Sarah Kemp

The Day Football Came Home

Women’s football is on the rise and my new home is supporting the cause

Olim Hadashim often have “aliyahversary” parties and over the past few years, I have hosted and attended my fair share. They range from a cup of coffee in a local eatery to a lavish reception. I attended a most extravagant one at HaMoshava Stadium in Petach Tikva.

The host was one Russian Oleh called Roman Abramovich. Just over a year after making aliyah he brought Chelsea Women’s squad to play a pre-season friendly against Israel’s Women’s team. There was a fun carnival atmosphere as families gathered to support the free event.

On the pitch, there were some top-quality moves on display. These women are elite athletes who are leaders and role models for today’s youth and great ambassadors for the game. A record-breaking 8,534 spectators turned out to watch women’s football which is quite impressive when you consider 10,234 turned up to watch Israel beat Scotland last year. At least 2,000 of those were the Tartan Army who follows Scotland wherever they play.

The match officials were all women too so this was a day to show support for the sisterhood. And the supporters did throw themselves into clapping and cheering the lasses on. There was a certain vibe as parents brought children dressed to get behind the national squad. A host of unicorns and fairies with the blue and symbols of the national flag painted on their faces sang “el-el-Isra-el.” It amuses me.

Israeli’s have an unusual way of dressing to express support of any given team. The ubiquitous football shirt seems enough to represent any team. Here anything goes. I saw a variety of team shirts Barcelona, Liverpool, Hapoel Tel Aviv, and Manchester United to name a few. There were some Chelsea Shirts amongst the Israel ones to redress the balance.

As someone who enjoys football, there was one frustration I had with this match. I have no idea who plays for each squad. As a female fan of the beautiful game, I should be more aware of the women who play. Since the Women’s World Cup I am more familiar with some names. Veteran goalkeeper Carly Telford was substituted in the second half. I recognized three other England Squad members who made an impact on the game last night. The appropriately named Bethany England scored and Fran Kirby was involved in the build-up to her goal. Millie Bright was integral to Chelsea’s defense. England also provided the assist for Ericksson’s goal in the second half. I know Ji assisted Ingle in Chelsea’s third goal because their names are written on their squad jersey.

Why doesn’t Israel do the same? I know that in the first half number 9 put in a valiant performance. In the second-half numbers, 11 and  7  played well together. So, well that 7 set up 11 for a spectacular chip and Israel’s only goal. Number 12 was impressive too. I was saddened not to be able to recall these names. It is a blot on an ever more beautiful landscape. These women need to have their names emblazoned on their shirts.

Interest in the women’s game has increased globally. The success of the USA’s women’s team is thanks to investment in training and marketing of the product. This past World Cup saw the USA tear apart every team they played. France, The Netherlands, and England are realizing this and are catching up fast. There is still a huge gap with the men’s game and the women’s and investment in training facilities and players is the way forward.

Israel has even further to go but can take heart in the fact it contributed to forwarding the cause despite losing 3-1. The visiting team saw what a beautiful country we have. They were taken on tours of historical sites to advance the understanding of our complicated and long history. They participated in projects of coexistence that will help build bridges and herald a brighter future.

They participated in joint training sessions for both Palestinian and Israeli girls. Football is a unifying experience when played right. I cannot stress the role football plays in the world and here in Israel, we should take advantage of the complexities of the simple game. Communities that can play together will foster a deeper understanding of each other on a different playing field. With the need for positive role models last nights match was proof there were some 25 candidates running around after the ball.

Women have a habit of leading the way to healing and redemption. After World War One Lilly Parr lead Dick Kerr Ladies Team to multiple victories and the team were so popular, they had 53,000 watching them at Goodison Park. They kept the home fires burning. They were rewarded by having all women’s teams banned from playing at FA grounds, a restriction that wasn’t lifted until 1971. We need to get the women’s game on par with the men’s game in publicity and pay.

Watching from my seat in Hamoshava, it felt good to be a spectator. The fans were lively, the players hardworking and most important the atmosphere was great. Israel knows how to celebrate and put on a good display. What we all know is how hard each Israeli works to be part of something new and exciting. Making Aliyah was great for me and my family. I think my fellow Oleh Mr Abramovich will continue to contribute to Israeli society too.  I wonder if he will be joining me in ulpan?

About the Author
I am a proud Northern lass who spent 20 years teaching children how to write. Thought it was time to share my scribings.
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