Fans put Betar in the dock

By Simon Griver, April 18, 2008

Betar Jerusalem owner Arkady Gaydamak called his team’s supporters “idiots and bastards” after a mass pitch invasion at Teddy Stadium on Sunday night resulted in the Israeli Premiere League match against Maccabi Herzliya being abandoned four minutes from time.

Betar were leading 1-0 and victory would have virtually assured a second successive title, leaving them 15 points clear with five games to play. The celebrating fans refused to leave the pitch, leaving referee Alon Yefet no alternative but to call off the game.

English-born Herzliya starlet Josh Kennet was warming up on the touchline seconds before thousands of fans ran on. Kennet’s father Eilon said: “Overall it was a frightening experience but his teammates didn’t feel threatened individually. It reminded us of English football at its worst.”

An Israel FA disciplinary committee is expected to order the teams to replay the match behind closed doors or at another stadium and will impose additional punishments.

The club already has a suspended penalty hanging over them after their fans were found guilty of racist behaviour for chanting “the Prophet Mohammed is dead” at a recent match.

The incident is the first time that Gaydamak has criticised Betar’s fans, having even stood behind them when they booed during a minute’s silence for Yitzhak Rabin earlier this season. Betar spokesman Oded Zargary was also critical of the supporters. “The players have worked so hard to get this far but a section of the crowd turned what should have been a great occasion into a sad night for the club.”

Stung by Gaydamak’s criticism some Betar fans called for him to resign. “I am Betar,” said Gaydamak. “It’s my club, not theirs. If the fans don’t like it then they can find another team to support. Those people are insolent and stupid.”

Even so Gaydamak, whose political party Social Justice intends running in Israel’s municipal elections later this year and the next Knesset elections, may be forced to sell his stake in the club if he takes on a political appointment.

Israel national team manager Dror Kashtan has agreed a new two-year contract.

Last updated: 3:14pm, April 22 2008