Hapoel Beersheva becomes Israel's Leicester City


Around 100,000 Israelis packed Beersheva's central square on Monday night to celebrate a footballing success that British fans will instantly recognise.

Hapoel Beersheva had just won their first league title in 40 years - and, like Leicester City's unlikely triumph in the Premier League, the team's journey to the top stunned a nation.

But in the case of Beersheva, there has been another twist in the tale. The who made it all possible is a woman: Alona Barkat.

The petite, unassuming 46-year-old mother of three bought the club nine years ago when Hapoel were struggling in Israel's second division.

There were echoes of Leicester in the victories over richer rivals, but Mrs Barkat dismissed talk of fairytales.

She said: "This has always been our plan and I'm surprised we did not achieve it earlier. I suppose there are no short cuts to the top and the most important educational message we conveyed is that with hard work you can make your dreams come true. I think our biggest achievement has been the wonderful connection the club has built with its fans."

Mrs Barkat is now adored by the predominantly male fans who made the sexist assumption that a woman's place was not in football club ownership. She recalled: "Results quickly changed that idea. People quickly learned I was not soft." This was demonstrated by the victory over Bnei Sakhnin on Saturday night, which clinched the league title. The players celebrated by throwing Mrs Barkat into the air. "I was in absolute panic that I was going to hit the ground," she said.

Mrs Barkat was raised in a religious family in Ashkelon and met her husband, Eli - a billionaire high-tech investor - at the Hebrew University where they were students. Mr Barkat is the brother of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.

Mrs Barkat has reportedly sunk over £20 million into the club and on occasion has been ruthless. Last May she fired Elisha Levy, who now manages Israel. It was a hard-headed gamble that has paid off handsomely. "Our next goal is to do well in the Champions League."

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