The success of the Israeli football team puts its Arab village on the map

REINEH, Israel – Jamil Bsuli smiles. The mayor has made this line clear before. But after all that his community football club has achieved and in such a short time, that is what makes him fun.

“Before the start of the season, everyone said we had no chance of staying in the second division,” Bsul said. “They were right. Because we climbed. ”

His community soccer team, Maccabi Bnei Reineh, did not exist six years ago. Less than two years ago, in September 2020, it was still a largely unknown club from a small Arab village where 18,000 people lived near Nazareth, preparing for another season in Israel’s Fourth Division. Now, after three promotions in a row, the name Maccabi Bnei Reineh is on everyone’s lips in Israeli football.

The success of the team, to the surprise of the villagers, put its community firmly on the map.

“This is a small place,” said Jamil’s nephew, team executive Anwar Bsul. “When the Reinians went to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, they said they were from Nazareth. Otherwise no one would understand.

Agents need to be told where the club is located. This has now changed as we become more famous. “Now people everywhere want to talk about Raine.”

It is not uncommon to see an Arab team in the top league of Israel. Bnei Sakhnin has been playing there for the last two decades, winning the State Cup in 2004 and representing the country in the UEFA Cup. Hapoel Taipei and Maccabi Ah Nazareth also played brief games in the First Division.

The rise of Maccabi Bnei Reineh feels even more unusual, though mainly because the club was created in its current form in 2016.

“There was no football in the village for 13 years – in fact, there was no sport at all,” said Bisul, a businessman from Rhein who owns a construction company. We wanted to change that and unite people through football. He made a small initial investment and became chairman of the club.

The project started in the Fifth Division, the lowest in Israel, with a team of local players. Back then, the club was supported by only 10 to 20 fans. When Maccabi Bnei Raine was promoted after his debut season, he soon discovered that life in the Fourth Division was no easier. The club did not have a stadium – a problem that needed to be solved on a weekly basis – and fans usually had to travel to matches with their own generator to supply electricity.

In 2018, Jamil Bsuli, Said’s uncle, was elected mayor of Reine and arranged for modest municipal funding for the club. “Football is unity,” said Jamil Bsul. He called on local youth to create an Ultra Club; It now has about 350 members. “We have the best fans in the country,” Said Bsul said, adding that “they are always positive and do not even swear.”

In the 2019-20 season, Reine was fighting for a second consecutive promotion when, due to a corovirus pandemic, the Israeli Football Federation suspended the league season in March, the team moved into second place. Only the top club was promoted to the third division and Reine’s progress was halted. But when the pandemic financial crisis led to the merger of two third-division clubs, it opened another place in the table. The federation court ruled that Reine should have.

At first, the game in the third division seemed to be a goal, but Said Bsoul felt the opportunity. He knew the season would be shorter because of the pandemic, “and that way we could sign better players because there were fewer months to pay their salaries,” he said.

He suggested the team approach the compressed season as a chance to dream bigger to see how high they could climb. The bet on his head paid off: Maccabi Bnei Raine won the promotion, again in the Second Division.

“Suddenly we were playing big, traditional clubs with a long history,” said Anwar Bsul, Said’s brother and business partner. “We were a little scared that we might go too high.”

The team’s budget of 4.5 million shekels (approximately $ 1.3 million) was by far the lowest in the division. Anwar Bsul said this meant that Reine could only sign players who had been sacked by other teams. But it also had its benefits: the recruits, he said, “came motivated to prove their worth.”

To prepare for his first season in the Second Division, Reine traveled last year to the first training camp outside Israel, in northern Italy. One of his games was a friendly against Atalanta – a regular in the Champions League in the Italian Serie A, Serie A. When Reine drew 1-1, Said Bsul said: “Then I realized we had a really good squad. . ”

Raine started the season strongly and never gave up, finally getting the latest in a series of promotions. It is the smallest club to ever reach the Israeli Premier League.

What awaits, Raine will be the biggest challenge to date. His rivals in the 14-team Israeli Premier League are not only champions Maccabi Haifa, the largest northern club widely popular in the Arab community, but also major domestic clubs such as Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Beitar Jerusalem. A well-known racist, Arab-hating ultras once traveled to the Rhein – while Maccabi Bnei Rhein was still in the fourth division – to insult the team and its fans before the cup match.

“They even came to our village and wrote insults on the walls before the match, and then acted violently,” said Basel Tatur, one of the leaders of Reine Ultra.

Tatur said his team has become a unifying force in a place where such connections are frequent. “Thanks to football, everyone in the village got to know each other,” he said of Reine’s most loyal fans. “We are all friends now. “70 percent are Muslims and 30 percent are Christians, but you do not know who is who.”

According to the Bsoul family, this is just the beginning.

A year ago, a football academy was established in the village, where 300 children aged 7 to 13 are training and playing on a new artificial field. Last month, an experienced, Haifa-born coach hired Jaron Hochenboim as the team’s sporting director. He will oversee everything on the pitch, from major programs to the senior team.

The next dream is a modern stadium in the village. The team is currently playing home games in the neighboring Jewish town of Nof Hagal, but its ambitions are bigger than ever: a 20,000-seat stadium in a village with 18,000 people living as part of a complex that also includes swimming and cycling. And athletics.

“I told them how important the club is to our community,” said Mayor Jamil Bsul. “It unites everyone and you can see children, women and the elderly coming to watch games and even exercise. Even my 98-year-old mother got excited and asked me to watch a TV commercial for the first time in her life. ”

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