Beitar Jerusalem fans walk out over signing of two Muslim Chechen players
Ten… Nine… Eight… Seven… Six… Five… Four… Three… Two… One…War! War! War!’ A typical Beitar Jerusalem welcome, one of Israel’s biggest football clubs, on Sunday night from ‘La Familia’ the team’s hardcore fans who are in revolt over the signing of two Muslim players, two of just five non-Israeli players to ever play for the club which is identified with the country’s political right.
On Sunday night at Beitar’s Teddy Stadium, members of La Familia were in place an hour before kick off in the league game against Maccabi Netanya, chanting abuse not fit for a family newspaper at the club’s president – a former owner of Portsmouth – Arcadi Gaydamak.
The reason is Mr Gaydamak’s decision earlier in the year to sign two the Chechen players, Zaur Sadayev and Dzhabrail Kadiyev, both Muslims, from Terek Grozny.
Only the 23 year-old Sadayev, a big heavy-set striker, played against Netanya on Sunday and, in the first half at least boos rang around the stadium every time he touched the ball. Of course, many footballers are met with jeering from the terraces, but these were Sadayev’s own supporters.
But if Sadayev – who has been accompanied by a bodyguard since his arrival in Jerusalem – could have written a script for Sunday night’s game, it would have been close to the reality. After a quiet first half, with the exception of the boos, he ran on a pass on 48 minutes and slid the ball past Netanya’s goalkeeper for his first goal for the club. 1-0 Beitar.
Darío Fernández, an Argentinean and Beitar’s best player, jumped on Sadayev’s shoulders and celebrated with the Chechen, but the reaction of the fans was mixed. In one stand the supporters jumped up and down and cheered, but behind the goal, in the La Familia end, hundreds of supporters simply walked out of the stadium.
“The reaction to the Muslim players being here is not racist,” insisted 19 year old Akeeva, a Beitar fan. “But the club’s existence is under threat – Beitar is a symbol for the whole country.”
Jacob, another fan, agrees, “It’s just a matter of being Arab [by which he means Muslim], it’s not racism, they just shouldn’t be here. Beitar Jerusalem has always been a clean club, but now it’s being destroyed – many of the other players are thinking of leaving because of the Muslim players being here.”
Akeeva, Jacob and many of the other fans are angry with Mr Gaydamak for bringing in Sadayev and Kadiyev to the club, but both condemn the burning down in February of the club’s offices in Jerusalem, the most extreme act yet against the signings.
The unlikely dual transfer came about after a bizarre tour to Chechnya by the entire Beitar squad early this year, which went ahead against the advice of Israeli authorities and appears to have been motivated by money concerns. There are rumours in the Russian media that Telman Ismailov, the Jewish oligarch who is the financial backer of Terek, had an interest in purchasing the struggling Beitar, owned by his friend, the Russian-Israeli businessman Mr Gaydamak. Rather than travel to see the team in Jerusalem, Mr Ismailov wanted to bring them to Grozny to see them play there. So it was that the brief tour to the troubled Caucasus republic, which saw a friendly match played between Beitar and Terek, took place amid extremely high security measures. After its conclusion, it was announced that to “strengthen Israeli-Chechen friendship”, two players would be moving from Terek to Beitar.
“Chechens, like Jews, have a great number of difficult pages in their history and have lived through many tragedies,” said a recent press release from Mr Kadyrov’s office. “We have a lot in common.”
The 23-year-old Sadayev was seen by Russian football analysts as a player with some potential, but since his entrance into the Terek team five years ago he has hardly set the Russian league alight – the striker has managed just eight goals in 83 appearances. The other Chechen player to move to Israel, 19-year-old defender Dzhabrail Kadiyev, has never started a match for the Terek first team.
Sadayev said in an interview with Russian media last December, before the Israeli move was on the cards, that if he was given the chance to play in any league in the world, he would like to try the English Premier League. Events have played our rather differently for the forward, who now finds himself thrown into lion’s den that is the Teddy Stadium. Indeed the players were so disturbed by the “welcome” that they received in Israel that the club paid to fly their mothers out to visit them last month in an attempt to help them to settle.
Details of the transfers are murky, and it is unclear whether the players have moved on loan, or permanently. Calls to Terek’s press service went unanswered.
After being substituted last night after 73 minutes on Sunday, Sadayev received a standing ovation – although by then the boo-boys had largely left. Three minutes later Netanya scored to make it 1-1 and pushed hard until the end of the game.
Whether his performance is enough to win over the crowd remains to be seen, but perhaps he could afford to give his bodyguard the night off on Sunday.