They came to Israel as boys but they leave as men

Although the 20th Maccabiah Games in Israel was in general a well-organised and joyous celebration of Jewish sport, identity and culture, things did not go smoothly for the Team Maccabi GB under-16 Boys Football team.

July 24, 2017 15:49

I'm not quite sure where to start, but our journey has now come to an end. I have been involved in football a pretty long time and within this time there has been a number of highs and lows from signing for Tottenham as a 16-year-old to losing FA youth cup semi-finals, but nothing quite comes close to the emotions felt on this Maccabiah trip.

It was our last group game against Brazil with destiny in our own hands - we needed to beat  Brazil by two goals to qualify to the semi-finals. Or so we thought ...

We started the game on fire and with a hunger and desire that was beyond anything I had witnessed before at any level of football I have been involved in, including as a player and this from a bunch of 15-year-olds boys. Within the first 20 minutes we were 2-0 up playing with heart, but it was more than that, we were playing the game how it should be with beautiful passing. Indeed you could excuse the spectators of being confused of which team were Brazil.

In fairness to the opposition, they did not wilt and scored. You could excuse the players from being a little deflated but this group just don't know how to give in and what transpired in the second half was quite unbelievable.

Once again we started brightly and scored two goals - one being the goal of the tournament with a shot from 25 yards that flew into the top corner. The crowd, the players and me could not contain ourselves the celebrations were one of jubilation, the finishing line was in site and Brazil were well shellshocked at what they were witnessing. With 15 to go Brazil get a penalty, a potential lifeline. My keeper looks over to me and I could see in his eyes a self belief a confidence that this was his moment and an unbelievable save was pulled off. It was at this moment that for sure we believed it was our destiny.

So GB are 4-1 up with five to go, Brazil get a free-kick, as expected they through everyone into the box, the ball is delivered in and comes of one of our lads and goes in, for me it's a consolation goal it's 4-2 we still have the cushion we needed, BUT the Brazilian delegation from players to supporters greeted the goal with pure jubilation, I find there reaction some what strange considering they were being knocked out the tournament.

What was to follow was nothing short of complete ludicrousness, with three minutes to go an official comes over to our bench and tells us that the Maccabiah websites that publish the results and goals scored/difference could be wrong and we are now being told that we may need another goal. How can this be? How can something so important be wrong? How can I tell my players that a performance worthy of success could now be denied by incompetence and administrative errors?

The final whistle goes and we are still convinced we are right. I mean it's in writing ... both sets of players are celebrating believing they were through. Various officials enter the playing field from both delegations, officials are being asked what the hell is going on and to keep this to the point we found ourselves eliminated.

We appealed and it was rejected we appealed again. I thought it just can't end in this way, it just doesn't seem right. What I witnessed in this game from my group of players was something more powerful than anything I have been part of, never have I been involved in something that had so much heart, passion and desire and I am proud to say that I was there to see if first hand. This is definitely a story that shows that sometimes when you lose you do actually win.

They came to Israel as boys but they leave as men.

Richard Baum is manager of the Team Maccabi GB U16 Boys Football squad

July 24, 2017 15:49

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