 1998, after Oslo and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, the Palestine Football Association (PFA) was recognised by FIFA. Both the Israel FA and the present Palestine FA officially recognise the 1934 and 1938 qualifying games as part of their history. Hopefully the world game will promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and indeed all its neighbours.

Initial result from 1934

Egypt – Palestine 7-1 World Cup Qualifiers (Sub-Group 5)
(Cairo – British Army Ground – 16.03.1934)

Palestine: Willi Berger; Avraham Reznik (Capt.), Pinhas Fiedler, Zalman Friedmann, Gdalyahu Fuchs, Yohanan Sukenik, Amnon Harlap, Peri Kraus, Paul Kastenbaum, Haim Reich, Avraham Nudelmann. Attendance: 13,000. The return game, also won by Egypt, was played in Jaffa – Tamarim Field.

Back to the present, With several of its national stars playing club competition in England and elsewhere in Europe – including Yossi Benayoun, starring for Liverpool, Israel has its best chance since 1970 to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Key upcoming games are against Greece on March 28 and April 1. See the Israel FA site for more information.

For the details on the initial football history, thanks to Yaniv; also more can be seen here.

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