|Welcome to Israel and the beaches of Tel Aviv.|
We were in Nicosia and my Cypriot phone plan allowed me to make a few international calls so I found the phone number for the Macabbi Football Ticket office and gave them a call. Got through without any problem and learned this was the biggest match of the year. #1 Maccabi vs arch-rival #2 Hapoel Be'er-Sheva, No chance to get a ticket. Sorry sold-out!
Undeterred, I sent an email to the club office and pleaded my case. I probably mentioned that I write a blog and that somehow it would make sense if I could attend and write about the match. I also sent emails to our Airbnb host in Tel Aviv as well as our host in Jerusalem asking them if they knew how I could get a ticket. No joy.
When we arrived in Tel Aviv I started asking everyone I met, including the Taxi driver from the airport how to get a ticket. Still no joy.
The next morning, Monday April 6th, we were on a Free Walking Tour of the Old City of Jaffa so I asked the Tour Guide. She had no clue but took me into a little Tabac/betting shop before the tour started and asked the owner how I could get a ticket. Turns out that a group of men were sitting around a table filling out stacks of Keno cards, or betting cards or who knows what. Her question started a conversation between the men, the shop owner and other patrons, all in Hebrew of course. Before long a man sitting at the table told our tour guide that he was planning on going to the match. He didn't have a ticket either, but if I would meet him back at the Tabac shop at 8pm I could go with him to see if we could buy tickets from a scalper. His name was David.
As in all things in life, the harder it was to get a ticket, the more I wanted to go to the match. Since David's offer was the only one I had, I decided to go for it. I came back at 8:00 pm as requested and found David and the three other men still sitting at the same table filling out the same forms. I'm not sure what they do all day but apparently that's a day's work for David and his friends.
|My friend David made it all possible. Thanks.|
So, we walked to the other side of the stadium where the Tel Aviv fans were pouring in. David dove into the crowd of men and started looking for sellers. My assignment was to stay right behind him and not get lost. By now it was 8:20 pm and even I could see buyers and sellers. It is legal to buy and sell tickets so transactions were pretty much out in the open yet still discreet.
|That's David in the white/gray shirt working the crowd looking for tickets|
At 8:35 pm David decided that he could not find a ticket within his budget and he said he was heading home to watch the match on TV. I thanked him for his help and we said our goodbyes. Off he went. A moment later I turned around and somehow made eye contact with a guy who said, in English, he had a ticket for sale. I offered 150. He accepted and that's when I started to panic because David had been telling me all night that I needed to be aware of fake tickets and if I bought a ticket I should only pay the seller once I was inside the gate.
|Security check. One more stop to go.|
|Just below the lights are floor-to-ceiling metal turnstiles|
|Looking across the field just before the match started, Maccabi colors are yellow and blue.|
At that point I remember saying something like, can I sit with you? He mumbled something that I couldn't understand and before I could say anything else he disappeared into the crowd. I was so excited to be inside that I was not thinking clearly. That's when it dawned on me that the match was really and truly "sold-out". Yes, I was in the stadium but without my "friend" Rory I had no place to sit because it was all reserved seating and he'd taken back the card I used to get in. I had no idea where I should sit. In a matter of 30 seconds I went from feeling pretty clever to feeling stupid - now what?
The match was just about to start so I looked for an open seat, someplace, any place. Of course everyone was standing so it was hard to even identify a seat at all. I spotted one low down near the pitch. Oops, the owner suddenly appeared out of nowhere. I decided to head up the stairs thinking maybe I could find a seat near the top of the stadium. Got there. Saw a couple of empty seats and quickly realized they were "sight obstructed" by the press box and girders. New plan.
|Bloomfield Stadium seats 14,400 - In Hebrew אצטדיון בלומפילד|
As I headed back down the stairs I noticed a seat on the aisle in row 21 that seemed empty but everyone was still standing so it was hard to tell. The referee was about to blow the whistle and start the match. In desperation, I tapped a young man on the shoulder who was standing next to the aisle and asked if he spoke English. No. That's when I tried the international hand signals and gestures to "ask" if I could sit next to him. For whatever reason, by the grace of God or some other higher power he indicated "yes" and he moved over a little to allow me to stand next to him in, what I learned later was seat 15. Whew! Thank the Lord.
|Ended-up in Row 21. Note all the sunflower seed shells. Soon to be banned at Israeli stadiums.|
The 2,000 Be'er Sheva fans were restricted to one end. The other 12,000 seats (including mine) were filled with screaming Maccabi fans who desperately wanted a win and the three points that would guarantee them the League Championship for a record 21st time.
They didn't have to wait long because in the 3rd minute, Maccabi scored and the place erupted and the fans went crazy. Before I knew it, my seatmate, Avi Haccoun, was giving me high fives followed by a huge bear hug. I was an official fan!
|Avi Haccoun saved my bacon.|
At halftime it was still Macabbi up 1-0 but Be'er Sheva (Sister City of Seattle) came-out fired-up for the 2nd half and drove-in the equalizer in the 46th minute. Boom! For the next 30 minutes the match was played evenly by both teams but the pressure rose as the clock headed to full time and Maccabi scored off a rebound in the 79th minute and again in the 83rd to go up 3-1 and sealed the deal.
|It is impossible to get a good photo from the stands with the light levels on the field. I was there!|
I was home by midnight thinking just how fun it is to experience the local culture in each country through football. Might not be for everyone, but it's a win/win for me.
Until next time.