Israel 0 v 0 England (24.03.2007)
With hindsight, travelling to the Middle East for the day just to watch football was probably not one of my wiser football travelling decisions! In the months before this fixture I hadn’t planned to go to this game, slightly put off by the politically sensitive situation in Israel. There had been a suicide bombing in central Tel Aviv a year previous, and continued reports in the media of tensions and fighting between Fatah and Hamas loyalists. I’m ashamed to say it but there was a touch of believing the media hype and my first thought wasn’t football for a change – it was more about safety.
In the weeks leading up to the trip I had about as many dilemma’s as the Boateng brothers did deciding on their international allegiances, but in the end the uniqueness of this away trip sucked me in and I decided to book up the FA day trip to Tel Aviv. I’d left it late and the other available options were too expensive.
What was to follow was one of my more ridiculous itineraries to get to a football match. Tel Aviv is a 5 hour flight from London Gatwick, so in order to make the trip half worthwhile it was a 5am take off. In order to make the 3am check in time, and to avoid paying a £60 cab fare to the airport, I got the last tube into the London to connect with a late train to Gatwick. Arriving at some point before 1am we joined up with a few of the QPR fans that Mark knew and stayed up on security side having a few beers – killing time before check in when you would have preferred to have been asleep!
Having been at work the day before, and then up all night, the flight over to Tel Aviv wasn’t the most enjoyable experience I’ve had. With seats allocated to us in the emergency aisle the early signs were good – at least we would get more legroom. Not my allotted seat. It was the one next to the emergency door and the door had some large box attached to it that protruded into the area that would normally accommodate your legs. Basically the entire flight was spent with room for only one leg to be extended; the other had to remain in a state of flexion. You could probably put up with that on a short flight but 5 hours was bordering on the unbearable.
Feeling like shit and deprived of sleep, we finally landed in Tel Aviv at about 11am local time. A short coach transfer into central Tel Aviv and it was time to get your game face on. Well sort of.
We were dropped off near the seafront and the Shlomo Lahat Promenade area, and the first impressions were really positive. The sun was shining; there was a huge sprawling beach, with a high rise back drop of apartments and hotels connecting the marina and Old Jaffa sections of the city seafront. Having lived in London for the last 18 years, the thought of living in a city with a beach has always appealed to me. Tel Aviv had ticked that box off already!
With limited time available to fully take in the city, we headed southwards along the seafront towards Old Jaffa. Jaffa is the ancient port area of Tel Aviv, famous for its biblical associations with Soloman, Jonah and Peter. The area offers a really distinct Middle Eastern feel, characterised by the narrow cobbled streets and squares, sandstone coloured buildings, mosques and palm trees. St Peters Church and the Jaffa Clock Tower are the main sights to be had here – but the view back from Jaffa to the city seafront is quite impressive:
After a stroll back towards the Marina, the rest of the afternoon was spent at a seafront bar called ‘Mikes Place’. It seemed to be the main meeting point for England fans and trade was soon flowing out into the road. I have a vague memory during that afternoon spent drinking in the sun of a random Israeli woman in her late forties enjoying the attention she was getting from the England fans. So much so that she got herself in a right frenzy and started dancing on an outside table top. Spurred on by hoards of blokes chanting at her, it wasn’t long before her top was off and we were treated to a right eyeful. Shortly after becoming the centre of attention, she missed her footing and fell off the table into a heap on the floor. ‘Taxi’ for the half naked woman! Beers were flowing nicely by this time and as the sun set over sea it was time to head off to the Ramat Gan Stadium.
The stadium is located in the Ramat Gan district on the western side of the city, and is a relatively old fashioned looking ground, similar in appearance to some of the classic eastern bloc stadiums – open and bowl like, with no roof and complete with running track and not a lot else!
Outside the ground Ian was approached by Israeli TV for a short interview on his thoughts for the match. Unbeknown to him, a man wearing a ‘horse mask’ had sneaked up behind him and was in full camera shot on his shoulder. As Ian was doing his best to provide some serious punditry ahead of the game, Mark stepped in with the more posing question…”Give us your thoughts on the 3.40pm at Doncaster”. You had to be there.
Over 4,000 England fans had made the 5,000 mile round trip to Tel Aviv and were situated in the curved section behind the goal. We were treated to one of the dullest games of football I have ever seen, and it was another lifeless performance on an England away day – it seemed to be becoming a common theme under the McClaren reign. No goals and not many clear cut chances worthy of a mention. “Dismal stalemate”…”Out of balance, out of ideas”…”Dull, boring and indifferent” were just some of the media headlines after the game. It’s at times like this when for a short moment you wonder why you bother. But after some reflection you realise there is more to these trips than just 90 minutes of football, and more often than not with England it’s actually the football part of the trip that can spoil it!
Suffice to say the journey back couldn’t pass by quick enough, and having been up nearly 48 hours, i luckily managed to sleep the entire flight home.
Any regrets on this trip?….yes, there is one, I should have put the media hype to Tel Aviv’s / Israel’s security issues to one side and spent a few more days enjoying what this brilliant city and country had to offer. The city itself is in a stunning location, steeped in history, with friendly welcoming people and deserved more of my time than an extended afternoon appearance. A short drive away is the cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and they should be part of any itinerary when visiting Israel surely! It was a shame the football, which was the main reason i went, provided little in the way of the good memories i had from this brief visit!