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An Israeli Soccer Team’s Success Puts Its Arab Village on the Map


REINEH, Israel — Jamil Bsoul is smiling. The mayor has clearly delivered this line before. But in spite of everything that his community’s soccer club has achieved, and in such a short while, that’s what makes it fun.

“Before the season began, everyone said we’ve got no likelihood of staying within the second division,” Bsoul said. “They were right. Because we went up.”

His community’s soccer team, Maccabi Bnei Reineh, didn’t exist until six years ago. Lower than two years ago, in September 2020, it was still a largely unknown club from a small Arab village of 18,000 people near Nazareth, preparing for yet one more season within the Israeli fourth division. Now, after three promotions in quick succession, the name Maccabi Bnei Reineh is on everyone’s lips in Israeli soccer.

The team’s success, to the surprise of even the village’s own residents, has put its community firmly on the map.

“It is a tiny place,” said Jamil’s nephew, the team executive Anwar Bsoul. “When people from Reineh went to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, they used to say they were from Nazareth. Otherwise no one would have understood.

“We had to elucidate to agents where the club is situated. This has modified now, though, because we became famous. Now people wish to speak about Reineh all over the place.”

It isn’t unusual to see an Arab team within the Israeli top flight. Bnei Sakhnin has been playing there for the last 20 years, winning the State Cup in 2004 and representing the country within the UEFA Cup. Hapoel Tayibe and Maccabi Ahi Nazareth also enjoyed short spells in the primary division.

The rise of Maccabi Bnei Reineh has felt much more extraordinary, though, mostly since the club was established in its current form in 2016.

“There was no football within the village for 13 years — in actual fact, there was no sporting activity in any respect,” Said Bsoul, a businessman from Reineh who owns a construction company, said. “We wanted to alter that, and unite people through football.” He made a small initial investment and have become the club’s chairman.

The project began within the fifth division, the bottom in Israel, with a team of local players. Only 10 to twenty fans supported the club back then. When Maccabi Bnei Reineh won promotion after its debut season, it soon found life within the fourth division wasn’t any easier. The club didn’t have a stadium — an issue that needed solving on a weekly basis — and fans normally needed to travel to matches with their very own generator to have an influence supply.

In 2018, Jamil Bsoul, Said’s uncle, was elected mayor of Reineh, and arranged some modest municipal funding to the club. “Football is about togetherness,” Jamil Bsoul said. He encouraged local youths to determine an “ultras” club; it now counts about 350 people as members. “We have now the very best fans within the country,” Said Bsoul said, claiming that “they’re at all times positive and don’t even curse.”

Within the 2019-20 season, Reineh was battling for a second straight promotion when, due to coronavirus pandemic, Israel’s soccer federation suspended the league season in March, with the team in second place. Only the highest club was promoted to the third division, and Reineh’s progress appeared to stall. But when the pandemic’s financial crunch led two third-division clubs to merge, that opened one other place within the table. A federation court decided that Reineh must have it.

Initially, playing within the third division gave the impression of a goal achieved, but Said Bsoul sensed a chance. He knew the season could be shorter due to pandemic, “and thus we could sign higher players because there have been less months to pay their salaries,” he said.

He suggested that the team approach the condensed season as a likelihood to dream greater, to see how high it could climb. Betting on itself paid off: Maccabi Bnei Reineh won promotion, again, to the second division.

“Suddenly we were playing against big, traditional clubs with an enormous history,” said Anwar Bsoul, Said’s brother and business partner. “We were a bit frightened that we may need risen too high.”

The team’s budget of 4.5 million shekels (about $1.3 million) was the bottom within the division by a ways. Anwar Bsoul said that meant Reineh could sign only players who had been discarded by other teams. But that had its advantages, too: The recruits, he said, “arrived motivated to prove their price.”

To organize for its first season within the second division, Reineh traveled last 12 months to its first training camp outside Israel, in northern Italy. One in all its games there was a friendly against Atalanta — a Champions League regular from Italy’s top league, Serie A. When Reineh walked off with a 1-1 tie, Said Bsoul said, “That’s after I understood that we actually have a great squad.”

Reineh began the season strong and never relented, eventually securing the newest in its string of promotions. It’s the smallest club ever to achieve Israel’s top tier.

What awaits will probably be Reineh’s biggest challenge so far. Its rivals within the 14-team Israeli Premier League not only include the champion Maccabi Haifa, the largest northern club, which is widely popular within the Arab community, but additionally major domestic clubs like Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Beitar Jerusalem, whose notoriously racist, Arab-hating ultras once traveled to Reineh — when Maccabi Bnei Reineh was still within the fourth division — to abuse the team and its fans before a cup match.

“They even got here to our village and wrote insults on the partitions before the sport, after which behaved violently during it,” said Basel Tatour, certainly one of the Reineh ultra leaders.

Tatour said his team has grow to be a unifying force in a spot where such connections are sometimes fraught. “Because of football, everyone within the village got to know one another,” he said of Reineh’s most devoted fans. “We’re all friends now. There are 70 percent Muslims and 30 percent Christians, but you won’t know who’s who.”

In response to the Bsoul family’s vision, this is barely the start.

A 12 months ago, a soccer academy was established within the village, with 300 children ages 7 to 13 training and playing on a latest artificial turf field. Last month, the experienced, Haifa-born coach Yaron Hochenboim was recruited because the team’s sporting director. He’ll supervise the whole lot on the sector, from the grass-roots programs to the senior team.

The following dream is a contemporary stadium within the village. The team currently plays its home games in a close-by Jewish town, Nof HaGalil, but its ambitions are greater than ever: a 20,000-seat stadium in a village of 18,000 residents, as a part of a posh that may also contain facilities for swimming, cycling and track and field.

“I told them how necessary the club is to our community,” said Jamil Bsoul, the mayor. “It unites everyone, and you may see children, women and elderly coming to look at games and even training sessions. Even my 98-year-old mother became excited and asked to look at the promotion game on TV for the primary time in her life.”

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