On motzei Shabbat (Saturday night), while the red and blue parts of Manchester were celebrating their respective successes in the UK, Jaffa and Ra’anana were contesting the final of the JC Olim Cup. This Jewish Chronicle sponsored event is at least partly promoted and organized through Facebook, and features an 11 a side football (soccer!) league and cup. (There is also a 5 a side “World Cup” organised along national lines, with the Scottish team making it all the way to the final last year, before losing out to the powerhouse of England FC.)
England FC had already won the league and Jaffa finished runners up. Ra’anana – generally acknowledged as the most improved team in the league – had knocked out England FC in the cup, and must have fancied their chances after that significant achievement, even if Jaffa had come out on top in league encounters.
Although, geographically, I should be backing Ra’anana, Jaffa are chock full of Scots: brothers Daniel and Joshua Berkeley, and Simon Berkley play for the team and the unofficial manager is Peter Berkeley. So, I am a Jaffa supporter. The final was played in Ra’anana in the small ground at Lev HaPark; the pitch was in excellent condition, and there’s a fine stand to accommodate supporters. Speaking of which, given that Jaffa’s players are a mix from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem – and it was a 9.30pm kick off – they had only a handful of supporters. Ra’anana had a sizeable number, including a drummer to lead the cheering on of their side.
Whatever Peter Berkeley said to Jaffa before the kick off, worked, because in the first 30 minutes they played superbly. Although occasionally guilty of giving the ball away too easily in midfield (and one dreadful goal kick straight to a Ra’anana striker), the majority of their attacking play was purposeful and threatening. Both wingers were causing Ra’anana problems, as if they didn’t have their hands full enough already with the dominating presence in the centre of attack of Joshua Berkeley. Jaffa reaped fine reward for their work with two first half goals. The first had a stroke of good fortune as the goal bound shot took a wicked deflection. The second was a delightful end to a move of passing perfection that shredded the Ra’anana defence. Hoffman and Tito scored the goals.
However, it was by no means all one way traffic. The Ra’anana team boasts a couple of veterans who kept their side in the fight. And the young strikers for Ra’anana were exceedingly talented. If they had been better served by their midfield – with more incisive passing and more support when in possession – Jaffa would have been in trouble.
Jaffa got to the break 2-0 up. At that point, Ra’anana made some changes and livened up their midfield. Their young players were fired up when, after about 20 minutes, they pulled one back with a fine piece of solo work by their key striker. Jaffa were looking tired, and although they still mounted the odd threat – with Nir, especially, looking good in possession – it was mostly a defensive performance after the Ra’anana goal. Maybe some Jaffa players thought a 2-0 lead was enough and the game was over; but it wasn’t. The Jaffa midfield was too quiet in the second half, and Ra’anana had the overwhelming balance of possession and attacking threat. Fortunately, the Jaffa goalkeeper and defence worked hard and stifled almost everything Ra’anana threw at them. However, Ra’anana did manufacture one open shot at goal which was blasted wide, luckily for Jaffa. Unluckily for Ra’anana, they could not prise open the defence again and create more clear cut chances.
When the final whistle went, Jaffa had won the cup (2-1) and suddenly found new reserves of energy to dance with delight! Well done to captain Daniel Berkeley and ALL the Jaffa team.
For Jaffa, they will be hoping this victory sparks them on to win a coveted league title. However, I would dare to caution them that they will need to work hard over the close season, because they cannot rely on the other teams standing still. Ra’anana, for example, have some exceedingly skillful players. And if they can keep these players, fashion a bit more teamwork and support going forward, they will be a hard team to beat. Also, England FC will not have been happy about missing out on the double, so they will have something to prove. Still, a cup win is not to be sniffed at, and the team deserve to have something to celebrate, because when the going was tough it was the teamwork and fighting for one another (not with one another!) that pulled them through. I can hardly wait for the start of the new season.