From Blooms Bar, Tel Aviv
By Adrian Pearl
From the beginning of 2006, I was convinced we would win in the Playoffs, though yearned for automatic promotion. I had hoped it would be at Wembley, and had tried to clear it so that I could return for the semis, attend my Mum's birthday celebrations (it was a big year for her!) and stay on for the final. Alas the fates conspired, Wembley remains a mess, and I had to be in Israel for the 18th, and so was going to miss the big game.
It was at four o'clock local time (two o'clock BST) when the barman gave me the bad news. The feed was from South Africa, and he could not guarantee that they would have coverage. I had been on edge for most of the morning waiting for them to call, and fearing no response would arrive in time began nudging them. Calls at three o'clock and three thirty were to no avail. The bar opened at four (quitting time for some of the workers in the high-tech park where the bar was situated) and was a forty-five minute drive from Netanya, so time was ebbing away and no other bar was locatable on the web.
After listening to Five Live commentary for the next fifteen minutes, I decided I could bear no more, and the merest hint of a chance to see the match live pushed me to make a mad dash, deal with the Tel Aviv rush hour traffic heading home, and locate the one place that might be showing the game. If it wasn't, then I would miss first half commentary only, but if it was.....
As luck would have it, the traffic flow was good, and with some judicious use of the '10 kph over' rule on speed limits, I arrived at the bar with minutes to spare. As I walked in, the first screen clearly showed Eurosport and some golf game. I glanced to the TV at the side of the bar and saw them running through the Leeds teamsheet. Yes! Maybe thousands of miles away from the action, but at least I can watch....
My look of delight and whoop of joy brought the young bar-keep over. He asked if I was the Watford supporter who had called and apologised for the low volume, to which I gave a nonchalant wave. "I can do my own commentary," I replied. Alas he could not put it onto the larger plasma screen - I guess there were not enough of us.
As an Irish theme pub, the choice of beer was limited, but it was happy hour so the price was reasonable and I ordered a pint and sat as close to the set as possible. Another bloke was already in the prime seat, waiting for his friend. At first, he seemed neutral but knowledgeable. When his mate arrived, they lit up and started their own commentary. Israeli men love their sports and are very keen on English football. Yossi Benyaoun apart, most Israeli footballers appear to be somewhat lazy when it comes to workloads (c.f. Alon Hazan) and so there were a number of times I heard them talk about the 'English' style.
As the game progressed and both sides missed chances, the locals watching remained fairly quiet, but a distinct bias towards Leeds becoming noticeable. My yellow and black scarf, knitted lovingly by my Mum way back in the early 80s, now draped across the bar, loudly proclaiming where my loyalties were. It had seen it all before, having been with me to Kaiseslautern, Wembley (twice) and Petach-Tikva. "Why are you supporting Watford?" asked one. "Because that's where he grew up," replied the other.
I drank, I groaned, I spoke words of encouragement to the TV, and then on twenty-five minutes, I leapt off the stool, raised an arm with a scarf and shouted "Yesssssss!" The quiet business patrons turned to see what the fuss was all about, and the barman explained. They returned to their conversations, I revelled in the replay and ordered another pint.
At half-time, I ordered a plate of chips. If I was going to keep pace with goals, I thought some stodge might be in order. Maybe an executive box could improve trips to Vicarage Road? (No - bring back the terraces!) A few more people turned up, drifted to the small huddle and moved on. One elderly gentleman stayed. He asked loads of questions - "how big is the town?", "where is it?", etc.
As the second half commenced, my confidence remained high. We had a very tight defence, and they were performing well. Plus Leeds were absolutely crap upfront and were not really putting any pressure on. As the hour approached, I was calling for a second goal to ease my concerns and avail me of the chance for a third pint. Alas when it came I was too embarrassed to make a fuss. While Chambers deserves credit for his work, I felt a tinge of pity for the Leeds supporters as the ball rolled over; even if it hadn't, surely Henderson would have been in to finish it off.
Visibly deflated, the pair watched in silence as the minutes ticked away. No way would we let in three. They knew the game was over. However, King and Henderson continued to taunt and test the Leeds players. With Henderson's clean dispatch of the penalty kick came another huge whoop and a small jig around the bar stool. Less than ten minutes...could we get four?
Come the final whistle and it was all over. We were back up with the big boys, and with a bunch of lads, some of whom failed to impress at Alec's Testimonial some ten months previously. I felt sad not to be able to soak in the atmosphere of the crowd - I remember when we won at Wembley how wonderful it was, and here thousands of miles away I was alone. The feed quickly went off and I couldn't even enjoy the jubilation as the team were presented with the trophy or hear the interviews.
The nay-sayers and prophets of doom had been wrong. With Aidy, we have some-one who can achieve things. Maybe his early signings were not all good, but better then than now. I look forward to the next challenge of establishing ourselves in top flight football. At least next season I'll be able to get a live feed and a chance to see more of the matches, and who knows....