Football's Going East

By Matt Furtek

So, here it goes. The blog. I have to say I’ve never written a blog, nor read many for that matter. The definition of a blog is “a regularly updated website or web page that is written in an informal or conversational style.” I will stick to the regular as much as possible, schedule permitting. As for the writing, it will certainly be informal, ludic, and basically just a sprawling of arbitrary musings and happenings externalised here over the next 3 months in Israel. So enjoy!

 “I might not sleep on the plane”, Jamie states as we’re finishing our breakfast. I replied by saying I don’t really think it’s something you have a choice with after getting up at 4am followed by a 5 hour flight, it just kind of happens. I’m proved right almost immediately as we are taxiing to take off, technically not started the journey yet, as I look over and see Jamie’s chin is fully-acquainted with his chest. He’s out for the count. I wanted to say I told you so, but I was bigger than that. So I waited ‘til he was awake to say it.

 We land and move through to customs, finding the unique and particular nature of our visit subjected us to thorough questioning. Jamie’s rather apt answer of coaching kids football in the local community was met with the question of “Why?” We were going nowhere fast. The ability to add any further explanation eluded us due to having not long woken up, and adding to that we had both been suffering from colds, the conversation consisted mainly of sleepy catarrhal-grunts from our side. Luckily, I had the booklet to hand that explains everything that the program entails, even including pictures! This seemed to clear things up, and we were on our way.

We had a couple of days to settle in, meet the landlord upstairs and the family, who very kindly hosted us for dinner the second evening. They also have a pet dog, who we seem to have subsequently inherited, and spends a lot of time with us.

 We started coaching in schools on our first Sunday, one of the first being Almanara, an Arab school. While we await our new coaching supplies, we have planned with limited equipment for the time being, consisting of no bibs and just 9 cones. Nine. It really brings out the adaptability in you as a coach, which essentially means we’ve run Highbury game and traffic lights, a lot.

 We arrive for our first session, and there are a lot of excited kids as we become the centre of attention. Jamie and I make the faux pas of sitting out in the grounds as the kids have their break – by the time we realised it was too late. We are surrounded by about 30 kids, most of which took great interest in our equipment bag. Unfortunately for us, it’s a net bag, and many things were grabbed through the gaps. We recovered most, but not all. 8 cones remaining.


The gathering grows, there’s no escaping now. Jamie and I are slowly separated by two crowds, each group claiming us as their own. They start to carry me away as I look over to Jamie at the possibility of help, but he seems ok with this. So off I go, swept away down the school corridor, with my hands being lifted high in the air as a chant begins in a ritual-esque fashion. It reminds me of the scene from Ali when he visits Zaire. The chanting continues as I’m taken into their classroom, where the teacher is less enthusiastic. I manage to leave and rejoin Jamie outside, strength in numbers.

Another school we coach at is Weizmann. Our first visit was cut short due to a school trip, which we were duly invited along to. So we walk across the town, to a grand old theatre to witness our first ever Hebrew play. Certainly not something you experience every day. Now mine and Jamie’s Hebrew isn’t exactly fantastic after 10 days, so a lot was left to the imagination. The basic premise was Hans Christian Anderson trying to win a writing contest. Luckily I had one of the students sat next to me, who used the medium of Google translate to explain the play. Anyone who has used Google translate will know it’s not the most accurate thing in the world, so there was still a little confusion. “Hans 500 princess coin” shall forever remain a mystery to me.

The kids have been great overall, asking for autographs everywhere we go. One session we must have signed close to 50 each before we could even begin, which gives you a real appreciation of how draining it must be for an actual professional footballer.

The town of Akko is a truly remarkable place, rich in diversity with its modern shopping malls and the archaic walls of the old town. Close to our apartment we have Napoleon hill, from which you can see across the whole of Akko and across the water to Haifa. It’s been a focal point of mine and Jamie’s runs, although we haven’t really seen anyone else up there. Maybe it’s just more of a western thing. Must… Conquer… Big… Hill…

Napoleon is a symbol of the town, also featuring as the mascot for the local football team. Having failed to invade the city in 1799, he appears to be a symbol of satire more than anything else. If there is any comedic value to be found even in the worst of times, then take it I say. Poor old Napoleon, reduced to satirical hill statues and alcoholic beverages.

 So, I think that will do. As previously mentioned my knowledge of blogging is Efes (Zero in Hebrew) and the length of one is unknown to me. ‘Till next time…