One of the hardest things about Rosh Hashana this year, was being away from the news for a whole 3 days. In actual fact, being away from daily news is not such a big deal but I was desperate to find out the football scores.
Growing up in a traditional English family, there was always some way of finding out what had happened in the game the night before; the papers would arrive as usual, the TV would somehow be on or someone would know. Rosh Hashana this year, found me in a religious community where the vast majority seem to think that a football is meant to be thrown around (and certainly not kicked too often) in a game that seems to be short spurts of action to provide some filler between ad breaks and half time shows. In short - there was no way I could possibly find out what was going on!
Israel is a minnow in footballing terms. The National team has qualified for one World Cup back in 1970 and managed to score one goal. Since then although there have been a few really top class Israeli players, epitomised in the last few years by Haim Revivo, Eyal Berkowitz and Yossi Benayoun, on the international stage, Israeli teams have been fairly conspicuos by their absence.
The last couple of years have seen something of a turn around. First, Hapoel Tel Aviv had an excellent run in the UEFA Cup, Europe's second competition and then Maccabi Haifa became the first Israeli club to reach the heights of the Champions League pitting it against the best club sides in the world. Although Haifa went out fairly early on, it did manage a famous victory against an (albeit second string) Manchester United, the world's most richest club.
Over Rosh Hashana, 3 Israeli clubs were in action in European Competition and, although my primary concern was for my real love, Liverpool (who beat last year's runners up, Monaco with some style) it gave me great pride to see how well the Israeli teams performed.
Maccabi Tel Aviv hosted one of the perennial giants of the game, Bayern Munich in the first Champions League game to be played in Israel. Munich typically field half of the German national squad which should tell you something about their quality - as one pundit famously put it: "it's a game of 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans win". Although most would not have given the Israeli team a chance, they put up an excellent showing, threatened the Germans seriously, and only failed to come away with a draw after a brief moment of panic at the back led to a German penalty kick. To lose 1 - 0 to a team that is always amongst the favourites in both the domestic league and the Champions League is certainly no disgrace.
Maccabi Haifa, playing in the UEFA Cup, managed to record a win. Playing against Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk of the Ukraine on the first day of Rosh Hashana, one goal was enough to settle the game.
Perhaps most satisfying of all is the team which has the least chance of progressing. Bnei Sachnin, is the first Israeli Arab team to play in Europe. That it is possible for an Arab team to compete in the Israeli league and cup competitions (the latter of which it won last year) reflects well on Israel's credentials as a multicultural society; whilst our neighbours refuse to play football against us, Israel is represented in Europe by an Arab team. They won't be there much longer if they carry on playing the way they did last night however - not that anyone would have given them much of a chance against Newcastle United in any case.