Soccer on Shabbat

There is a law in Israel that employers cannot force employees to work on Shabbat. It is rarely enforced. However, in the last couple of weeks, a Labor Court judge ruled that because of that law, organizing or participating in soccer matches on Shabbat was illegal. The judge order the Israeli football association (IFA) to get a permit from the government.

Who is the minister responsible for giving the permit? None other than Economy Minister Aryeh Deri. (Deri is, among other things, orthodox, and the leader of an orthodox party taht would see one of its roles, for sure, as protecting the sanctity of Shabbat. Pretty ironical.)

Next up, some foot dragging.

That sound you can hear, is Deri scrambling around trying to find somewhere to hide…

Now, given the lack of a permit, the IFA is in something of a pickle. Having warned it would do so, the IFA carried out its threat and announced the cancellation of ALL soccer games over the weekend.

On the assumption that Deri will not be rushing forward to break Shabbat, the buck will have to be passed on up the line. To Bibi.

I expect there to be some hack of a solution put together, but the situation is a bit of a balagan, and there are several complicating factors. Among the many competing issues:

  • If there’s one place in the world where you can play (professional) sports other than on Shabbat, shouldn’t that be in Israel?
  • Is it time to switch to a ‘regular’ weekend of Saturday and Sunday?
  • What about Muslim players who do not want to play on Friday?
  • What about Christian players who do not want to play on Sunday?
  • Why upset the status quo? (See here.)
  • As well as the players, the interests of the fans and TV audience need to be taken into consideration.
  • Many leisure facilities remain open on Shabbat. Are they at risk?

Am I glad I don’t have to sort this mess out!

Compare and contrast

Compare Robbie Fowler, as quoted on the BBC site:

Former Liverpool and England striker Robbie Fowler does not believe it would create a problem if a current player came out as gay.

It’s not a problem. Good to hear.

The 31-year-old told Football Focus it is “difficult to say” if there is a homophobic atmosphere in football.

Not sure about that answer. Hedging his bets?

“Certainly it would not be a problem in the dressing room,” Fowler said.

“I don’t think it will be a problem on the terraces.”

Also good to hear.

But Fowler’s name rings a bell somewhere…

Because of his desire not to live the archetypal footballer’s life, [Graham] Le Saux suffered abuse from players and fans during the 1990s, even though the 45-year-old is not gay.

Fowler, 38, has apologised after making an offensive gesture towards his former international team-mate in a game between Liverpool and Chelsea in 1999.

“I am genuinely sorry,” said Fowler. “It was used as a wind-up but looking back I shouldn’t have done it. Looking back, it is embarrassing.”

Ah, that’s it. Wind up maestro Fowler. Practitioner of innocent fun. Just a lad larking about. With the lads. One of the lads. So to speak.

Contrast with this view of Robbie from Graham Le Saux:

Because I had different interests, because I didn’t feel comfortable in the laddish drinking culture that was prevalent in English football in the late 1980s, it was generally assumed by my teammates that there was something wrong with me. It followed, naturally, that I must be gay.

For 14 years I had to listen to that suggestion repeated in vivid and forthright terms from thousands of voices in the stands. It was a lie. I am not gay and never have been, yet I became a victim of English football’s last taboo.

The homophobic taunting and bullying left me close to walking away from football. I went through times that were like depression. I did not know where I was going. I would get up in the morning and would not feel good and by the time I got into training I would be so nervous that I felt sick. I dreaded going in. I was like a bullied kid on his way to school to face his tormentors.


Famously, there was another time when I stood up for myself, when I refused to look the other way. I had a family by then and my wife, Mariana, brought our newborn child, Georgina, to her first game. It was Liverpool again, but this time it was not a ten-year-old who was the problem. It was Robbie Fowler.

I had admired Robbie when he was a young player. He was a magnificent finisher, one of the best natural strikers I have seen. But as people, he and I are as far apart as possible. His trademark is sarcastic, put-down humour and an irreverent, caustic attitude. If that is how he plays, fine. But Robbie did not know when to stop. When things became unacceptable, he appeared ignorant of his social responsibilities and the consequences of his actions.

The Chelsea–Liverpool match at Stamford Bridge in 1999 was a high-tempo game and early in the second half I moved to clear the ball from left back. Robbie tried to block it but fouled me. I went down and Paul Durkin, the referee, booked him. Robbie looked at me. “Get up, you poof,” he said.

I stayed on the turf to get treatment and by then Robbie was standing ten yards away. The ball was in front of me, ready for the free kick. I looked at Robbie. He started bending over and pointing his backside in my direction. He looked over his shoulder and started yelling at me. He was smirking. “Come and give me one up the a***,” he said, repeating it three or four times.

The Chelsea fans were going berserk. The linesman was standing right next to me. He could see what Robbie was doing but did not take any action, not even to call Durkin over. Everyone knew what the gesture meant. There was not much room for interpretation. I asked the linesman what he was going to do. He stood there with a look of panic.

So I waited. Robbie could see he was winding me up and I suppose that gratified him, so he carried on doing it. I told the linesman I would not take the free kick until he stopped. It was a big moment, a stand-off.

What Robbie did provided a chance for people to confront a serious issue and I wish Durkin had sent him off for ungentlemanly conduct. Football had a chance to make a stand that day and Durkin would have been fêted for it. There could have been a strong statement that blatant homophobia would not be tolerated and maybe it would have been a turning point, taking some of the stigma away for gay footballers.

But football did not make a stand.

Read the whole thing, here. Then revisit the question: is it difficult to say if there is a homophobic problem in football? Do you think anything has changed since Graham Le Saux plied his trade?

[Thanks to Derek for the tip.]

On missing football

Source: Ludovic Péron via Wikimedia

Source: Ludovic Péron via Wikimedia

I miss not being able to play football. That simple statement covers a wide range of experiences and emotions I no longer have access to. Maybe, one day, I’ll get myself back into a good enough condition, and my dud knees will co-operate, so as to have more time on the hallowed turf. Till then, it’s only dreams for me.

Take that as background part one.

Background part two is the story of Darren Fletcher.

Darren is a Manchester United and Scotland player who has been battling ulcerative colitis, a medical condition that stopped his career in its tracks. After trying some drug treatments, he gambled on surgery. It appears to have worked.

Obviously, my word of football is a billion miles away from that of Darren Fletcher, but there are shared experiences and a context that may be useful in understanding where I am coming from.

In particular, I offer the following quote from Gordon Strachan, Scotland manager, on hearing about Darren Fletcher’s return to action:

“I was just thrilled to see Darren back. I was on the train coming up the road and I got a text saying he was getting on. I’m told he got clattered within minutes of going on. Trust me, that would have felt like heaven. He’s been through so much, but he’d have loved that. He’d have been lying there in the mud thinking: ‘How good is this?’”

How good? Brilliant! If you understand that, you can begin to understand; I miss not being able to play football.

Man in the middle

Shock! Horror! Probe! The Guardian prints a sympathetic article about Israel an Israeli. Can you believe it? This person must be something special, surely? He is.

If you have the slightest interest in football, or, if you are simply interested in reading the fascinating true story of an unsung Israeli hero, do not hesitate and just click on this link. You will not be disappointed.

Unbelievably – for, remember, this is the Guardian – not only do the words “Palestinian terrorists” appear, but there is not a single dig or criticism of Israel in the entire (long) piece. Is this a first in the modern era?