Listen to this article
A pretty frightening spectacle: faces distorted with hate, obscenities shouted at the pitch, football fans sending disgusting messages on social media including threats to rape the chairman’s small daughter . . .
This is football hooliganism with a difference — the difference being these are the home team supporters, the true fans whose chants of “I love you” are as fanatic as their later cries of loathing. Same people, same team: so what has happened in the course of Maya Zinshtein’s documentary in BBC4’s Storyville thread, Forever Pure — Football and Racism in Jerusalem (Sunday 10pm)?
The team is Beitar Jerusalem, a rough diamond originally cherished by the underprivileged. One of Israel’s most famous teams, founded in 1936, its recent history has been erratic, culminating in ownership by Arcadi Gaydamak, a Russian-Israeli oligarch whose alternate neglect and investment seem prompted by PR rather than any interest in the game. His tactics include running for mayor of Jerusalem, a campaign in which pouring resources into Beitar plays a large part.
As the film opens he is sought by the French police on various charges to do with shady business deals. Meanwhile, a hard core of supporters called The Family has turned from sports fans into a group of rightwing ideologues whose passion is manifested with horrible irony in the sort of brainwashed fanaticism that immediately suggests a Nazi rally.
Into this mixture two hapless Chechens are introduced, young players making their entry into the international scene, but hired furtively, without warning. They are the first Muslims to play for Beitar — which is, incidentally, the only Israeli team never to have fielded Muslim players, or “Arabs” as they are identified.
The transformation of a devoted fan base to a howling mob and then acres of empty seats as matches are boycotted is not only unedifying but sinister. As a piece of sports reporting the film is disturbing enough; as hints of rotten foundations to be used and distorted whether for financial or political motives it is worse. Not a good reflection on the beautiful game.
Photograph: Haim Tzah/BBC
Get alerts on Television when a new story is published